Zuckerberg Drops A Nuclear Bomb With New Facebook Algorithms: Who Will Suffer?
Facebook has announced the shift of priorities in news feed. Panic is rising, and some editorials even named the announcement “the digital equivalent of a nuclear bomb”. What is waiting for marketers on Facebook - a full-on catastrophe or a minor adjustment?
“ We're making a major change to how we build Facebook. I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions”
Zuckerberg points out that public content - news from media and brands, is crowding out personal posts that “lead us to connect more with each other”. The major goal of Facebook - is to unite friends and families.
From the beginning of the week, the algorithms are being changed so that personal content will dominate news feed.
“As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
What is really happening?
We have yet to find out about technical specifics of new algorithms. However, connecting the dots given by Facebook folk, experts, and media, there is an emerging pattern of changes:
1. Personal communication trumps public posts. Algorithms will prioritize friends’ content over brand posts. News Feed VP Adam Mosseri pointed out in his Newsroom post that space in News Feed is limited”. Therefore, by increasing the number of friends&family posts, Facebook will downsize public content, including video.
2. Comments trump likes and reach. Earlier, Facebook prioritized its content by engagement - likes, shares, and the amount of time spent to watch a video. From now on, we’ll see more posts that “ inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments”. It entirely changes our approach to relevance and viral content.
3. Quality trumps quantity. Facebook used to track down relevance by measuring how much time a user spent on the page. From this point forward, the quality of time is what matters. “One of our big focus areas for 2018 is making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent” - says Mark Zuckerberg in his new post.
Why is Zuckerberg doing it?
If we want to get to the chase of new algorithms, let’s take a look not on what’s added but on what’s canceled. That’s the prevalent usage of Facebook by business and media for business, not personal purposes.
1. Facebook got taken over by professionals. The network has been created for people but ended up hijacked by brands and institutions. The system of sharing information was that efficient, that everyone who wanted to distribute content bypassing media came in - including media channels themselves.
Those interested parties distributed information as professionals - using trained people, technology, budgets. They learned how to mine organic and paid traffic. Facebook was party fighting them, as well as giving a hand of help. The network tried to crush free promotion. And as it did, professionals got stronger, smarter, and harder.
2. Users became haunted. At the end of the day, professionals have swallowed amateurs. An average user was no longer a subject of the network, but it’s object - the loot that is always haunted. What used to be an innocent act of talking to friends and family, turned into taking advantage of interests by structures, institutions, and brands.
3. Election and “fake news”. One thing led to another - and Facebook had to face the main problem of 2017 - over 80 000 Russian-backed posts that reached over 29 million Americans during the presidential election in 2016.
In 2017, Colin Stretch, Facebook lawyer, made the following statement:
“The discovery of Russian interference has opened a new battleground for our company, our industry and our society”
Looks like the time has come to enter the battleground. Also, as Mari Smith, Facebook Marketing Expert, pointed out for AdWeek, the timing to announce new algorithms could not have been better due to the hearing on cyber-terrorism scheduled for Facebook, Twitter, and some other tech giants on Jan. 17
The evident vulnerability of Facebook safety system has led to the “fake news” epidemic. Earlier in 2017, Facebook was subjected to a media outcry regarding the spread of fake news on the network and its role in presidential election. The leadership was accused of polarization of society and the spread of hatred.
Zuckerberg was criticized because of non-action and failure to take real responsibility for what happened on the platform.
4. Failed fake news experiment and political scandals. In Autumn, 2017, Facebook has been conducting a trial to backfire fake news. The idea was to promote the comments containing words “fake” or “lie” to the top of news feed. It hit the media hard - the posts of BBC, The Guardian, The Economist, and The New York Times now began with a comment, stating “fake”.
The experiment started a huge media outcry - users didn’t feel protected, rather angry and fooled.
The experiment failed. In November 2017, Facebook made a statement to BBC:
“We're always working on ways to curb the spread of misinformation on our platform, and sometimes run tests to find new ways to do this. This was a small test which has now concluded.”
Due to political scandals and the eagerness of public for Facebook to take further actions, new algorithms have been implemented.
5. What is he going to tell his kids? As one of the main reason of what he’s done the change of the Feed, Zuckerberg stated the responsibility for his kids. In his interview for The New York Times, Zuckerberg stated: “It’s important to me that when Max and August grow up that they feel like what their father built was good for the world."
