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Facebook and Twitter may be experiencing contrasting fortunes when it comes to monetising their user base, but they share many of the same problems.
Chief among which is the need to satisfy personal users and business users.
Both platforms need to maintain an enjoyable social network that helps users communicate, while allowing publishers and brands to prosper.
Facebook and Twitter have recently made changes towards these ends. Let's have a look.
Facebook redefines relevance
Facebook has announced changes to how it uses qualitative feedback to rank stories in the News Feed.
Qualitative, of course, means non-algorithmic; based on feedback that Facebook has been aggregating for some time (see the quote below).
As part of our ongoing effort to improve News Feed, we ask over a thousand people to rate their experience every day and tell us how we can improve the content they see when they check Facebook — we call this our Feed Quality Panel.
We also survey tens of thousands of people around the world each day to learn more about how well we’re ranking each person’s feed.
We ask people to rate each story from one to five stars in response to the question “how much did you want to see this story in your News Feed?”
The conclusion that Facebook came to is that users enjoyed their News Feed the most when populated with posts that were both qualitatively successful (approved of in surveys) and quantitatively successful (got lots of shares, Likes and clicks).
'So what?', you might think. Well, although Facebook states that this shouldn't affect Page reach or traffic, there are a few revealing lines that hint at the impact of this update.
The first point is that Facebook is being vigilant for content that is unnaturally engaged with, as follows...
Pages might see some declines in referral traffic if the rate at which their stories are clicked on does not match how much people report wanting to see those stories near the top of their News Feed.
The second point is that Facebook gives a word of advice to publishers who want to avoid such unnatural engagement.
In general, Pages should avoid encouraging people to take an action (such as encouraging lots of clicks), because this will likely only cause temporary spikes in metrics that might then be rebalanced by feed’s ranking over time.
This is likely intended to improve the relevance of a whole range of content, but the thought occurs to me that more sensational or advertorial style clickbait should certainly be discouraged by this update (content which Facebook already actively seeks to censor).
Though clickbait-y pictures and headlines will always attract intrigued users to click, they may not voice their approval in qualitative feedback.
Surely, this is good for the network, increasing the quality and relevance of posts and fostering a more social dynamic as a result. This, in turn, should keep users engaged and continue to drive advertising revenue.
Facebook ends its announcement blog post by vowing to provide publishers with insight into increasing referral traffic, but emplores them to post things 'meaningful to [their] audiences'.
Can't say fairer than that.
Twitter remembers its users
Twitter recently rolled out a user-facing feature that's only small but grants some relief to observers who fear Twitter has been slowly losing focus.
Being able to see which of your connections are engaging with a current trend is a logical update (shown below by Jack Dorsey) that should help to increase engagement with trends.
Authenticity is something Twitter has struggled with lately, particularly with its new feature Moments, which users feel isn't influenced by the same democratic forces their feed is.
Concentrating on the social aspect of Twitter whilst also allowing for incremental revenue is something Twitter has struggled with. The network has seemed reluctant to create a 'walled garden' for fear of alienating its users.
All this could change if the mooted rise in character limit of tweets goes ahead, and this could be a make or break moment for the platform.