“RIP Facebook News Feed” – or so said Larry Kim, CTO of WordStream, after Mark Zuckerberg’s big announcement this month.
After a 2017 rife with controversy for the social media giant – from Russian election meddling to anti-Semitic ad categories and the rise of Fake News – on Thursday 4th January Zuckerberg announced that his mission for 2018 was to “focus on fixing the important issues”.
The co-founder and CEO has a history of taking up yearly challenges, which has seen him learn Mandarin, run 365 miles, and build an AI to run his own home. 2018‘s challenge will see him adjust the News Feed to focus on family, friends and communities rather than the ‘centralisation’ of Brands and Publisher pages.
Previously the News Feed algorithm served the most ‘relevant’ content based upon engagement history and how the post has fared with similar users. Zuckerberg’s changes will switch that to now focus on posts that “spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people” with “long and thoughtful replies” and “back-and-forth discussions” being the new order of business.
So, what does this all mean for users? According to Facebook’s research with leading US universities, ‘passive’ reading or watching is not good for our well-being and people are more likely to comment on or discuss a post shared by a family member than one shared by a business or brand. As a result, while Zuckerberg expects the time people spend on Facebook to decrease, the same time will also be more ‘valuable’, which will benefit brands.
Conversation on LinkedIn and other opinion forums has exploded, with plenty of leaders taking the opportunity to clear up the fog around the announcement. In general, however, there is agreement that organic reach for brand pages will reduce further and ‘pay-to-play’ will become an even more important feature.
Several pieces have focused on how these changes aren’t as big as previously thought. John Battelle of NewCo shrewdly elucidated that to fix those issues Facebook would have to gut its advertising-driven model, thereby risking a reduction in revenue and profit – something the company cannot countenance.
All this then begs the question of how this will affect advertisers. At a macro level, it won’t: Facebook will still be the same channel it was from a paid perspective. At a micro level, however, paid campaigns will most likely see an increase in cost metrics as more brands are forced into the paid space, driving competition for impressions higher. Combine this with the belief that users will reduce time spent on Facebook and increased costs become more likely.
The precise implications of this move is unclear – and how much change we actually see could vary substantially over the next few months – but any paid social activity should be planned around taking this into account.