The 6 Scariest Words in Digital Marketing

newsfeed algorithm

Here are the six scariest words in digital marketing:

“Facebook is changing its newsfeed algorithm.”

And so it goes.

Facebook announced yesterday it’s changing its algorithm to give priority to content shared by friends and family — and less priority to what content publishers share:

Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That’s why today, we’re announcing an upcoming change to News Feed ranking to help make sure you don’t miss stories from your friends.

We previously made an update that tries to ensure that stories posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss them.

We’ve heard from our community that people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about. For people with many connections this is particularly important, as there are a lot of stories for them to see each day. So we are updating News Feed over the coming weeks so that the things posted by the friends you care about are higher up in your News Feed.

What impact will this have on content publishers?

Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends. As always, Pages should refer to our publishing best practices.

This is an epic flip-flop for Facebook and at this point I think it is fair to ask, does the company really know what it wants? Is it thinking through its publishing strategy at all?

Less than nine months ago I attended an awkward meeting  between Facebook and big publishers like The New York Times, The BBC, and National Public Radio. It was nothing short of a courtship. Facebook representatives encouraged the big content publishers with promises of billions of page views and gazillions of new subscribers. The news channel people sat there with their arms crossed, resigned to the fact that they were forced to play the Facebook game to compete in the digital world.

This week’s announcement seems to indicate that Facebook does NOT want to be in the publishing business, at least not at its core. Did its strategy really change that fast, or were they taken by surprise that publishers actually listened to them and started to flood the site with Instant Articles, videos, and news photos?

They did what Facebook asked them to do, and guess what? Now there’s just too much stuff.

An Example of Content Shock

This is what I predicted would happen in a post I wrote in March, projecting that once publishers, companies, and bloggers began moving into Instant Articles en force, Content Shock would occur and Facebook would have to make an adjustment to get the new flood of content under control.

Content Shock is the scenario when content marketing is not sustainable for some businesses when an industry niche or platform becomes saturated. As content levels dramatically increase, the economics of content shift, making it more difficult and costly to compete. In this case, the gravy train apparently is already over and many publishers will have to pay to get their content viewed.

According to recent data compiled by SocialFlow (and reported by AdWeek), overall publishers’ Facebook reach from January to May was down 42 percent. Frank Speiser, SocialFlow’s co-founder, said how media companies respond to these updates is “critical” to the value they get from Facebook.

“This is a signal that publishers and content houses must evolve their approach to social,” Speiser said about the Facebook announcement. “The idea of paying for access to audiences has always been a part of marketing strategies and that’s what you’re seeing here.”

Is Facebook “doing” without thinking?

Facebook could have easily seen this scenario playing out. When you invite the news world to publish, they’re going to publish.

It appears to me that Facebook is “doing” without “thinking” when it comes to some of these big strategic moves. The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo had a similar reaction:

These moves highlight a truth that tends to get lost in commentary about the social network’s influence over the news: At Facebook, informing users about the world will always take a back seat to cute pictures of babies (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Because Facebook does not think of itself primarily as a news company, it seems to want us to stop expecting it to act like one. Whether we should, though, is a more complicated matter.

The Facebook re-focus

I wouldn’t say the Facebook’s aggressive courtship of the publishing world has ended in divorce, but the relationship status has undoubtedly changed to “it’s complicated.”

Both traditional news channels and company content publishers still covet the massive distribution potential of Facebook. According to an April report from Parse.ly, 41.4 percent of all referral traffic to publishers’ websites comes from Facebook (slightly more than Google at 39.5 percent).

But Facebook may be facing an existential crisis. What IS this platform? Do they need professional publishers? Is it re-focusing on being the epicenter of human connection, Grumpy Cat, and memes?

If you look at the strategies at other social networks, they are positioning themselves for the future by either buying or partnering with professional content producers. Even upstart Snapchat is a legitimate source of news and lets its users choose from a host of interesting news options.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of Americans get news from Facebook — 142 million people.

