Recently, Facebook came under fire after former workers claimed that they routinely suppressed conservative news stories from the company’s “trending” section.
While the company disputed the claims, the implications were so serious that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with conservative leaders.
Now, Facebook is taking action to ensure that its users not only see the content most likely to be relevant to them, but also that they understand how Facebook selects that content.
Here’s what marketers need to know about the changes Facebook has made to the News Feed…
Facebook is putting friends and family first
Facebook has undergone a significant evolution since it was launched in 2004.
Today, the world’s largest social network is not just home to people, but also to brands, and it’s a hub for the sharing of all content, not just user-generated content.
That has created a tough balancing act for the company, and perhaps recognizing the risk that a less personal Facebook could be less attractive to its users, the company is taking a clear position:
Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today. 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.
That’s why if it’s from your friends, it’s in your feed, period — you just have to scroll down.
But Facebook isn’t just making sure content from friends is present in users’ News Feeds; it’s prioritizing that content so that it appears “toward the top.”
In addition, its algorithm tries to identify the content posted by friends that is most likely to be relevant for even greater prioritization.
“For example, if you tend to like photos from your sister, we’ll start putting her posts closer to the top of your feed so you won’t miss what she posted while you were away,” Facebook VP Adam Mosseri explained.
For marketers, the new prioritization of friend content could make competing for attention more difficult, and perhaps even necessitating changes to Facebook marketing strategies.
According to Facebook engineering director Lars Backstrom…
…we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience.
For example, 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.
Facebook isn’t biased, but there are rules
Facebook is adament that it is not biased.
“Our integrity depends on being inclusive of all perspectives and view points, and using ranking to connect people with the stories and sources they find the most meaningful and engaging,” Mosseri wrote.
But he also pointed to Facebook’s Community Standards, which are a collection of policies the company has created in an effort to protect its users from abuse.
Obviously, most legitimate marketers aren’t in the business of promoting content that attacks public figures, encourages criminal activity, or contains hate speech or graphic content, so most don’t have to worry about running afoul of the Community Standards.
But marketers that deal in regulated goods or are considering getting edgy with their Facebook campaigns should familiarize themselves with the rules.
Clickbait and spam is in the crosshairs
Facebook says that its users value “authentic communication,” and in an effort to deliver that to them, it’s working “to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading, sensational and spammy, to make sure people see those less.”
As Facebook gets better at that, marketers shouldn’t be surprised if the efficacy of clickbait decreases.
Ultimately, users have a lot of control
While Facebook’s algorithm exercises a great deal of control over what users see in their News Feeds, users aren’t without power of their own.
Facebook allows users to suppress content using unfollow and hide features, and they also let them indicate which content they’d like to “see first.”
The company says that it plans to build additional functionality that enables users to personalize their News Feed experience, giving savvy and proactive marketers the ability to earn attention with quality, relevant content and a touch of encouragement and education.