Since its founding in February 2004, Facebook has amassed more than 2.1 billion monthly active users. The average person spends 35 minutes a day on the platform, which amounts to more than a year and a half over the course of a lifetime. According to the social networking site’s most recent earnings call, in 2017 Facebook saw a 47% year-over-year increase in revenue.
Despite its wide-reaching success, Facebook’s history has been peppered with controversy, particularly when it comes to its News Feed algorithm. Largely a mystery to the general public, the algorithm determines the order in which content appears in users’ News Feeds and subsequently the information over two billion people are exposed to every day.
Facebook recently announced a significant change to the algorithm’s ranking system that may threaten the ability of influencers, brands, and news outlets to succeed on the platform. Here we’ll break down how the Facebook algorithm has evolved over time, the recent changes, and the potential impacts of these changes on the influencer marketing industry.
Facebook’s algorithm determines the order in which content appears in a user’s’ News Feed (the stream of content that a user first sees after logging in to Facebook). The News Feed contains a variety of content including posts published by a user’s Facebook friends, posts published by Pages a user follows or likes, advertisements, and suggested content.
According to Facebook, the algorithm includes an individualized ranking system that predicts which content a given user is most likely to engage with and orders their feed accordingly. Factors like the content format, publisher, and past user activity impact where content appears in a specific user’s News Feed.
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In the past few years, Facebook’s algorithm has been criticized for notable shortcomings. Though this creates a satisfying user experience, it’s been criticised for creating an “echo chamber”, allowing a person to cut off other worldviews and be surrounded by only information they agree with. Many see the News Feed’s ranking system as especially problematic due to the fact that many use Facebook as a source of news and political information.
Additionally, the platform has a complicated history with publishers, many of whom are dependent on Facebook as a source of traffic. In fact, in 2015, Facebook surpassed Google as a referral traffic source for the first time. However, changes to the Facebook algorithm, both in the past and present, have made Facebook a less viable distribution platform for publishers and jeopardized their overall success.
Other periods of controversy include May 2016, when it was discovered that Facebook workers manipulated the way trending stories appear in News Feeds to suppress conservative media. In September of the same year, it came out that divisive ads were purchased on the platform by a Russian company with the intention of swaying U.S. voter decisions in the 2016 presidential election. In the context of the News Feed, fake news became a hot topic because fake Facebook accounts can push fabricated news stories higher in News Feeds.
Looking ahead to 2018, Facebook has made it clear that it intends to focus more on individual accounts and less on publisher content. On January 11, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is adjusting its News Feed algorithm to prioritize posts from family and friends over content published by Pages.
In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg stated, “…you can expect to see more from your friends, family, and groups…you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
Zuckerberg also reemphasized the News Feed change in the company’s most recent earnings announcement and discussed Facebook’s ongoing focus on “meaningful connections between people” rather than “passive consumption of content.” He estimates that the changes to the algorithm decreased time spent on Facebook by roughly 5% in the fourth quarter of 2018, illustrating just how serious the company is about redefining the News Feed.
The changes effectively deprioritize content from public Facebook Pages, which are owned by businesses, publications, social media influencers and other public figures, making it harder for these entities to gain visibility in the News Feed and subsequently drive traffic to their websites.
Posts Users Will See At The Top Of News Feeds:
Posts Users Will See Less Of In News Feeds:
The full impact of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm change remains to be seen. Influencers, brands, and news outlets who depend on Facebook as a primary source of traffic may suffer significantly as a result of decreased post visibility.
Jessica Nigri, one of the world’s largest cosplay creators, has 4.7 million followers on Facebook. She complains that past changes to the News Feed algorithm have “decimated” the reach of her Facebook Page, and fears that the latest update will make matters even worse.
In light of Facebook’s algorithm changes, influencers and brands should consider diversifying their content distribution methods by leveraging blogs and other social media platforms. Though the full effects of the recent News Feed changes have yet to be discovered, things certainly aren’t looking great for the future of Facebook Pages and the brands, influencers, and publishers who rely on them.