This re-trenching indicates that Facebook is shifting away from the aggressive news and publishing strategy they were pushing in 2015. Sure, publishers are sore about this, but is Facebook doing the right thing by listening to its core customers and focusing on baby pictures and political rants? Or did they just ignore 44 percent of its news-loving audience?

What’s your take on the change at Facebook?

Illustration courtesy of memegenerator.net

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  • Kaylin

    Maybe one day we’ll even go back to the days when Facebook just showed us everything in chronological order and let the users decide what to mute. Those were the days.

  • Hey Mark, it’s true that content shock is alienating users. It’s actually becoming Covent Mediocrity. FB did what FB has been famous for. It encouraged publishers to adopt the platform with a classic ‘bait and switch’ to satisfy it’s own monopolization focus. Now, it’s realized it has alienated those very users who are the audience for its monetization. They’ve lost the consumer chatter that created the engagement its advertising revenue stream is based on. So they fixed it (or just executed on a preconceived strategy). At the same time, it took out an industry (news) that competed for those same eyeballs and forced it to now grovel for existence. Win/Win for Facebook and yup, Facebook.

    It’s similar to what they did to you and other publishers by convincing you to put a ‘free’ FB share button on your page that is now capturing information to advertise to your hard earned users without paying you a nickel for the right to do so.

  • That can’t happen … the average Facebook user would see nearly 2,000 stories a day. And the problem is getting worse, not better. But we can dream, right?

  • You could be right but I sincerely wonder if there was anything mindful about this at all. My view is that Facebook is just “doing” and throwing things out there without any over-arching strategy. I mean this whole effort was a HUGE deal that sent the industry into a tizzy. And then to pull the plug almost right away? Google does the same thing. Why not think things through, test things? It’s a downside of the whole “fail fast” thing.

  • Pingback: Facebook algorithm change keeps content publishers guessing #facebookmarketing | MarketingHits.com()

  • Claytonjay101

    It seems to be all centered around advertising. We lessen your brands organic reach so you come running to us to advertise. It could be that they are trying to “maximize value” for users by connecting them more with non-brands (family and friends as they describe) so companies will do more advertising. So essentially Facebook gets a double whammy:

    1. Better user engagement for with ppl they care about (at least that seems their goal with this)
    2. Less organic reach for brands so they advertise more

    Not sure how the strategy will play out but that is my read on the situation. I think they are pivoting their strategy to focus even more around maximizing advertising dollars since that is where they make their money. As long as ppl are engaging on the platform in a significant way, brands will want to advertise.

    Perhaps another way to look at it is with the rise in Snapchat, and them taking market share from Facebook and other platforms, Facebook wants to get back to more “user friendly” roots before marketing polluted the platform (remember 2006?). They might think that might help them with the juggernaut that is snapchat.

  • Claytonjay101

    On a side note, when is Facebook going to make it easier to link up your website with instant articles? I was listening to it being described on a podcast and it seems like they only want more sophisticated brands to do it because they make it so difficult. I have lived the WordPress environment for 4 years now and it was making my head spin as I was listening to it being described, and if you do not have a WordPress website then do you have to write your own plug-in to connect them?

  • I’m not sure, Mark. In Clayton’s comment he touched on the engagement value to FB. And, after reading more about this, publishers gain visibility by having members repost articles so they will then show up high in the timelines of their friends and followers. Therefore the unshared content becomes readily less viewed. It’s actually an interesting and relatively normal SM concept as relevant content gets attention (and the ad $). This just seems too ‘right’ not to have been clearly thought through and preconceived. I do believe FB is very smart and knows how to gain the maximum benefit from everything they do.
    Of course, some things won’t work but for the most part, they’ve always managed to come out ahead with their strategies.
    I’ll never believe any of their recent success has been ‘accidental’. And, in this case, capturing mainstream content has been a huge win for FB. Time will tell if the same holds true for those publishers now relying on FB for traffic, attention and revenue.
    I wonder what next ‘planned’ bait and switch will be?

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