After wooing publishers with promises of faster delivery times and huge audiences, Facebook is reversing course, at least to some degree.
It is making changes to the rules governing what content appears in users’ newsfeeds. The revamped algorithm will give greater emphasis to content from users’ personal contacts, while decreasing the amount of content they see from publishers and brands.
It would appear that publishers and brands on Facebook have fallen victim to their own enthusiasm in what is essentially a “tragedy of the commons” situation.
They began posting so much content on the social network they were crowding out content from users’ actual friends and family – making it less “social” and more “network.”
According to press reports, Facebook vice-president of product management Adam Mosseri explained the changes in an interview with reporters at the company’s headquarters: “Your average friend probably posts a few things a week, the average publisher you follow probably posts hundreds of things a day. We’ve made some ranking changes to try to better connect people with their friends.”
The new system prioritizes personal content over news and information, which in turn, takes precedence over entertainment content, as set forth in Facebook’s summary of the “values” determining which types of content get the most exposure. It covers all types of content from publishers, including article links, video, and live video.
However, there’s a silver lining for publishers that succeed in getting users to actively share their content, as this is more likely to show up in their friends’ newsfeeds than content coming directly from the publisher’s own Facebook page.
Presumably, the same is true for content from brands, many of which are de facto publishers on the network.
The changes are apparently already under way. Earlier this month, a study from SocialFlow found that media companies have seen their average audiences per story decline by 42% from 117,000 in January to just 68,000 in May.
Separately, another study from analytics firm SocialWhip found that the combined activity for the ten biggest English-language publishers on Facebook fell from 287 million engagements per month in July 2015 to 162 million per month in April of this year, for a 44% decline over this period.