Bart Mroz, the CEO of digital commerce consultancy SUMO Heavy, looks at how Facebook’s news feed changes will lead to innovation in digital publishing and marketing.
Not long ago, Facebook announced that it will be changing its news feed algorithm to reduce the ranking of content posted by news publishers. While this may be beneficial to Facebook users – as they will see more relevant content from friends and families and less from third parties – it is a significant blow for the many publishers who rely on Facebook to drive traffic to their sites.
The change has been quite dramatic and will eventually push publishers to alter their digital strategies, ushering in a new era of innovation in order to continue generating user traffic and engagement.
The way Facebook users and publishers interact will change
Facebook users who previously relied on their news feed to find articles are now seeing a lot less. While this may not seem like such as devastating change to casual users, it will certainly impact the other 63% of Facebook users who rely on the platform for their daily news. When these users don’t find the articles they are accustomed to seeing on their feeds, they will be forced to find the content elsewhere – whether that be through another social network such as Twitter or directly from a publisher’s website. For Facebook, this could mean a drop in traffic and a decrease in user engagement.
Now, with the news feed having a larger focus on friends and family rather than on publisher posts, articles that are supported by “pay for play” stand out much more.
Since unsponsored news articles will only make it to the top of the Facebook news feeds through likes and social shares, publishers will have to look for ways to tweak articles to generate viral interest within a targeted audience. This could cause more traditional publications such as Businessweek or NY Times to change their social media writing style to be more attention grabbing instead of following their original journalistic guidelines which are preferred by many of their loyal readers.
Promotion costs will rise
Facebook’s shareholders expect to see revenue growth and increased profitability. This can only happen if Facebook monetizes various aspects of their platform such as the news feed. Now that publishers will have to “pay to play”, the cost of social media-driven impressions will rise accordingly. With the addition of publishers competing for views, the prices for ads and promoted posts will likely increase at an even faster pace than the 9% jump in ad prices that occurred this past year. The days of free Facebook traffic for publishers are nearing its end and they must now pay or find new sources of traffic to replace their losses on this medium.
Since the news feed is no longer a viable source of audience traffic for publishers, Facebook has conveniently created an Instant Article feature for publishers. The major catch is that publishers will have to share their ad revenue with Facebook instead of capturing views directly on their site. This change has created yet another way for Facebook to extract revenue directly from publishers.
Only the largest publishers will be able to effectively utilize the new features, so we will soon see a clearing out of smaller publishers that don’t have the audience size or budget to maintain viewership on Facebook’s new payment-based platform. If smaller publishers want to survive and recover lost traffic, they’ll have to drastically alter their content distribution model or create innovative solutions to navigate around this new system.
Innovation will be key to survival
Such drastic changes in the news feed will force publishers to create new strategies to keep their audience numbers up. One way they can do this is by creating eye-catching, interactive and highly shareable content on social media. In the past, they may have been able to get away with sending out somewhat dull content, but Facebook’s change no longer allows that. Publishers must now thoroughly refine the articles they create to make sure that every post resonates with their audience and is highly shareable.
Users who regularly read articles through the news feeds now need a fresh source, which presents prime opportunity for publishers to drive users directly to their own sites. However, publishers will have to rethink their content strategy and deliver engaging content that go above and beyond what readers are used to.
Innovation is the key to survival, especially for the smaller players who could be quickly overseen by larger brands.
Publishers should also redesign their websites to be more interactive, unique and fluid, with a discovery format similar to that of the Facebook news feed. Users need a reason to regularly visit their site. By providing exclusive content in a format that makes discovering news fun and exciting, they’ll be able to capitalize on this change, lock in new audiences and turn the loss of Facebook traffic into a gain of long term traffic.
The Facebook news feed change will undoubtedly have a huge impact on publishers’ audience traffic. Audience engagement for publishers will no longer be as simple as it used to be, but with every major change comes the opportunity to adapt and evolve. The best is yet to come.
By Bart Mroz
Cofounder & CEO