Report: Here’s How Facebook’s Algorithm Change Is Affecting Publishers



The findings shed light on how algorithm changes are influencing publishers’ social reach on the platform.


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This past January, Facebook announced a significant change to its algorithm, one that stands to impact publishers that rely on the News Feed to drive traffic to their properties.

In a statement dated Jan. 11, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that public content (e.g. that which comes from brands and publishers instead of people) is “crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” Following a tour of the United States, and predating the recently publicized Cambridge Analytics scandal, Zuckerberg reoriented Facebook’s mission to ensure time on the platform is “time well spent.”

The big shift: In line with Facebook’s new strategic positioning, the News Feed algorithm is now prioritizing content that drives conversations, instead of just clicks. This change drew concern from publishers about their ability to build audiences within the Facebook ecosystem.

In order to quantify the impact thus far, Newswhip’s research team has released a whitepaper exploring how Facebook’s algorithm change is influencing publishers and creators.

Here are some of the key findings. You can download the complete report here.

‘Viral’ content will continue to go viral. Per Newswhip, at the end of the day, stories spread because of people, not the algorithms. In fact, according to the company’s analysis, most publishers only share 20 percent of their content on social, while the other 80 percent is from proactive social sharing via their audiences. Based on these figures, the algorithm change will have little to no effect on content shared by individuals.

Hard news content is bubbling to the top of the feed. Newswhip analyzed the content that drew the most engagement from audiences post-algorithm change. They found that 56 of the top 100 most engaging articles (as of March 15) were breaking news or current events stories. For comparison, in the past, the majority of these posts were “soft” news stories. News publishers made up half of the top 100 most engaging pieces of content.

Global events that connect people were most engaging (e.g. human interest stories). As Newswhip explains, “Social media is about connecting people, and huge, global events like a celebrity death or solar eclipse can let users around the world feel part of a real-time moment.” This has been a key factor contributing to why hard news stories aren’t being buried in the new environment. In summary, stories that unite people in emotion or conversation are winning in the new News Feed.

Fake news isn’t dead. Despite the ongoing backlash against Facebook for facilitating the spread of fake news, per Newswhip data, biased publishers still had traction in the new News Feed. Most of the most engaged publishers tended to play on feelings of conspiracy, outrage, and fear, which can “spread like wildfire on social media,” notes Newswhip. Additionally, the top reporters by engagement were often linked to partisan outlets, as the chart below illustrates.

NBC, CNN, and FOX were the top publishers by engagement according to Newswhip’s findings. These publishers are not seeing engagement declines, likely because they have the resources in place to adapt successfully. As articulated in the report, they are shifting their content strategies to “find new ways to appeal to readers.” At the end of the day, Facebook is a media platform, as news is often included in the daily conversations happening on the platform.

Fears of a grand decline among digital publishers were largely overstated. Using analytics to pinpoint post volume from publishers’ Facebook Pages, Newswhip found that despite initial panic, “it doesn’t seem like other news publishers are seeing the extreme dive off of the deep end.” They reiterated that hard news publishers are thriving, for example.

That said, the company also points out that posting more content is not the answer, instead advising publishers to reassess their approach to drive more “peer-to-peer sharing.” This all goes back to the old saying we’ve heard time and again, “quality over quantity,” and publications that optimize for clicks are at the highest risk.

Two ways to win: Elevate personalities and think outside of the box. One way publishers are winning is by connecting people to the journalists themselves. They cite the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof as an example.

In terms of viral publishers like LAD Bible and The Dodo, Newswhip found that thinking outside of the box has worked in their favor and taking risks where it makes sense. “We’ve seen viral publishers branch out in unique ways—BuzzFeed started selling actual products last year, and sold out on its first run, with products to be placed in Walmart.”

Check out the complete 50-page report here.

Join us at SMWNYC (April 24-27) where we’ll explore the complex role of social platforms in society as part of our global theme “Closer.” Register here.

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