Facebook News Feed changes will affect publishers, brands

Publishers have been notified to expect lower reach, referral traffic and video views.
Facebook

Following weeks of speculation from publishing circles, Facebook has confirmed that it will downgrade the priority of News Feed content from Pages – often used by publishers and brands – in favour of those from users’ family and friends. 

Publishers and brands have expressed serious concern that the move will reduce their social audiences and traffic coming in from Facebook.

The social platform says it will now prioritize content that it predicts will spark conversation and interaction among friends in any given users’ News Feed. Likes and reactions will not be weighted as highly in that prediction model as comments, shares and messages.

“Facebook was built to bring people closer together and build relationships,” wrote Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed, in an online post. “One of the ways we do this is by connecting people to meaningful posts from their friends and family in News Feed. Over the next few months, we’ll be making updates to ranking so people have more opportunities to interact with the people they care about.”

This is of concern to news media in particular because news stories can drive strong click-through traffic but don’t generally tend to get as many comments or shares as other forms of content.

In an email to publishers, Campbell Brown, who leads news partnerships for Facebook, wrote that the changes mean “people are likely to see less content that comes directly from publishers, brands and celebrities in their News Feed. News Stories shared between friends will not be impacted. Still – some pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease as the updates roll out.”

Craig Silverman, editor at BuzzFeed Canada, told MiC that there is a big caveat to these changes. “No one, including I think anyone at Facebook, knows exactly how this will play out.” 

BuzzFeed relies strongly on Facebook to drive traffic and engagement as a newer media brand born online and leveraging social channels to build its brand.

“There is a lot of uncertainty, but if you are a publisher that relies on Facebook to generate traffic, you will be getting less,” said Silverman.

“This is probably going to be devastating for a lot of small players, for people who have grown pages through memes and ripping video from other places,” he said. “Publishers who have developed an audience and relationships… will not be hit as hard. They may even see a lift.”

Silverman expects this puts the advantage with larger-scale publishers who have multiple means of engaging with audiences online. “The people who are going to suffer are the viral content shops, the places that have been trying to game Facebook’s algorithms.”

Rebecca Zamon, manager of audience development at HuffPost Canada, has been tracking the expected changes to News Feed over the past few months. She expects more details about the changes (beyond the initial public postings) will emerge over the next few days.

Zamon says Facebook will likely remain a “top priority” platform for her publication, but it has been exploring options beyond the social network.

“I don’t want to give away our secret sauce, but Google is a big referrer to and has always been a place we look to for traffic.”

A recent report from analytics firm Parse.ly (of which HuffPost is a client) shows Google has outpaced Facebook on referal traffic to its customers since mid-2017.