There can barely be a content strategy in the land that doesn’t contain the word ‘Facebook’ – be it for a publisher or brand. The social media giant provides a platform for companies to connect with their customers and journalists to reach their readers.
Facebook’s recent announcement, therefore, that it will be drastically changing its newsfeed in 2018 will have a big impact.
The changes were first flagged up by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who pledged to prioritise ‘meaningful social interactions’ - giving people more posts from their friends and fewer from news sites and brands.
Zuckerberg argued that businesses have been ‘crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other’ and argued that watching videos and reading articles is ‘passive’ and not as good for people’s well-being.
The news came as Facebook stands accused of a number of ‘crimes’ – from fake news, to enabling election interference and helping to spread hate.
Yet, the fact people are now posting less about themselves (‘context collapse’) is surely another big motivation, with videos and business posts diverting people’s attention from publishing their own statuses and uploading more personal details – the sort of personal data that Facebook needs to make its money.
It’s fair to say that the newsfeed announcement wasn’t universally popular. Facebook’s share price fell 4% after the news broke - hardly surprising since Zuckerberg accepts this might mean people spend less time on the site - while journalists worried that the traffic they get from social media will fall.
BBC media editor Amol Rajan tweeted:
“Hard to overstate the potential - potential - significance of Facebook changes for some publishers. Some new media models are driven largely by social traffic, obviously, and for them this could be existential.
“That said, plenty remains unclear. Not at all clear how this will affect prevalence of disinformation. Some fake news might be reduced. But others which attract plenty of comment won't.
“Also wholly unclear as yet what this means for Facebook's bottom line. Maybe they feel a short term hit in revenue is worth the pain because of the heat they're getting on all fronts. Presume this won't make the newsfeed much less sticky.
"But it does seem, at this stage, to fundamentally re-write the company's relationship with news publishers. Intrigued to see if Matt Brittin and Google react with a big fresh offer to the industry. They might see this is as an open(ish) goal."
So, what is this likely to mean? Here’s some factors to consider in light of last week’s news:
Want a post to go viral on Facebook? The key to this has been to get users to share it. The new newsfeed, however, might change this. Facebook wants to get people talking to each other and that means comments could become increasingly significant. Get people talking underneath your posts and they’ll pop up in more feeds. Polls, opinion pieces, debates and even quizzes could, therefore, help to deliver the desired results. The trick will be to spark genuine conversations that fit the bill as ‘meaningful’.
A cynic would suggest that making it harder for Facebook posts to organically reach a large audience might well mean that paid posts take on an even greater performance. Might Facebook hike up its prices to exploit this? It might be cynical, but it’s certainly something that brands need to look out for. Will paid posts stick out like a sore thumb if feeds are stripped of much other commercial content? These are all things that should be closely monitored.
When Facebook negatively describes people watching videos as a ‘passive’ experience it probably sends a shiver down the spine of people who have spent an awful lot of time and money on the ‘pivot to video’ in recent years. This doesn’t mean the death of video, but does mean that video content will need to work harder to provoke reactions and interactions.
Although this is likely to bring some short term pain in terms of traffic, some feel that it will be healthier if publishers are less dependent on Facebook for their traffic. Bloomberg CEO Justin Smith said: “This move can be interpreted as one of the first cracks in the facade of the duopoly. This development is very good for all of media in the long run.” If it causes brands to be more creative – and think more deeply about how to use other channels – it might well be good for readers too, who have become bombarded by content on Facebook in recent years. Publishers have always had to adapt to get their message across in a way that readers most appreciate.
It’s important to note that we won’t see the full impact of the changes overnight. However, no-one involved in the production and distribution of content should be naïve enough to think this won’t be significant going forward. Whether we like it or not, if Facebook sneezes, we all catch a cold - so it’s time to reach for the content Berocca.
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