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Well, Facebook went and did it again – the company overhauled its News Feed algorithm at the beginning of 2018, all in the hopes of boosting engagement from its 2 billion worldwide users. That might not sound like a big deal, given Facebook’s propensity to tweak the News Feed in years past. But this “tweak” is much bigger than most because it directly impacts every single brand, publisher or small business on Facebook.
Changes to the News Feed
From now on, Facebook will focus on showing users meaningful content from their friends, not all the free content created by publishers and brands. The change comes after a soul-searching period at Facebook, in which the company has been taking on more and more criticism about what shows up in the News Feed. One problem, says Facebook, is the aimless News Feed scroll, in which users simply scroll through their News Feed, looking for something meaningful to comment on or interact with. Instead of finding posts from their friends, they are bombarded with low-value content from brands and publishers. As a result, many Facebook users are tuning out the News Feed entirely.
So, on one level, you can see why Facebook is making the change. It’s a way of “rescuing” the brand, deflecting some of the criticism about the social networking site in general. But it comes with a heavy cost – just think of all the brands, businesses and publishers that have spent so much time and effort adapting for Facebook. In some cases, these businesses have eschewed websites entirely, so captivated are they with the idea that a Facebook page is a more dynamic, more modern way to reach users. And they have bought into all the advice from marketing agencies, which have been encouraging them for years to create content for social platforms like Facebook.
The blowback for brands and publishers
And now Facebook has rewarded all these brands and publishers with less organic reach and more of a pay-to-play model. Brands and publishers now feel like they are on the proverbial hamster wheel, pedaling faster and faster, but going nowhere fast. The more content they publish, the less is actually shown to users. And the more effort they spend on engaging users, the less opportunity they will actually have to interact with these users. Instead of seeing branded Facebook content from the likes of Netflix, they will now see deep thoughts from Uncle Ned. Instead of viral memes created by Coke, they will see fun photos of pets from Aunt Cole.
This immediately leads to the following observations – it’s up to brands and small businesses to carve out their own piece of land on the Internet, whether that’s a website or blog. It’s no longer feasible to count on Facebook pages to do all the heavy lifting for you.
Get ready for more video content in your News Feed
Moreover, the second major conclusion is that the recent change to the Facebook News Feed will force brands to double-down on what is proven to work: video. If they are creating content for Facebook, they will now need to make some tough decisions about what to create. Since video content has been proven to be the most effective form of content for Facebook, it’s a safe bet that video content will “crowd out” text-based content. In other words, get ready for a lot more branded video content in your News Feed these days.
What’s next for Facebook?
Ultimately, Facebook is making a big gamble here. After a period in which Facebook was seen to be favoring brands and publishers at the expense of users, it’s now clear that the pendulum has shifted. Now Facebook is going to be favoring users at the expense of brands and publishers.
It’s clear that these changes to the News Feed are going to raise a lot of questions about the viability of Facebook’s business model. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already conceded that users will probably be spending less time on the social network than ever before. And some industry analysts have already raised the issue of whether Facebook might be better off doing away with the News Feed entirely. Social media is undergoing a paradigm shift at the moment, and by making this change now at the beginning of 2018, Facebook is hoping to be leading from ahead rather than following from behind.