Facebook NewsFeed update for Publishers: The India perspective

Facebook NewsFeed update

Mark Zuckerberg left the social media industry abuzz with conclusions, when it announced the new Facebook NewsFeed Update impacting publishers. Social Samosa analyses what this means for the Indian News & Media industry.

What do I write about the latest Facebook NewsFeed update that hasn’t been written before? In any case, to sum it up, Facebook NewsFeed will go back to giving more importance to friends and family and limit content from pages and publishers.

In their own words, “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.”

While the industry continues to stay divided as to why Zuckerberg took to ‘fixing Facebook’ it all boils down to one fact, that this does not solve anything, except for that Facebook might see a surge in ad revenues from publishers.

“I personally feel this is an effort to improve Facebook’s wealth than to improve on users mental health. Over the past few years we have seen this as a trend. While pages and publishers in the earlier time invested insane amount of dollars to acquire users to be liking the page, Facebook dropped the organic reach to almost ZERO forcing them to invest more in paid ads to touch their own audience on their page while the personal user profiles were left unaffected,” opines Prince Khanna, Founder & CEO, Eleve Media.

The F Word

Facebook has suffered a slow death at the hand of Fake News, losing the battle ultimately when the news of Russian miscreants using Zuckerberg’s brainchild to influence the US Presidential Elections in 2016 resurfaced.

Also Read: Facebook to emphasize friends, not news, in series of changes

If it is actually Fake News that Facebooks is trying to fix, Zuckerberg probably heard the famous Hindi phrase – Na rahega Baans, Na bajegi Baansuri and decided to uproot the problem altogether.

In Zuckerberg’s own words, “the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.” Which beats the whole purpose of weeding out fake news, as the culprit is usually a hotbed of arguments, reactions, and subsequent engagement, the sentiment of which the Facebook algorithm has failed to judge multiple times.

Just to give you a perspective, according to statistics by Expanded Ramblings, number of shares, reactions, and comments on Fake News articles about the US politics in 2016 was 10.6 million. Yes, millions of these reactions could be perceived as “meaningful” and find their way to the now much exclusive NewsFeed.

Plus, Fake News has its own independent life cycle, which includes various user touch points. BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman once explained that once a hoax news gains social momentum it might get reported by verified news sources as well. An instance that has occurred more often than it should have.

Having said that, it is hard to believe that Mark Zuckerberg would not have taken this into account and the NewsFeed update might get the desired results in the long run; but for now, it appears to have no impact on Fake News, whatsoever.

Extent of the Damage

The on the face impact of the NewsFeed tweak is definitely that “Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease.” But no, it isn’t the end of the (Facebook) world.

To understand how this impacts publishers, one needs to understand who consumes news on Facebook in the first place and how much per cent of a given publication’s total traffic is derived through Facebook.

India crossed 240 million users mark in July, 2017 to become Facebook’s largest audience market. Now, the good news here is that more than half of the country’s users are below the age of 25 – belonging to the generation that are capable of active decision making. This audience, if wants to consume content from a particular publisher will continue to do so through alternate options – for instance, turn on First See or follow them on an alternate platform. Something that BuzzFeed has already started.

“This algorithm change won’t drastically impact any brand or publisher that has a focus on creating shareable content rather than simply “good” content. For publishers that have so far not focused on this strategy, organic reach will start to decline and they will have to spend more of their marketing dollars to reach their desired audiences,” shares Ashwin Suresh, Founder, Pocket Aces.

But this is the set of loyalists. New age publications that rely heavily on Facebook for traffic, might lose out on the passive consumers, who chance upon a piece of content because it made way through their news feed. The publisher needs to take a call, on how significant is this chunk of audience and how they can engage with them?

“Facebook NewsFeed had become the digital e-paper or a place to be updated on what’s happening in the world for consumers. It will also impact revenue for publishers and Facebook as well as huge way to drive traffic.  A lot of publishers will have to reinvent themselves because of this, for them Facebook has been a gateway to get audience engage with their content,” explains Amit Duggal, Vice-President, Omnicom Media Group.

Coming to traditional publications, Times of India, Aaj Tak or ABP might experience a momentous dip in their Facebook traffic, for the user will consume the general news from any publication available on their timeline as opposed to chasing one (unless they’re an ardent follower).

Having said that, again one needs to look at the bigger picture – how reliant are these established media houses on Facebook for traffic?

“With this change as well, publishers will see a direct impact on the referral traffic leading to declining readership specially all pages/publishers who rely on social traffic can experience upwards of 60% drop. As per the announcement, they want to prioritise the newsfeed from friends and family and restrict organic posts from Pages and Publishers, however, it will still continue to show ads in the news feed. So pages/publishers who will be investing can expect their ads to still appear in users news feed,” Khanna adds.

It all boils down the amount of traffic a publication drives from social – is it worth investing time, efforts, and monies on?

For instance, according to data on SimilarWeb, NDTV, ranking second among the top 10 News & Media websites drives 3.18 per cent of its desktop traffic through social, out of which 57 per cent is achieved through Facebook.

Indiatimes comes in next and it receives 10.27 per cent of its desktop traffic through social out of which 73 per cent arrives from Facebook.

Just to paint a more vivid picture, Daily Social drives only 0.57 per cent of their traffic from social, while StoryPick gets over 37 per cent of their traffic from social out of which 94 per cent is from Facebook.

This might make one wonder if Facebook is trying to make conversations what Likes was once? If that’s the case, the platform will soon be battling fake conversations after Fake Likes and Fake News.

The Natural Next Step

In simple words, Publishers will now go through what brands once went through. With limited organic reach publishers need to find alternate ways for content dissemination through Facebook, for branded content and influencer marketing is not the answer here (hope you get the joke).

Also Read: Let there be light! The impact of dismissing Facebook Dark Posts on brands

Within Facebook there are always options such as consistent amount of Live Videos, sharp targeting for each post, Bots, and friendly tone.

All in all, the problem is real for the time being for I myself don’t know how many people will this article reach through Facebook. But, the problem isn’t as severe as we think. Brands managed to find their sweet spot on Facebook and soon publishers might do so too.