Facebook is making changes to its News Feed to align with newly articulated values, and it means you will soon see more stuff from your friends and families and fewer things from publishers and brands. It’s a move meant to keep the “social” in the world’s largest social network, but one that will likely cause some pain for publishers who have become reliant on its referral traffic.
Facebook sends enough traffic to digital publishers that many depend on it to survive. By and large, these publishers have dedicated significant resources to gobbling the most out of Facebook’s great traffic trough, building large "pages" and publishing to them with intense frequency (BuzzFeed is no exception). Their efforts have become so massive, and to some extent have so come to dominate the Facebook experience, that Facebook is worried professional publishers are crowding out posts from regular people. So the company is tweaking its all-powerful News Feed to display more from friends and family and less from publishers and brands overall.
“Your average friend probably posts a few things a week, the average publisher you follow probably posts hundreds of things a day,” Facebook VP of Product Management Adam Mosseri told a small group of reporters at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters last week. “We've made some ranking changes to try to better connect people with their friends.”
The hit will likely be most significant for publishers who get large amounts of Facebook traffic from their own pages, as opposed to individuals sharing their content. If a publisher’s content is shared widely by people who want their friends to see it, then the decline is likely to be smaller, says Facebook.
“I'd expect reach for publishers to go down a small amount, but a noticeable amount,” Mosseri said. “Reach for publishers always varies a lot by publisher, so there's no specific way to know that on a per publisher basis. Some publishers may go up, some publishers may go down, some publishers may go down more.”
Facebook is responsible for 41.4% of publisher referral traffic, per the digital analytics firm Parse.ly, so a small but noticeable decline could mean serious trouble for some publishers — especially those that “may go down more.” Facebook has more or less slaughtered publications in the past with News Feed algorithm tweaks, and today’s adjustment may bring more bloodshed for those overly reliant on brand pages.
The changes come on the same day Facebook is publishing a set of values it says informs the way the News Feed prioritizes stories. “News Feed is a system that's designed and built by people, those people have values, and those values are reflected in how we make decisions on a regular basis,” Mosseri said. Implicit in the statement: The News Feed isn’t “neutral.” It wants certain things, and Facebook is happy to tell us what they are.
Those things, in order, are: content from friends and family first, followed by informative content, and then entertaining content. Today’s News Feed tweak can be understood through this lens. “Connecting people with their friends and family is the value proposition on which this company is built,” Mosseri said. “It's also still often what people tell us they like most, or care about most.”
In some cases, content can be in more than one category. As Mosseri said at one point, “Actually, I love it when things are multiple [categories],” naming John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight as a content type that often hits both the inform and entertain buckets.
Facebook is experiencing a decline in original sharing on the platform, per multiple reports. Some attribute this to a high quality bar people may feel they need to meet when they post to Facebook — those amateur snapshots might look out of place surrounded by so much professionally produced content. Yet Mosseri said this update was not meant to address that social media stage fright. “Is there a quality bar that's sort of internally projected? I'm not sure. I don't know. But that didn't go into the thinking of this.”
Maybe not. But regardless of whether or not this was intended to encourage people to post more casual content, or just to surface it, Facebook and its newly articulated News Feed values will likely mean more selfies and fewer stories showing up in your daily social media diet.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
Contact Alex Kantrowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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