(Note: This post was first published on the Voce blog)
What Is It: Facebook announced last Friday that “time spent” would be included as one of the important metrics determining what people see in their Newsfeed. The logic from Facebook is that people may read stories that are interesting to them but don’t, for whatever reason, take one of the traditional engagement actions like commenting, liking and so on. So in the absence of those the amount of time people spend reading the story should, by their logic, play a role in what is surfaced to others.
What Does This Mean: On the surface this seems like Facebook moving the goal posts yet again to favor something from Facebook, in this case Instant Articles. The goal of those are to keep the reader within Facebook and not just be a pointer to an on-domain story, so naturally more time is going to be spent with them than something that’s quickly read and clicked on to read more.
Not only does this help that, though, it also is clearly meant to penalize those publishers who engage in what is sometimes derisively called “click bait.” When you think about so many of the new media players of the last few years you think of headlines that end with “…And You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” that encourage people to spend as little time as possible on Facebook or other networks and get to the site as quickly as possible to find out what, exactly, happens next.
While not all brand publishers have engaged in editorial tactics like that most have a similar goal, which is to make the conversion from social network to on-site as quickly as possible for any or all of a variety of reasons.
So what can those brand publishers do to tack and make sure they’re not amongst those taking a hit because people aren’t spending long periods of time on their stories? Learn how to tell concise stories.
There’s a bit of room – not a lot, but enough – between posting a teaser that is meant to be consumed quickly before generating a click and going all Instant Articles and completely abandoning the hub-and-spoke strategy we evangelize here. But that amount of space requires content producers to get really good at encapsulating the story in an engaging way and gets the point across while still leaving enough to the imagination that people want to read more. That’s an interesting trick to pull off, but it can be done.
Outside of all that, it’s also representative of the change that’s happening in the overall online media world, as traditional metrics like clicks, pageviews and so on lose their prominence – at least among forward-thinking sites – in favor of “time spent,” “quality views” and so on.
Overall this is a change that will, as just about every such change has, have some sort of impact on brand publishers. Organic reach has dropped like a stone in the last couple years and this will continue that trend. But, as stated above, there’s at least some way for publishers to do what they can to counteract that. Now they just need to do it.