Facebook demotes the news — what it means for news orgs

Facebook announced a considerable change to their news feed that will profoundly affect professional media. We don’t yet know how dramatic the numbers will drop, but there are some indicators that could help us understand what’s going to happen.

While Facebook’s decision to demote news in the feed may feel sudden and drastic there have been signals for some time that things were going to change. Kaleida data has been showing a steady decline in news engagements for several months.

What will that curve look like in 2018? If we exclude all the engagements for articles promoted by publishers on their brand pages, because those posts are the ones that will appear less in users’ feeds, then median engagements drops by 50% or more depending on the publisher.

That may not be an apples to apples comparison of the old world to the new one, but we are certainly talking about a big cliff and real impact on publishers.

Engagements for some publishers translate directly into web traffic. Facebook acknowledges that publishers can expect that to drop as a result of the changes:

“We’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers…Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution”

One publisher we work with converts that traffic into about $0.04 in revenue per engagement. It may not crush them to lose that traffic, but they’ll feel it.

BBC and CNN have huge numbers that surely have a big impact on engagements. When they post a story to their brand page millions of people get that story in their Facebook feed.

A lot of that activity is going to die.

News orgs will still get the pure organic engagements — people sharing their articles without being prompted to do so by the publisher. Though we can’t be sure how much. Facebook will continue to tune their algorithm, and organic sharing by readers may fall, as well.

We’ve taken a snapshot of 2017 performance to use as a benchmark. The table here shows the number of Page Likes for the leading publishers and some engagement figures we’ll be tracking.

So, for example, The New York Times’ mid-point or median engagements prior to this change was 258. That will go down. Most articles will get much less than 258 now, probably closer to 100 engagements.

The leading indicator for future activity will probably be the “Organic” engagements for higher-performing articles, or the 90th percentile. The top 10% of articles earned about 7K engagements or more for The New York Times overall in 2017. That 90th percentile line will probably drop closer to the “Organic” level in this table, or 1,700 engagements, a decrease of 75%.

While articles may still go viral, they will not have the benefit of promotion into the newsfeeds of millions of users who like a publisher’s brand page on Facebook. In the case of The New York Times, that’s over 15M people.

The investments made in Facebook brand pages have been significant. Some publishers worked hard to acquire their followers, and it’s unclear whether they will be able to do anything meaningful with those communities now.

Facebook adds that they will reward content that sparks conversations, “Page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed.”

That may help some news orgs, but it will likely be relevant only to niche media or local communities. The change will be frustrating to everyone, exacerbating tensions with Facebook that have been brewing for a long time.

In Nic Newman’s recent report for Reuters Institute Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2018 he found “high levels of concern about the power and role of platforms amongst around half (44%) of our news executives.”

The attempts by Facebook to build bridges with the news ecosystem appear disingenuous now. Though, of course, Facebook may change, as they often do.

There are several positive outcomes publishers may find as a result of this change. Anyone going through a review of their platform strategy will have stronger arguments for investing more in their own developments and working with partners who bring them real value. Perhaps that is long overdue, anyhow.

We’ll be following what’s happening here closely and will report what we find. Please let us know if you want us to look at your content, specifically. We can help publishers understand what the changes might mean for them and how they compare to others who are going through the same thing.

Contact: laura@kaleida.com or reach us on Twitter @kaleidnet.