Last week, Facebook announced some changes to the way that news feeds will appear for its almost 1.5 billion accounts. While the announcement created something of a fuss, it shouldn’t be too surprising.
Facebook has been filtering what you see for a while already. And there are good reasons for that. Facebook is a commercial organisation with demanding shareholders, so one of the reasons is to encourage businesses to financially promote their posts. Another reason is to stop users being overwhelmed by their news feed: without any filters, your Facebook experience would be very different, and if people start to leave Facebook, those advertisers and shareholders will be looking to spend their money elsewhere – not what Zuck wants at all.
At the moment, the average Facebook user sees 300 posts per day, a mixture of friends, companies and adverts. But without a filter, the user would see 1500 posts per day – so if you think you see too much on Facebook, it could be a lot worse!
But how does Facebook decide what to show you in your 300 posts? Previously, it was based on the engagement that you had on various posts: if you liked, commented or shared an article, Facebook would (rightly) assume that you find this content interesting and will give you more content in a similar style or subject. If you didn’t do any of these things, Facebook would start to filter the content from a page as it would assume that you weren’t interested.
But what if you were interested in a subject, but didn’t want to publicise to your friends and family your interest in it? For example, if there was a sensitive political issue that you felt strongly about, you may not want to like or comment and share your views with the world.
That’s why Facebook has decided to take a look at a different metric – how long you spend looking at an update. It would be easy to interpret this as rather Orwellian and you may have a point, but Facebook’s argument is that this information is being tracked elsewhere anyway (true!) and they are doing it to provide a better quality user experience (TBC!).
They would not do anything to consciously jeopardise user satisfaction in the long-term.
It’s interesting to take a brief moment to see how much perception of privacy has changed – not so long ago, someone asking for your email address was invasive, now people are having the time they spend looking at an article tracked! Theoretically, this will mean that you don’t necessarily need to like a page to see their content – if you stare at a sponsored post for long enough, you may start receiving their posts.
So what does this mean for marketers? Not a lot has changed from a marketing perspective. You should still be creating interesting content, using impactful and relevant images and crafting enticing headlines. All of these will drive engagement for your Facebook content. The one change is that the competition just got more challenging. The drive for engagement is still the most important element of social media marketing and now there is a new metric on Facebook; time spent looking at post.
What Facebook really want marketers to conclude is that they should use sponsored posts more to ensure that their messages are getting out to the largest proportion of their audience as possible. And they are entitled to drive that agenda; we are using their platform after all.
Just don’t be surprised if businesses and users start to questions whether this is improving the experience or detracting from it.