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What Facebook’s Updated News Feed Algorithm Means for you

What the heck? Every time you think you’ve got Facebook figured out, they come along and mess things up.

As you may have noticed, Facebook has adjusted its algorithm for your News Feed. If you’re a publisher, this change is big news because the new algorithm gives priority to posts from friends and family over publishers and public figures. (Damn those friends and family.)

What’s Facebook’s goal? With this change they hope to persuade some of their 1.65 billion users to spend more time on Facebook and less time on other sites.

Here are the facts

In the past, Facebook’s updates have come about once a month, each time adjusting the algorithm to make the News Feed less promotional. This most recent change, however, comes in response to two factors.

First, Facebook was accused of suppressing conservative points-of-view from their trending topics section on their site. To handle this, the company released a two page document explaining how the news feed works. In this document, Facebook explained that each individual’s News Feed relies heavily on an algorithm that produces a “relevancy score” of each post for each individual user.

This, we were more or less aware of already.

Facebook made it much more clear, however, that there is also a human aspect to the News Feed selection

They revealed that they also have a team of actual human beings who work on the News Feed. (Yes, human beings with thoughts and emotions and biases.) Facebook explained this by saying that they use humans so they can show posts that users want to see. The Wall Street Journal quotes Adam Mosseri, the product manager who runs Facebook’s News Feed, as saying, “It’s important to note that there’s a group of people who work on the News Feed, not just sort of like a third-party agent that acts autonomously.”

The second factor contributed more directly to the change in Facebook’s algorithm. Facebook recently found that users felt as if the posts from their friends were being crowded out by publishers. In order to make their site more appealing to their users, Facebook made the necessary adjustments and also gave priority to what they are calling “authentic posts.”

What this means for you

This change actually has somewhat significant consequences for publishers. Facebook drives over 40% of traffic to digital publishers. By decreasing the rate at which these publishers are viewed on Facebook, it will most likely lead to a small yet noticeable decline in readership. This becomes even more significant when you consider the trend of publishers expanding their presence and content investments on Facebook. This News Feed update will severely limit the reach of this content that publishers produce.

According to the Wall Street Journal, users spend an average of 50 minutes per day on Facebook, which drives publishers to post several times per day. With publishers investing heavily in Facebook for all of these posts only to be losing priority and viewership, it might suggest a shift in content placement for these publishers. Perhaps slightly decreasing your presence on Facebook would help optimize your marketing budget and time allocation.

Facebook seems to be communicating that its core business is serving its users rather than just serving its content

Since they have pushed publishers and their content so aggressively in the past, it is a very interesting shift away from their previous stance. Perhaps they are trying to refocus on human connection and networking or perhaps they are simply testing out the effects of a change in their algorithm. It will be interesting to see how publishers react to this change and then in turn how Facebook responds to their reaction.

This could be Facebook clearly signaling to their publishers that they have to change or re-envision their content if they want to remain a priority on their site. Another option for publishers instead of decreasing your Facebook presence would be to recreate your presence and approach on Facebook. Publishing content that is more interactive and more relevant to users would be a strong place to start.

What are your thoughts? Are you a fan of these recent changes? How are you going to respond to them?

About the Author: Trevor Cefalu is a regular contributor to the 60 Second Marketer. He also works at SIXTY, a marketing optimization firm that helps businesses get more bang for their marketing buck.