Digital Publishing: Facebook Puts a New Face on News Feed
Posted: 10/16/2013 | By: Rob Tornoe
Facebook, the social media giant that has become an increasingly important part of every media company’s promotion strategy, rolled out two new updates in August to its News Feed, which determines what posts users see when they log in.
I can sense your eyes rolling already. Ever since Facebook changed the way users see a Page’s posts, editors have become leery of the ever-increasing prospect of having to pay to reach readers who have already “liked” their Pages.
The updates aren’t as bad as you think, and are weighted to give the timely, relevant content that come from trusted sources like newspapers more visibility. So with a little tweaking of your current strategy, the changes could actually benefit your Facebook presence and the amount of traffic you drive back to your site.
One of the biggest changes, which Facebook calls “story bumping,” takes older content posted earlier in the day and resurfaces it to users who might have missed it. So when a user logs in, instead of simply seeing the most recent links, stories and status updates, they’ll see a mix of content they might have missed since last logging into Facebook.
“Our main goal is really to make the best personalized newspaper for our users,” said Lars Backstrom, a Facebook news feed engineering manager.
The changes seem to be based around the idea of rewarding high quality content, and punishing content that is either “spammy” or trying to game the system artificially to acquire “likes” and shares.
How will Facebook determine what is “spammy” content? Well, for starters, the onus of the change seems to be a crackdown on Pages that try to trick their way into an individual’s News Feed by blatantly asking for “likes” and shares and sharing “memes,” images with text overlaid making a joke or snarky point. So these changes might hurt George Takei’s strategy, but according to Facebook, it should actually help increase your news site’s effectiveness.
One media company that has taken advantage of Facebook’s algorithm changes is Metro, a free daily newspaper in the U.K. By focusing on sharing only its best content, and taking care to craft headlines that will appeal to its Facebook users, Metro has been able to dramatically grow its referral traffic from Facebook.
“Every day we look for the stories people are talking about on Facebook and ways to amplify them,” said Richard Moynihan, Social and Community Manager at Metro. “The data informs our editorial decisions on what to publish and as such, visits from Facebook to our website are up 300 percent.”
While the pressure to generate traffic leads most editors to stuff their Facebook Pages with stories, Metro limits its Facebook posts to 6-10 must-see stories, videos and pictures of the day. When it comes to tone, editors try to keep it conversational, and vary their posts based on the news cycle. For instance, morning posts are focused on harder news, while afternoon posts are more lighthearted. On evenings and weekends, Metro discovered that longer features, sports and entertainment stories perform the best.
An added issue for many media companies trying to grow Facebook traffic can be the range of diversity in its offerings. A sports news fan might not be interested in a local investigative piece, and vice versa. Christopher Penn, vice president of marketing technology at Shift Communication, suggests editors at medium and large-sized media organizations consider developing separate Facebook Pages for key verticals or sections that are important to readers.
Penn points to the success of Ford motor company, which in addition to its main Page has secondary Pages for its individual vehicles. “This requires more time and human resources in increasingly busy newsrooms, but in addition to developing niche traffic to different verticals, the audience segmentation could be beneficial to advertisers.”
Another way Penn suggests editors can beef up their interactions on Facebook is through strategic use of “promoted posts.” Yes, you have to pay for these, but if you have a huge story that you’re trying to get out there, a one-time $10 payment might be worth it to dramatically grow the number of users that see your posts. “Strategic use of sponsored posts, say $10 daily or weekly, could be a unique way of reaching an audience that isn’t currently seeing your posts,” said Penn.
Another thing editors should keep their eye on is a new “trending” feature section Facebook is testing. Facebook added hashtags (keywords preceded by a “#” made popular by Twitter) a couple of months ago, and in an effort to make them useful, they are testing a “trending” topics section on the homePage News Feed of its website, which seems like it will operate along the same lines as the Trending Topics in Twitter.
So, if there’s one constant with Facebook, it’s that there’s going to be change. If you keep in mind that average Facebook users have 1,500 posts waiting for them when they log in, and focus on sharing the most relevant and engaging content you have, you can keep your news organization ahead of the curve, and on top of the News Feed.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and reporter for Editor & Publisher, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.