Facebook News Feed Changes in 2018: The Story So Far

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It’s been 6 weeks since Facebook announced their news feed changes.

What steps have you taken to mitigate the loss of referral traffic? Are you one of the publishers who’s seen an increase in traffic from Facebook? Have you taken residence under a rock and somehow missed Facebook’s series of announcements?

Let’s take a look at what Facebook’s doing, how it’s affecting pages, and what you can do to connect with your audience in this brave news world.

“Facebook is going to completely deprioritize publishers.”

The turn of 2018 brought rumblings that Facebook was on the verge of something big. A January 4 Digiday article quoted an anonymous audience development head who was told as much:

“[Facebook is] going to completely deprioritize publishers. They very candidly said to me, ‘If I were you, I would probably not rely on Facebook as much as you are.’ So a big strategy for publishers needs to be diversification. The people at Facebook I’ve spoken to have confirmed this.”

In 2017, Facebook ran a test in 6 countries where they moved publishers to a separate news feed. For publishers, it was devastating: organic reach plummeted by more than half. Facebook promised they wouldn’t do the same worldwide, but had they changed their mind?

Well, not quite. Still, that was hardly comforting to publishers once they saw what Facebook was really doing. In 2018, Facebook wasn’t just shifting their algorithm. They were shifting their priorities.

How is Facebook changing the news feed in 2018?

Facebook has taken to their blog to introduce their specific News Feed changes one at a time. So far, there have been 3 major changes to what fills the feed:

1) On January 11, 2018, Facebook announced the start of these drastic changes in a post called “Bringing People Closer Together.” From here on, Facebook would prioritize “meaningful interactions,” posts that spark genuine conversation, and posts from friends over public content. According to Facebook, this tweak would drop the amount of News in the Feed from 5% to 4%.

2) Next came plans to help ensure that the news people got from Facebook was reliable. Facebook would prioritize news sources that people rated “trustworthy.” This raised more questions than it answered. How would sources be rated? How much would these ratings affect news feed placement? What about publishers who don’t deal in hard news? What about smaller publishers who are trustworthy but lack name recognition?

3) Then on January 29, Facebook announced the prioritization of local news, using geographic signals to promote local content. While seemingly a positive for local publishers, it could potentially provide false hope, encouraging overreliance on the platform by publishers who have been hit especially hard by the publishing industry’s shift to digital.

How have news feed changes affected organic reach?

As Facebook rolls out changes to the news feed, many publishers are bracing for the worst. Turns out, the worst was already happening.

In the second half of 2017, websites saw a sharp decline in traffic from Facebook. A Shareaholic report found that Facebook’s share of all visits to a sample of 250,000 websites dropped from 30.9% at the end of 2016 to 18.2% at the end of 2017.

Parse.ly data corroborated their findings. From February 2017 to October 2017, Parse.ly’s network of 600 publishers witnessed a 25% reduction in Facebook referral volume. In that time, Google reclaimed its place from Facebook as the top traffic source for publishers.

So what’s changing in 2018?

Chartbeat data found that in January 2018 alone, Facebook traffic to publishers declined 6%. But these changes haven’t been uniform. In fact, True Anthem reports that its client base has actually seen an increase in reach and Facebook trafficThough not every publisher has been so lucky.

Because Facebook is prioritizing posts that drive discussion, it makes sense that publishers would see varying results from these latest changes. But is it worth it for publishers to change their strategy just to pursue platform clicks?

How can I combat declining Facebook traffic?

If you’re one of the publishers whose traffic from Facebook seems to have fallen off a cliff, the temptation might be to climb back up on that cliff and start playing by Facebook’s new rules to increase organic reach.

But this is just another step in a long series of news feed tweaks. Whatever efforts you take to tweak your social media strategy today could be rendered irrelevant by a news feed update next week. Or today. Better yet, you might want to check the news to see if Facebook has issued any news feed updates since the beginning of this sentence.

Facebook’s focus on engagement is a handy reminder of just how important engagement is for publishers, but true engagement won’t be found on the platform. Not direct engagement, anyway.

To truly connect with and engage your audience, you need a direct link to your audience, free from the whims of the platform. By doubling down on direct channels like email, you can establish a connection with your audience, then use this connection to engage and nurture them without having to wait on the news feed.

How do you do that? Here’s are a few things to try, complete with links to some of our blog posts that can help you implement these changes in your email program:

Should I give up on Facebook?

With each algorithm change inching publishers out of the feed, some of these publishers have been extremely vocal with their Facebook frustration. A Dutch TV station took a Facebook fast (and encouraged other media companies to do the same), while Brazil’s largest newspaper pulled their content from the platform completely. Publishers like theCHIVE have taken similar steps.

Rather than make a clean break with the platform, take a page from Facebook’s playbook and shift your strategy too. By using Facebook as an acquisition channel, you can bring your audience over to email, where direct relationships can be built.

If you’re a publisher with an ad-driven business model, Facebook algorithm changes are just one of the things you have to deal with. From the duopoly to ad blockers to browser changes, it’s getting harder to hold on to ad revenue. Learn how you can weather the threats to the ad-driven business model in our upcoming webinar. Click here to register, then join us March 7 at 2PM ET.

Editor, PostUp PlayBook