Facebook has announced plans to reframe how users experience its product, and the News Feed in particular, as part of the platform’s most sweeping changes in years. The big takeaway: Facebook will prioritize content that generates conversations—and more specifically, updates from friends and family—and diminish the organic spread of publisher content.
The news comes in light of growing concerns over Facebook’s role in society, and comes out of recent revelations from Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook’s path forward. Fresh off a year-long tour of the United States and renewed focus on community, the founder recently shared that his New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to “fix” the dark underbelly of Facebook that has created an environment of “fake news,” divisiveness, and bubbles that serve to limit users’ openness to contradictory ideas and opinions.
In an interview with The New York Times, Facebook hinted that reworking the News Feed will drive immediate dips in time on site and engagement metrics, but this is a sacrifice that Zuckerberg and Co. are willing to make in order to fix what has arguably become a broken News Feed experience that does not benefit the overall health and well-being of users. “If people end up feeling better about using the social network, the business will ultimately benefit,” noted the Times.
So, who stands to benefit from the update—and who will suffer? One clear winner is Facebook’s PR team. Facebook, and other digital platforms, came under intense scrutiny in 2017 regarding their growing (and rather freewheeling) influence on the world around them. From offensive to downright sinister content on YouTube, to debates over how elected officials can use Twitter, and, of course, how third-parties influenced the 2016 Presidential Election via Facebook, the general public has been hungry for tangible action from the tech giants.
Another potential winner is Facebook’s user base, who will now see more content from their friends and family members. Facebook’s original wave of users are passing a decade of platform use, and per Facebook’s own user surveys, some people lament that the Facebook they signed up for is barely recognizable compared to the one they use today. Of course, this announcement will not mean the end of advertising on Facebook and in the News Feed in particular, so users shouldn’t expect an entirely scrubbed News Feed by any means.
Per some comprehensive reporting via Digiday, the group with the most grounds for concern is the digital publishing community. Many publishers rely on Facebook to drive traffic to their owned properties. In fact, for a significant number of these publishers, Facebook is the second-most important referral source behind Google. This is especially true for digital-first, niche publishers—companies like BuzzFeed, Refinery29, ATTN, and others—that have learned how to create hacky, clickable, thumb-stopping content that resonates well in the Facebook News Feed in particular.
So many publishers think they have audiences, when what they really have is traffic.
I think we’re about to find out who has an audience
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) January 12, 2018
While the impact of the changes remains to be seen, these publishers will very likely need to reframe their approach to growing and engaging their audiences via Facebook and elsewhere. Of course, these types of shifts are not entirely new to the digital world. SEO professionals, for example, have been rewriting their playbook for years as Google updates and evolves its own algorithm. Moreover, Facebook’s News Feed has always been somewhat of a moving target, with publishers seeing fewer returns on organic investments in light of expanded pay-to-play opportunities.
Still, the news is significant and is already having an early impact on investor activity, though the long-term effect remains to be seen.
The new approach demonstrates Facebook’s desire to set into action its reworked vision to create and foster a stronger community, and a poignant inflection point for Zuckerberg personally. In his New York Times interview, he suggested that the move was not just about Facebook’s future, but about his future legacy, as well.
“It’s important to me that when Max and August grow up that they feel like what their father built was good for the world,” he said.
Explore these themes and more at SMWNYC, to be held April 24-27, 2018. Our global theme “Closer” will explore the growing tension between community and individualism. Hear from Facebook and other digital platforms at our tenth-anniversary event. Passes are on sale now.
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