Facebook dropped a bomb on content marketing managers this morning with the announcement of yet another change to News Feed that once again puts Page content at a disadvantage.
The update makes it clear that Facebook is going to emphasize posts from family and friends, stating that facilitating those connections is its top priority. And that emphasis is going to come at the expense of Page reach and engagement, which it admits outright, though it qualifies that with a “results may vary” note. That goes hand in hand with the “News Feed Values” post it published, where Facebook makes it clear that you control your inputs and explains how it arranges the News Feed to bring you the stories most likely to be important or informative to you. So that “you have control” message needs to come with the caveat that it’s only as much control as Facebook wants to give you.
The change is not going to be welcome by those managing content marketing programs. Reach is going to take a hit here, as it has after other updates that have hit similar themes, as will engagement since fewer people will be exposed to the content from Pages. Most importantly, referral traffic will go from negligible to non-existent. Facebook is telling publishers here that it’s no longer in the traffic-sending business, thank you very much. That’s a message that’s been behind most every move it’s made recently, from previous News Feed tweaks to the entire premise of Instant Articles. But now it’s out there overtly.
So what can publishers do? There’s honestly not much for them to do right now. They’ve neglected their infrastructure, filling it with ad scripts that have prompted the rise of ad blockers, discarded on-site comments because moderation is hard and otherwise failed to build a native, brand loyal audience. What audience they’ve maintained they’ve tried to monetize as quickly and cheaply as possible by publishing the same kinds of stories you can find on hundreds of other sites and pulling the same 12 off-kilter items from reddit’s front page.
This isn’t going to help the skepticism and general sense of “you have too much power” that advertisers and media companies already feel toward Facebook. The company literally holds their future in its hands. This is where I insert a note about how the open web doesn’t have this problem, that there are no filters on my RSS feeds and that search, while it comes with its own set of eccentricities and issues, is at least something you can adjust for and isn’t automatically blocking or subjugating an entire category of legitimate publishers.
How exactly this plays out remains to be seen. But it will be interesting to see the reports a few months from now as publishers report in to the trade press about how their traffic and engagement have cratered as a result of the new cruelty. That’s coupled with decreased reach on Instagram as they put an algorithmic feed into place that already has some influencers and creatives running for Snapchat because it doesn’t get between them and their audience. And unfortunately all those lining up for help from Medium might just be trading one self-interested platform for another and find themselves in a deeper hole than they are now since they won’t even control their own site, much less the distribution of content.