Facebook clarifies News Feed experiment for online publishers

24 Oct 2017

Facebook desktop site. Image: Denys Prykhodov

Facebook is trialling the News Feed change in six countries, including Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala and Cambodia.

Yesterday (23 October), The Guardian reported that a new system being trialled by Facebook in selected countries saw nearly every non-promoted post shifted over to a secondary feed, with the main News Feed then consisting of ads and posts from users’ Facebook friends.

According to the report, this change has meant user engagement with Facebook pages has dropped in a major way, by between 60 and 80pc.

Facebook-dependent publishers could suffer

Slovakian sources told The Guardian that the drop in organic reach being experienced by pages was “dramatic”.

A cross-section of the most popular Facebook pages in Slovakia saw two-thirds to three-quarters of their reach disappear, according to CrowdTangle, an analytics service owned by Facebook.

Larger sites that use a number of different sources to leverage traffic were less affected by the changes, but smaller sites and those that depend largely on social traffic could suffer under the new rules. The changes don’t affect paid promotions on the News Feed, as only native content posted by pages is weeded out.

News Feed chief offers explanation

Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed at Facebook, yesterday wrote that the company “currently has no plans to roll this test out further”. He said that the test was implemented to examine if users want two separate spaces: one for family and friends, and another called ‘Explore’ with posts from pages.

Mosseri also added that there are no current plans to charge pages on Facebook for all aspects of distribution in either the classic News Feed or Explore Feed. “Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation, but that was not our intention.”

This Explore Feed is different to the one that was recently rolled out to the majority of Facebook users. The more common Explore Feed is a complementary feed of content based on the interests of the user from pages they have not yet liked on the site.

Mosseri concluded by saying: “As with all tests we run, we may learn new things that lead to additional tests in the coming months so we can better understand what works best for people and publishers.”

Although Facebook downplayed the significance of the test’s impact on the traffic for certain pages, it is still important to note just how much power the social network has in terms of online publishing.

From the recent clamour from publishers to pivot to video, to this recent test, it shows that the company can drastically alter traffic patterns for online content providers. The test could be running for months, meaning those sites that lost their reach could be in quite a quandary.

Facebook desktop site. Image: Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects