Facebook can't stand that its users are no longer posting their own content like they used to. That's why on Wednesday Mark Zuckerberg's company announced a major overhaul to its News Feed algorithm that will prioritize users' posts--and push publishers' content further down--in an effort to encourage more original content sharing.
According to The Information, the amount of original content published by Facebook users declined 21 percent in 2015 from the year before. That drop has contributed to a 5.5 percent decrease in overall sharing. It's arguably the worst thing that could happen to Facebook, which relies on a steady stream of engaging content to keep users coming back to the service. The company needed to make the algorithm change to nip this problem before it gets out of hand.
"Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to--starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook," Lars Backstrom, Facebook engineering director, wrote on the company's blog.
Think of this News Feed change as a stimulus package for social media. By putting user content front and center, Facebook will show its users that 'Hey, everyday people just like you are also posting their ideas, photos, videos, and live streams!' This is in direct contrast to the strategy the company had taken over the past couple of years, prioritizing professional-quality content from brands and publications. It was a strategy implemented for the sake of driving ad sales, but one that also had the unintended effect of making many users feel their content no longer had a place on the platform.
News Feed stories are ranked "so that people can see what they care about first, and don't miss important stuff from their friends," said Adam Mosseri, Facebook's vice president of News Feed product management, in a blog post. "If the ranking is off, people don't engage, and leave dissatisfied. So one of our most important jobs is getting this ranking right."
The losers in this shift will no doubt be publishers and Facebook Page owners. Facebook isn't shy about this fact. "We anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages," Backstrom said.
For some publishers, that string of words is a death sentence. In this overhaul, Facebook said it will rank content starting with users' friends and family first, followed by informative posts (i.e., news) and then entertainment (i.e., news about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber).
So what can businesses do to ensure their posts still get some News Feed attention? Facebook recommends that you post content your followers will be more likely to engage with and share with their friends. "If a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts," said Backstrom, adding that publishers should also be sure to check out Facebook's "Best Practices" page for more tips.
And more likely than not, Facebook will likely prefer publishers whose posts include plenty of rich media, like photos, videos, or even more complex content such as 360-degree photos or Facebook Live broadcasts.
While there are these ways of getting around the algorithm change, publishers still have every right to feel betrayed. Facebook has been encouraging brands and publications to post more of their work and dedicate more of their time on the social network, promising lucrative page views and ad dollars. The company has been busy rolling out products specifically designed to fill these needs, ranging from Instant Articles to Facebook Live, its broadcast streaming feature. And now, all of a sudden, Facebook is pulling the rug right out from underneath all of its publishing partners.
Ultimately, though, Facebook is making the right choice for itself by being proactive. It has to do something to spur content sharing. Perhaps this algorithm shift will accomplish that goal; perhaps it won't, but laying back and relying on publishers was not solving its problems either.