Facebook has announced that it will prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people over content from media or businesses. “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg.
Today we don’t know how Facebook will decide which interactions are meaningful. We don’t know whether time spent on Facebook will be more valuable, but we know what happened when Facebook moved all Page posts out of the News Feed. Since October 19th, here in Slovakia and in five other countries, people have had only posts from friends and ads in Facebook’s main feed. Everything else was moved to a new place called Explore Feed.
This is an example of what you can see if you are an admin of a Facebook Page in test countries:
All media in test countries have a problem. A look at 50 Facebook pages of the biggest Slovak media shows that, although they have more and more fans, engagement has been falling throughout the year. During the last three months of 2017, it was 60 percent lower than in 2016:
You can see the same trend when you look at numbers of interactions per 1000 fans. The last three months are historically the worst:
It hasn’t affected just tabloid media or clickbait. Mainstream media engagement is falling too. Interactions in the last three months of 2017 fell by almost 50 percent year-on-year:
Let’s take a closer look at the last six months. Since the Explore Feed test started (October 19th), interactions on Facebook pages of mainstream media have fallen dramatically and not returned to pre-test levels. The only exception was the day after regional elections in Slovakia (peak on November 5th):
It’s strange that Facebook’s experiments hurt mainstream media’s engagement more than fake news sites. Slovak disinformation sites and pages that are sharing hate speech didn’t experience the smallest numbers in history. Though we don’t know what happened to their reach — undoubtedly reach also declined dramatically — interactions on fake news pages haven’t fallen since Explore Feed test started:
I am editor and social media manager for Denník N. We are a new Slovak news website and recently celebrated our third birthday (read our story on NiemanLab). We have around 700,000 real users per month in a country with five million inhabitants.
Our traffic decreased by three percent in November and by nearly six percent in December 2017 (real users, year-on-year). Traffic to some other (mostly smaller) sites fell by tens of percentage points after the Explore Feed test started.
For a long time, Facebook was a main source of traffic for Denník N — around 40 percent of our readers came from Facebook. But this has changed. In December, less than 30 percent of our traffic came from Facebook. In November and December 2017, we had more visitors from Google than from Facebook for the first time (and it’s happening everywhere).
Although our reach, engagement, interactions and consumption have fallen dramatically, something interesting is happening. When we look at our “Reach Engagement Rate”, we can see that it‘s growing, especially after the Explore Feed test started:
Is it possible the reach decreased but is more targeted? We can’t say it with any certainty, because we don’t know if it’s happening to all Slovak media (we can’t see their reach, only ours).
My personal feeling from Explore Feed isn’t good. There is too much content that doesn’t interest me. There are many post by Pages I haven’t interacted with for a really long time. There are many posts with a small number of likes and a lot of banal viral videos I never click on. Basically, the Explore Feed algorithm doesn’t work as well for me as it did in the old News Feed. But personal feelings can be deceitful and maybe Facebook is really better at targeting.
This hypothesis might attest to a change in negative feedback on our Page. We can see that it started decreasing right from the moment that the “Reach Engagement Rate” started growing. People aren’t hiding or reporting our content as often. It looks as if Facebook has been showing news especially to people who are interested in news. Or people aren’t hidning our content because we do not reach them. And we do not reach them because of Explore Feed.
This data suggests that Pages are spreading their posts in a more targeted way to their core fans, but it’s harder for them to reach people outside their bubbles. The second possibility is that people who aren’t interested in news don’t use Explore Feed so often, and so we aren’t reaching them at all.
Whatever the case, the golden era is over. Facebook has repeatedly stated that there is no current (!) plan to launch this version of Explore Feed globally. In most of the world, Page posts will remain in News Feed, but there will be fewer of them. For publishers and brands it will be another challenging, but also interesting year.
But as I wrote a few weeks ago, there are some things the media need not fear.
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