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Publishers and brands set for drastic fall in Facebook traffic after major news feed revamp

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has confirmed the news that publishers have been dreading – that the social media platform will be downgrading posts from media outlets and brands in favour of posts from friends and video content.

In a post to Facebook today, Zuckerberg said he is instructing the company’s product teams to focus on helping using find relevant content that leads to more meaningful social interactions despite the move being likely to reduce users’ time spent on the site.

For news outlets that rely heavily on Facebook for traffic, the move is likely to have drastic consequences.

He wrote:

“We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.

“And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed, posted a separate article spelling out more in the consequences for publishers. He wrote: “Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.

“As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”

Mosseri warned publishers and brands using “engagement-bait” to encourage people into commenting will see these posts demoted in the news feed.  Mosseri went on to explain users will be able to change their preferences back to favour feeds, but it won’t be the default settings.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being,” wrote Zuckerberg. “So we’ve studied this trend carefully by looking at the academic research and doing our own research with leading experts at universities.”

“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.”

Zuckerberg said the changes, which began last year, will start to become apparent to users over the coming months, however he did flag they will come at some cost to Facebook’s own metrics.

“I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

Last year,  Facebook quietly began testing a split news feed in several markets, including in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, using what it called an ‘Explore tab’.

Publishers complained that the move led to a dramatic fall in impressions and referrals.

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