Commentary

Is Facebook Making A Play For Twitter's Second-Screeners?

Is Facebook admitting that it got it wrong -- or at least went too far down the road of weighting news feeds around engagement and popularity?

And does this confession come because it has allowed Twitter to become recognised as the second-screen destination? Is it attempting to get back attention from people watching the big game or X Factor, which Twitter has been making so many case studies out of for the past year or so?

Today's news that Facebook is increasing the importance of time when ordering a news feed would certainly appear to suggest this may be the case. It's interesting because Twitter is dropping heavy hints that it is considering going down a similar route to that already explored by Facebook, which might see it cease ordering timelines strictly by time alone and perhaps throw a little engagement into its algorithm.

It was odd to log in the first few times when Facebook altered news feeds to consider engagement as well as time because suddenly some posts seemed overly prominent, while others dropped down the page. The classic we're all starting to get used to is seeing someone's August holiday snaps reappearing a month later because a couple of people have commented on them. The one that always gets me, however, is coverage of a major live event being skewed by engagement. It means, say, for a football game, a post about an equaliser appears before you've seen the news that there was a first goal. 

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So the promise that Facebook is going to prioritise around time as well as engagement is encouraging. I know lots of people have been calling for this, but I seriously suspect the change of heart is as much a commercial decision as it is improving customer service.

Twitter has been very noisily making a lot of ground with second-screeners, underlining the appeal of reaching out to the half of all television viewers who regularly surf while they view. It can identify people talking about shows that are a good fit for advertisers who can then reach out with relevant content and offers. Dominos Pizza is the poster child here. It is synonymous with using Twitter to amplify content associated with its sponsorship of the X Factor app.

With Twitter, the obvious point is that posts are ordered by time, and so second-screening is far more immediate. If someone sings terribly during a live audition, it can be responded to, or if a team scores a goal, the cheers and boos can be heard instantaneously.

So marketers will have to look at what appears to be at least a rethink at Facebook. Is injecting back an element of timeliness through trending topics more than an attempt to keep news feeds on top of the news and trending topics?

Could it just be a sideswipe at Twitter and its close association with second-screening?

Twitter execs will have to ask themselves the same question and weigh up the importance of timely comments about live events against upweighting posts with strong engagement.

Second-screeners are a massive market -- effectively half the UK adult television watching population -- and so engaging them in a timely manner, in line with the entertainment on the screen, is a growing opportunity that will be at the centre of both social media giants' strategies going forward.

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