Hey Facebook! Where did everyone go? News Feed drops free reach

facebook algorithmsFacebook has been testing a major change to the way its News Feed works. The results are a huge drop in reach unless you pay.

Facebook has been testing this proposed update in at least six countries. Most people realises the grip that social media giants Facebook and Twitter has, but this latest update could well doom parts of the media, the Guardian reported.

Facebook has tested a new layout where posts from friends and family, as well as paid advertisements appear in the News Feed. This is the list of updated you will see when you log in.

However, non-promoted posts would be “shifted over to a secondary feed” called the Facebook Explore Feed.

This system could sift most Facebook page updates, which many publishers use to reach audiences, to second-tier status unless they fork out for “sponsored posts”.

facebook likesAccording to the Guardian report, many small publishers in the test markets in Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere have already seen huge hits to their social reach.

The change has seen users’ engagement with Facebook pages drop precipitously, from 60% to 80%,”

The paper also states:

Overnight, from Wednesday to Thursday, a broad cross-section of the 60 largest Facebook pages in Slovakia saw two-thirds to three-quarters of their Facebook reach disappear, according to stats from Facebook-owned analytics service CrowdTangle.”

It’s classic Facebook

Enders Analysis senior research analyst Matti Littunen told the Guardian It’s “the classic Facebook playbook,”

Littunen goes on to explain:

First give lots of organic reach to one content type, then they have to pay for reach, then they can only get through to anyone by paying.”

Big issue

people-on-facebookThe thing that many bloggers, new media, and sites which are reliant on social shares, is that they are all very reliant on a handful of places to get traffic.

This has been a concern of mine since seeing the likes of Myspace, LiveJournal and others bite the dust. At one point these were the place to be and then, something new comes along and makes them redundant. But, it looks like Facebook could be giving socially-triggered media sites an ultimatum.

The social giant obviously knows that it operates as a central digital hub for news and discussion for much of the population. The scary thing is that this dominance is practically unchallenged.

This, then, leaves the majority of media vulnerable to some extent, and there’s only so many other places to go.

Switching strategy

facebook feedsOnce you have got your head around all that, there is also the social site’s News Feed algorithm to try to second guess.

That algorithm has the ability to shift audiences from one trending topic to the next. It can also switch from focusing on one content type to another.

At one point, any one partaking in Facebook Live would be given prominence.

To the everyday user these might be great new features or minor annoyances.

However, to media companies whose strategy and business model relies on a steady flow of Facebook clicks. Furthermore, to anyone invested, they need to be able to show periodic growth of reach.

In this case, any major change to how Facebook treats traffic can have serious repercussions. I think it is safe to say that many companies will not have the resources to be able to agile enough to respond.

Don’t bail just yet

Before you start losing sleep, remember. This is just a test.

At this point in time it’s not clear whether the site will ultimately go ahead or to ditch the idea.

Moreover, which ever version of the two-feed format does get released could also end up driving just as much traffic.

Although, Facebook’s head of News Feed, Adam Mosseri says “It’s not global and there are no plans to be.”

In response to a request for comment, Facebook referred Gizmodo to this blog post containing what Mosseri called a clarification of the test.

Mosseri again stated the company had no plans to “roll this test out further.” He also added the intent was never to examine whether Facebook could have publishers

pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore.”

But he also wrote that a dual-feed model was something Facebook is still examining and that more tests may be coming.

It still might be worth considering your business model and long-term strategy. More so if your site relies on Facebook traffic than organic searches.

If you neglect this, you could face a drastic change in visits to your site.

Are you a content creator? What are your thoughts on this?