facebook-crackI’ve used the analogy of a drug dealer in the past in how Facebook was working with news publishers… give them a taste, get them hooked, and them continually increase the price for product.

What Facebook is doing now may indeed be a good things for its users,  but it’s really bad news for news publishers that have come to depend on referral traffic.

Now that Facebook has gotten us in the media hooked on using it to distribute news content, they’re going to dramatically scale back the distribution.   I assume they are thinking that news publishers will start paying more for distribution.  If that was the plan all along, that’s exactly what I would have done.  I don’t like it, but it makes business-sense:  Get us hooked and then make us pay.

Facebook unveiled the strategy on its blog with this headline:


The new tweaks to the algorithm means Facebook will prioritize user-generated content – especially friends’ posts – and reduce the news-oriented content from publishers.

We previously made an update that tries to ensure that stories posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss them.

We’ve heard from our community that people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about. For people with many connections this is particularly important, as there are a lot of stories for them to see each day. So we are updating News Feed over the coming weeks so that the things posted by the friends you care about are higher up in your News Feed.

Facebook blog

Facebook to news organizations:  Expect declines

Facebook is warning publishers to anticipate a reach and referral traffic decline.  That’s a significant issue for a lot of news publishers, who can often see referral traffic from Facebook represent 40-50% of its overall traffic.  Facebook’s advice is to create content that your audience will share with their friends… which will get a higher priority in the feed.

Here’s the big news though.  They’d already tightened the spigot and it’s had a big impact already.  Now they’re tightening it even more.

Here’s what I wrote a month ago.  Keep in mind this was BEFORE the new tweaks.

Facebook_logo-7We’ve been noticing that many of our posts aren’t getting reach they used to get.  We noticed we have to post more content to get the numbers we were used to getting.  Content that had generated broad reach and a lot of engagement suddenly seemed to reach fewer people.  Our feeling was that Facebook had “tightened the spigot” on content.

SocialFlow did the science to show that when they looked at 3,000 publisher/media companies’ Facebook pages over the last year. After upwards trends in reach for the past year, reach peaked in January and has been declining ever since.  Since then, SocialFlow’s CEO Jim Anderson said media companies have had to increase the volume of posts to get the same level of reach.

How big of a drop?

42% drop of Reach per post.

Screen Grab:  SocialFlow live on Facebook

Some media companies have seen as much as half of their website or mobile traffic come from Facebook, so when it drops 42%, it’s a big deal for them.

“Back in the fourth quarter and through January, media companies were doing phenomenally well,” said Anderson.  “Then Facebook made a change to the algorithm.”

In May, the publishers in the analysis produced around 550,000 posts—up from 470,000 in April—but overall reach from January to May was off 42% per post.  “This is evidence, in part, of Facebook’s algorithmic change,” said Anderson.

The Algorithm

The algorithm is the mysterious secret sauce that decides to show you funny dog videos and family photos rather than news about things you don’t care about.  How exactly it knows what to show you and what not to show you is wrapped in mystery.  When Facebook tweaks it – and they are constantly testing tweaks – things happen.

It may have nothing to do with publishers at all.  It may simply be Facebook trying to serve up the best content for its 1.6 billion users.

“Facebook is constantly adjusting its algorithms up and down to try to tune the user experience and the type of content they want to surface to their users.” – SocialFlow’s CEO Jim Anderson

Or, is it all about getting publishers hooked on the traffic, then raising the price for media companies to get its media delivered?