Why Facebook’s news feed changes are making my head spin

Mumbrella's Josie Tutty considers what Facebook's potential new pay-to-play news feed means for publishers who rely on the site's two billion active users to find an audience.

Facebook page owners in Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia woke up last Thursday to the realisation that their posts had been moved from the main news feed to an obscure new ‘Explore’ feed.

If you happen to be in one of those fated six countries, the only non-sponsored posts that are visible in your news feed are those from your friends.*

So far, the results of the trial have revealed a major drop in interactions (up to four times, according to Filip Struhárik, journalist at Dennikn).

According to Adam Mosseri‏, Facebook’s head of news feed, the test isn’t global and “has no plans to be.”

He expanded on this in a Facebook blog post: “Some have interpreted this test as a future product we plan to deliver globally. We currently have no plans to roll this test out further… There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore.”

Despite Adam’s soothing words, it wasn’t quite enough to stop my head spinning at the eye-watering power Facebook has over publishers who make at least some part of their living through Facebook.

Mumbrella is one of these publishers.

Social provides around 20% of our traffic, with the bulk of that coming from Facebook. Each day, our posts can provide thousands of traffic hits, which we would sorely miss if those posts were relegated to the Explore page. Much of my day is spent analysing, adapting and creating content to ensure it thrives on Facebook. I’m not too sure how fun my job would be once engagement falls off a cliff.

Mumbrella’s social reach over the last four years | Source: Google Analytics

Luckily for us, organic search and email provide a safety net – a safety net that has been built up and strengthened over nine years of daily posts. And as it happens, LinkedIn is challenging Facebook as our best performing social source of traffic.

Mumbrella’s social traffic so far for October 2017 | Source: Google Analytics

For newer publishers, however – especially those in the youth market – Facebook traffic is a vital lifeline.

After spending years perfecting video content and learning to craft perfectly shareable stories, you can imagine how the idea of being sent to the Explore page might leave some publishers quaking in their Yeezys.

Pedestrian, Punkee, Betoota – I’m looking at you.

And it’s not just website traffic that’s at stake. Native video content is big business, and when a video that would once provide a shiny 1m views and a happy sponsor stops performing, you can see how quickly the cash could dry up.

And sponsored posts? Sure, they’d appear in the main newsfeed, but when your ad is contrasted with posts from friends, they’ll be all the more easy to ignore.

Nevertheless, even if brands did start to produce sponsored content that sat comfortably alongside friend posts, boosting 10, 20, or 30 posts a day to your entire audience simply isn’t sustainable.

Of course, this is a new study, and there’s no telling what users will do once they get comfortable with the Explore page. And this isn’t the first time Facebook has introduced a seemingly seismic shift to its algorithms – digital publishers have learned that in order to survive, they must learn to adapt. It’s the reason why your favourite pages now churn out video content like there’s no tomorrow.

All I can suggest is to keep a close eye on the national engagement leaderboards for Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia. Facebook sure will be.

* Friend posts – those things you used to see before Facebook realised you’d probably prefer to read Betoota Advocate posts than spend your precious scrolling time vomiting over that PDA-prone couple you last spoke to back in 2007.


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