For years, Facebook has courted publishers of all sizes, asking them to depend more and more on the social media giant to expand their audiences. Now, Facebook has a new message for publishers: Tamp down your expectations.
Facebook said on Wednesday that it planned to make a series of changes to its news feed algorithm so that it will more favourably promote content posted by the friends and family of users.
The side effect of those changes, the company said, is that content posted by publishers will show up less prominently in news feeds, resulting in significantly less traffic to the hundreds of news media sites that have come to rely on Facebook.
The move underscores the never-ending algorithm-tweaking Facebook undertakes to maintain interest in its news feed, the company’s marquee feature that is seen by more than 1.65 billion users every month.
It is also a reminder that while Facebook is vastly important to the long-term growth of news media companies, from older outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post to upstarts like BuzzFeed, Vice and Vox Media, publishers rank lower on Facebook’s list of priorities.
“There is now an expectation, in general, on the part of publishers that platforms will change, and that they won’t necessarily be informed how they will change,” said Emily Bell, director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “This completely highlights how ownership of the user is a central tension between news producers and platforms.”
The changes will affect all types of content posted by publishers, including links, videos, live videos and photos. Facebook said it expected a drop in reach and referral traffic for publishers whose audience comes primarily to content posted by the publisher’s official Facebook page. Just how much is difficult to say.
It will have less of an impact, however, if most of a publisher’s traffic comes from individual users sharing and commenting on their stories and videos. As has long been the case, publisher content that your friends interact with will frequently appear higher in the feed compared to posts shared directly by a publisher.
Over the last few years, publishers struggling to attract readership and draw online advertising dollars have come to view Facebook and its users as a good way to gain new audiences and lucrative revenue streams. That has resulted in closer partnerships between Facebook and publishers experimenting with new media products tailored specifically for the social media site.
Last year, for example, Facebook debuted Instant Articles, a product that allowed publishers to post articles directly to the social media site, Both Facebook and publishers described the move as a better, faster reading experience for users. Facebook is also paying a number of publishers, including The Times, to create broadcasts for Facebook Live, the company’s new live-streaming video product.
Those features will also be affected by the algorithm change.