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UK Insights

What do the Facebook news feed changes really mean?

Kirsty Cooke

Head of Digital Content, UK

Social 20.02.2018 / 09:18


In January, Facebook announced major and ongoing changes to its news feed to improve the user experience – and people’s lives. But will it work? And what does it mean for brands?

Are you seeing the right stuff on Facebook? Updates to the algorithm mean that users will see more of what they actually want to see – content from family and friends; posts that spark the most interactions. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wants to encourage more ‘meaningful’ interactions (with each other and with the platform, presumably) to ‘improve people’s lives.’ The move comes after reports that people are using the platform less, and is one of many changes over the last few months and years that makes it harder for brands to reach potential customers organically.


Facebook claims that users will see fewer posts from news sources that people don’t trust, something that makes sense following our Trust In News study late last year. Our study across five countries found that trust in traditional news sources had remained strong, and in fact in general increased, despite a buzz around the term ‘fake news’ from the US president. Meanwhile, social media was not trusted (and in fact trusted less) as a source for true information. (In the UK, only 28.9% of people say they trust social media as a news source.)

Facebook has said it will show fewer posts from publishers, and those it does show will be ranked according to how trustworthy they are perceived to be by users. But will real news suppliers be negatively impacted? Genuine publishers are relying on the platform to bring traffic to their sites, and unless a friend or family member shares a story, users are unlikely to see it from now on.

Kantar Consulting research shows that it is becoming harder for people to find information they perceive as trustworthy – 61% agreed in 2008; the number was 70% in 2017. And 78% of those surveyed last year said they were  ‘skeptical about the accuracy of news stories and information presented in the media.’

Justine Hess, Associate Head of Global MONITOR, Kantar Consulting, comments: ‘There are organisations out there who are acting as third-party mediators of content on Facebook, checking what’s true and what isn’t – such as Faktisk, in Norway, now one of the most frequently accessed websites in the country. Facebook itself is also doing quite a lot to improve trust in the platform, experimenting with new ways to moderate content, for example, and privileging content from friends and family. For better and worse, the latter move also has follow-on consequences for brands.’

Facebook -coffee

Goodbye low quality content

Facebook also claims that users will see fewer low-quality viral videos and messages from brands, to make room for the ‘personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.’ It says nothing about making my aunt stop sharing Farmville requests or how to tell the platform that the love heart on the 782nd engagement photo of the festive season is in fact sarcastic. Anyway. It does seem like Facebook is genuinely trying to predict and prioritise the posts you might actually want to see.

Zuckerberg argued for these changes to Facebook by saying that we are ‘more connected and less lonely’ when we spend time online with people we care about rather than with memes or videos or articles. We agree. J. Walker Smith and Andrew Curry wrote in a recent Kantar Consulting thought-piece called Social Innovation, ‘One of the few certainties in social psychology is that the strongest, most consistent predictor of happiness is relationships with other people.’ So Facebook is onto something, however imperfectly it may be going about it.  This is what brands should do, too.  As Smith and Curry put it, ‘Brands should make currency...available to consumers...that give[s] them what they want most -- the ability to deepen and strengthen relationships with other people.’ Social relationships should be a brand benefit, not merely a channel by which brands reach people.

So what about brands?

We all know that brands rely on channels like Facebook to achieve not only short-term marketing goals but also longer-term brand-building (as our New Insights Into Digital Ad Effectiveness study last year showed). A reduction in low-quality content, like viral videos, could be good news for advertisers as well as users, as it may increase the amount of time users spend engaging with other content (maybe even from brands) on the platform.

While Facebook does expect that time spent on the platform will go down overall, this could be beneficial to brands. As Nigel Hollis, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst, Kantar Millward Brown, noted in a recent article: ‘With a huge audience now enjoying a more rewarding experience advertisers are going to have a hard time ignoring the opportunity to interact with potential consumers at scale and may even find that there is a better response with less competition for attention.’ Jane Ostler, Managing Director, Media & Digital at Kantar Millward Brown, agrees: ‘Social media platforms need to continuously refresh their user experience to keep it relevant, and Facebook’s new approach to their News Feed may help to retain and engage users.’

The key for brands, of course, is to focus on content that resonates with their audience. Justine Hess, Associate Head of Global MONITOR, Kantar Consulting, comments: ‘Organic reach for brands on Facebook has been dropping for a long time. Smart brands have been using platforms like Facebook for branding/positioning, rather than reach, since the early 2010s. But the Newsfeed continues to reward engagement. So brands invested in Facebook as a platform should continue to create content that will draw likes, shares, and comments; that is, how Facebook measures interaction.’

‘What won't work anymore is broadcast-style mass-messaging, and posts that make obvious appeals for interaction -- 'engagement bait', as Facebook refers to it,’ says Hess. ‘The newer content types succeed with Centennials precisely because of their shareability, their interactivity, the element of play they invite. Facebook’s Stories, one of their trendier features, is also notably cross-platform, and is creating interesting opportunities for users.’

Ostler argues that there is still a place for advertising on Facebook in the wake of the changes. ‘Facebook will need to continue to innovate with their advertising formats. We know from our research that newer advertising formats tend to perform well in terms of brand effectiveness. Our AdReaction research shows that Gen Z or ‘Centennials’ (16-19-year-olds) are more receptive to newer types of advertising format such as native content and filters, so such moves would likely help to retain newer and younger audiences.’  

Facebook denies any of the changes are linked to revenue, but are to improve the experience for users and enhance their lives. With social media sucking so much of our collective time and attention, the onus will be on advertisers (as well as my aunt and loved up school friends) to make it worth our while engaging. 

Source : Kantar, Kantar Consulting, Kantar Millward Brown

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