The CEO of Facebook came to the point where it’s important to rethink the legacy and see whether what you are doing is good for the world.
Thinking About The Consequence
1. Saying goodbye to the organic traffic as we know it. The tech team of Facebook has to come up with how exactly new priorities are going to work, but one thing is clear - the mechanisms and systems to get organic traffic will go down or, at the very least, hang by a thread.
Mark himself admits that over the course of the next few weeks we will see the decrease of amount of time people spend on Facebook. Same thing will work for engagement rates.
2. A trap for media. For media channels, new algorithms might be the exact equivalent of “digital nuclear bomb”. As few of you might know, Facebook has already been practicing the media shut-off in Serbia, Slovakia, Sri-Lanka, Cambodia, Guatemala, and Bolivia.
In October, Facebook users of these countries could witness a weird thing. All the news written by local media, brands, and politicians were placed in a separate “Explore” Feed. In a regular feed, media news weren’t visible.
Editors were losing their mind, and experts decided it to be the network’s way to shut down free promotion. However, now we know exactly why the experiment has been conducted. Facebook has cleared out the public content to see what the News Feed is going to turn into.
Apparently, the result didn’t match the expectations of Zuckerberg and Co. Now Adam Mosseri has assured us that posts from pages aren’t going to be placed anywhere else. They will remain being in News Feed but the reach will take quite a fall.
We can now admit that there are plenty of details of Facebook interaction with media that are still vague. For instance, Facebook has been promoting Instant Article, offering publishers to post there instead of their websites. However, who will know need the Instant Article feature if the announcements of articles won’t be in Feed?
As Jeff Jarvis pointed out, “news and media companies — convinced by Facebook to put their content on Facebook or to pivot to video — will now see their fears about having the rug pulled out from under them”.
Here’s to media channels: put your trust in your own platform and channels. The more you invest someplace else, the more dependent you become of its CEO and his feeling of social duty to his kids and congressmen.
3. Re-formatting of marketing and advertising. The first reaction of many businesses could be: “I see, so Facebook is downsizing the brand content to make brands pay for it”. So, one might think, Zuckerberg wants to shut down the organic traffic and turn it into paid.
However, there are no signs of this plan to be true. Chances are, posts of brands, politicians, and media channels won’t be able to get back to News Feed even if they pay. We are talking ideology - not income. FYI, Zuckerberg has already lost almost 3 billion dollars after the fallout of Facebook shares.
With close to 100% certainty we can say that Facebook CEO saw it coming. Apparently, he simply doesn’t care about the loss of 3 sad little billion.
The reform doesn’t have the economic basis. Its main goal is not shutting brands down just to call them back when they are willing to pay. We are going to face new customs and mechanisms. Even though the ad budgets have already been divided.
4. A shot to the heat for nonprofits, SME, and community groups. Adam Mosseri set it straight - after new changes are in place, page owners will see the fall of reach, traffic, and time spent on the page.
Major corporations will find a way to adapt, adjust, and make it work. Small institutions who worked hard to get organic traffic and connection simply because they lacked ad funds will face a lot of problems. That makes sense - those were small institutions that started the “fake news” epidemic.
From now on, all political structures, nonprofits, groups of interests, influential bloggers, and small business are kicked out from the News Feed. Those were not only trolls and commercial brands. As Jeff Jarvis points out, a lot of useful initiatives will be washed out as well.
5. Stabbing the video. With the launch of Facebook Live and the increasing popularity of Youtube, video has been one of the most popular and promoted content formats on the network. A lot of brands re-adjusted and invested money in videomaking.
How we assess video - shares, likes, views. None of it matters right now. Even though we don’t have any clear instructions on how the reach of video will change when new algorithms are out there, it’s crystal clear that the reach will get worse. Maybe, the restrictions won’t be implemented for amateur videos. We could also witness how Zuckerberg fights amateur product placement.
Here we are today.
We are shocked, intrigued, and somehow panicked. And if in the United States where Facebook is mostly used for personal communication, new algorithms can indeed be a bed of roses - the same can hardly be said about Europe.
As for now, we don’t even know whether new algorithms will make it further than the United States. We still know very close to nothing. Are new algorithms are a beneficial act for society or a missile strike for business, brands, and media? We’ll wait and see.