Facebook's latest tweak shows its uneasy relationship with brands, media

For media outlets, the platform's 1.6 billion users just got a little harder to reach.

Announced changes to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm have rattled brands, publishers, and PR pros.

Soon, posts by friends will bubble to the top of users’ News Feeds over those by content sites, a move Facebook engineering director Lars Backstrom acknowledged may result in a "decline [in reach and referral traffic] for some pages."

And while it’s a day some in the media expected, few are overjoyed.

Wired’s Brian Barrett contended Facebook has "abdicated any responsibility for striking a balance."

The changes have huge implications for content when nearly half of Facebook users in the U.S. get their news from a single platform.

It’s a "Faustian bargain," wrote Shira Ovide at Bloomberg, but organizations that want access to Facebook’s Golden Goose have little choice but to play by the social network’s rules. Tussles between the platform and other organizations are common, and tweaks to News Feed and other algorithms can happen without warning.

Yet, as Ovide said, "In truth, all the griping in the world doesn't dent Facebook's dominance."

David Gallagher, senior partner and Europe CEO at Ketchum, looked on the bright side in a blog post published on Thursday.

"For those of us in between publishers and people, it offers challenges and opportunities as we try to create content of value to both," he said. "So I guess that’s good from a business perspective."

Like Barrett, Gallagher pointed out these changes may lead to an even greater "echo chamber effect."

"It's our nature to look for information that confirms our biases," he wrote, "and this is likely to further maroon us from new perspectives or challenges to our assumptions."

In a column for Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech parsed the language of Wednesday’s announcement, theorizing the changes were made in response to allegations published in Gizmodo that Facebook muffles dissenting points of view.

"Those sentences read almost like direct responses to allegations that the site suppressed ‘trending’ stories with conservative viewpoints," he said. "And since Facebook has yet to announce a similar instant-article agreement with a popular conservative outlet (i.e. The Wall Street Journal, Fox News), it's hard to imagine the initiative's current, left-leaning outlets receiving more emphasis in the near future."

Kerry Flynn with the International Business Times connected the dots between Facebook’s News Feed Values, also made public Wednesday, and the announcement of its algorithmic changes, which took place two months since the trending topic controversy broke.

That controversy is still hanging over Facebook; some have even had fun with it. Gawker alum Leah Finnegan, currently managing news editor at Genius, posted an annotated version of the announcement, highlighting what she perceived to be flaws in the way it curates content.

(Sidenote: a Science study concluded that the influence of users’ individual choices outweighed the platform’s algorithm in determining what posts appears on their News Feed).

Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton noted the "low-key bummed" attitude among news and social media marketing organizations that built their audience strategy on Facebook traffic.

"This is another step in the continued devaluation of large publisher followings on Facebook; the social network has over time reduced the share of your fans who see each of your posts (though they’re happy to take your ad dollars to show them to more!)," he said. "Add in Instant Articles and the strong preference given to Facebook-native video and you see, once again, the primary hoarder of Internet attention consolidating its position."

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