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How worried should publishers be about the latest Facebook algorithm change?

Yesterday Facebook announced an upcoming change to News Feed ranking that essentially further prioritises stories posted by friends over ones posted by anyone else – including publishers and brands.

Engineering Director Lars Backstrom reiterates Facebook’s priority of keeping users connected to the people, places and things they care about, people on their friends list being the most important.

Facebook had already made a change a while ago to place posts made by friends higher up in News Feed, but feedback from users has convinced them to take the update one step further.

Facebook’s official estimation is that some Pages may experience decline in reach and referral traffic due to the change.

Should I be worried?

Not if you’re doing it right.

While the change has already been called another step in the continued devaluation of large publisher followings and a blow to publishers by some, it’s important to note what Facebook itself says:

The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.

Next, let’s remember what Facebook has said about News Feed Values:

  • Friends and family come first
  • After friends and family, your feed should inform (News posts)
  • After informative, your feed should entertain (Entertainment, Culture, Viral posts)

So think of it this way: you’re a publisher and right now, you’re second rung (you’re not their friend, but at least you’re informative). If you do nothing now, your piece of the pie might grow slightly thinner.

But if you’re relevant enough to get your readers to share your content for you and thus getting them to recommend your stories to their friends, well – you’re top rung. Because friends and family come first, and they both just shared your article.

News content shared by people may now become more important, which is in-line with what we’ve always said – engagement is key for increasing referrals. If anything really suffers here it may be the initial reach that publishers enjoy, which is related in part to the number of Facebook page fans you have, particularly active ones.

Engaging posts will always be seen by more people, and this exposure has always been more important as stories seen via friends have a 3-4x higher clickthrough rate. People trust their friends.

It’s people seeing your stuff through friends that matters

Social media is a two way street. It’s social because it gives people and brands an equal voice and allows people to interact with brands instead of simply listening to them.

The trick is to make your content attractive so that your readers will feel inclined to share it to their friends and discuss it. A page post’s job isn’t to simply generate a maximal amount of clickthroughs and nothing else. Instead, a page post should aim to present readers with a valuable piece of information or entertainment in their News Feed, fit for consumption in the Facebook environment with no hidden agenda to force a clickthrough out of a reader with fancy tricks.

Furthermore, the website, these days often visited through social media side doors should make it easy and attractive for readers to share a story with their friends after consuming it. Web Shares made directly from the publisher’s website or even by copying and pasting the story URL onto Facebook account for a significant amount of any story’s total social media engagement – in fact, given equal On-post engagement and Web Shares, it’s the Web shares – directly from the publisher’s website – which are most important.

With these changes, we may even see Web Shares both increasing and becoming more important. We will be actively monitoring both this and On-Post engagement for any changes across all publishers.

Essentially, Facebook said this and many media blogs said that, but in our opinion this only means that engagement is more important than ever and as we always say, it’s people seeing your stuff via friends that is the crucial thing. Every month a slew of new articles are posted that whip up panic around the news publishing industry. One example was Socialflow’s claim that reach for links on Facebook had dropped 42%. We have recently investigated that in some detail across Nordic news publishers here.

As always, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the effects of this change and blogging on our findings here. See you next time!

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