Last week Mark Zuckerberg announced with considerable fanfare that Facebook was changing how it would prioritize the content that it shows in people’s News Feed. People have so many connections, and follow so many brands and interest groups, that Facebook can’t show you everything. From now on posts from publishers and brands will be given a lower priority, with the highest priority going to content from people’s friends and family, as well as groups people belong to – and especially those people and groups that we most engage with (Facebook weights comments much higher than likes or shares).
Tell me something new.
This is what Facebook has been doing increasingly for several years. So the question is: Is this just a continuation in the same direction or, as Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream and MobileMonkey says, essentially the end of Facebook as we know it?
Whichever is the case, you will probably barely notice the change. Facebook doesn’t tend to throw we lobsters into pots of boiling water; it slowly turns up the heat on the pot that we’re already in.
Starting five or six years ago Facebook started to de-prioritize the posts from brands to the point that now a post is typically only seen by 2-3 percent of a brand’s followers. (In 2013 it might have been 10 times higher.) Posts from big, national brands are shown at a lower rate than smaller, local companies.
What’s the message to brands? No more free ride. If companies want to reach people on Facebook, they need to pay for ads or promoted posts.
Will Facebook ads get more expensive? Almost certainly. They have a limited inventory and they provide advertisers with unmatched personal data to target ads with. Facebook can live with fewer, more expensive ads. They did announce that they would essentially rate ads and prioritize ones with higher engagement; this is similar to how Google gives a higher score to search ads with higher click and conversion rates. It’s a win-win; what’s good for the customer is good for the platform.
Similarly, Facebook has been steadily reducing the number of posts it shows from publishers for some time.
So is this more of the same, or a radical departure?
Even Facebook VP Adam Mosseri seems unclear on that. He said,
“So one of the key things is understanding what types of interactions people find meaningful, what inspires them to interact more or share more in the future. Some of the specific things would be like we’re going to be (weighing) long comments more than short comments… Comments in general, this was true before (the change). But it’s more true after. Comments are more valuable than Likes. If you bother to actually take the time to respond to something that I posted, a picture of maybe my two kids. It’s a pain actually to type on a mobile phone. Liking is pretty easy; that’s the whole point of Liking.
“Some news content that is shared and talked about a lot will receive some sort of tailwind from this. And news content that is more directly consumed by users—that they don’t actually talk about or share—will actually receive less distribution as a result.”
So will our News Feeds will be filled with posts from people who use Facebook more like LinkedIn, who have 1,000 to 5,000 (the maximum allowed) “friends” rather than the median ~200, because they will get the most comments?
The most surprising part of Zuckerberg’s announcement was when he described (around the 4th and 5th paragraphs) the potentially negative effects of social media on people’s wellbeing. He also wrote of the anticipated business impact on Facebook (whose stock promptly dropped about 4%), “Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”
He was being kind to social media, as many studies have shown that it can produce anxiety and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Just search on “social media increases anxiety” and you will find a ton of articles.
Facebook is constantly evolving. In 2009 it changed its UI to respond to the rise of Twitter. Lately it’s been pushing its Group feature more, partially in response to Nextdoor, I assume. And it introduced Marketplace where members can “buy and sell used stuff”, which responded to the rise of groups with tens of thousands of members that were informally doing this. Zuck wanted a piece of the action.
Zuckerberg said that these latest changes will roll out over several months. You’ll hardly notice. It’s just part of the evolution of Facebook that’s been happening since it was founded.