Analysis: Facebook performance declined for news published in 2017
Half of the 1.5M articles tracked by Kaleida in 2017 earned less than 36 engagements. By the end of the year the bottom half accounted for merely 0.03% of the engagements that we counted. Download the full report PDF (11MB).
Some areas of coverage were more successful than others. And not all engagements are the same, as we found out when analysing engagements patterns for Sports coverage. But even in the case of Football coverage the overall trend across 2017 was down.
A change in Facebook’s reporting methodology masks the change, as the highest-performing stories, the ones that really go viral, bring the total number of engagements to new heights while the rest of the market gradually fails to reach readers on the platform.
The implications for news are important to understand.
First, this news wasn’t exactly buried, but it wasn’t given much air time either. Facebook dropped a lot of new stuff on the market in 2017, and making a fundamental change to the core metric of the wider Facebook ecosystem seems like it might have been worth more than a footnote on a blog post.
They have redefined what engagements are several times, and now Facebook has revalued its own currency. The volatility of the system will surely affect Facebook’s relationships with the companies they wish to serve.
Second, it means the growth most large news organisations noticed in the Summer wasn’t of their own doing. That’s not to say their efforts were worthless. It just means publishers may not have much influence on the numbers they are seeing.
Similarly, agencies seeing campaigns taking off in the Summer may have thought they succeeded when in fact it was just numbers changing on reporting tools.
Third, we may be witnessing a decline in Facebook’s influence on news. The new numbers are hiding it in plain sight.
The median average engagements number, the 50th percentile or half of all articles, has been declining most of the year. In Spring the median engagements figure was 36. And now in December that number is down to 23.
Total month-to-month engagements may look encouraging, but the highest performers are the only ones to benefit. The bottom 90% of articles are all in a steady decline.
While it may appear as if the company is obscuring an overall decline by introducing a topline increase, we don’t know what Facebook’s intentions are with this change. It’s conceivable this pattern started well before the change and that we are only now seeing truth with more accurate figures than what we had access to before.
Sampling would surely skew toward flatter growth in a viral system, and now that they report ‘real’ engagements, as they claim, we might be seeing patterns that have been there for years.
Regardless, the larger trend is not good news for news. If most of the news is getting shared less and less on Facebook then publishers will likely also see a reduction in an important source of customer visits, both new customers and loyal customers.
The true test is the amount of referral traffic to publishers from Facebook. A decline in both referrals and engagements would have serious implications for the industry. Recent analysis from Parse.ly suggests this is already happening.
The data may be getting clearer, but the reality behind what that data is showing us may not be what news media wants to see.
Download the full End of Year 2017 report
Kaleida is a data services and media research company. The company provides data, tools and analysis about the attention economy to companies who do business in the media ecosystem.
News publishers can learn about platform referral traffic and get performance benchmarks to compare against the market by joining Kaleida’s news referral research project: https://survey.kaleida.com/