16 September 2019
Facebook is conducting trials in six countries under which the social media giant is dropping non-promoted content out its main news feed. Photo: Reuters
Facebook is conducting trials in six countries under which the social media giant is dropping non-promoted content out its main news feed. Photo: Reuters

Facebook tests moving non-promoted posts out of news feed

Facebook is testing a new update that would shift non-promoted posts out of its news feed, an initiative that spells bad news for publishers who rely on the social network for their audience.

Under the trial, which is underway in six countries — Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia — Facebook is taking non-promoted content from publishers and businesses out of its main feed.

Instead, those posts will exist in a separate, much less visible feed called the “Explore Feed”, which is buried on the left-hand rail on Facebook’s web version, or in the “Explore” tab on the iOS app.

Users’ main feed, meanwhile, is focused entirely on original content from friends, and advertisements.

According to British newspaper The Guardian, the change has led to a huge slide in the reach of some non-promoted content, with publications reporting up to 80 percent fall in user engagement on Facebook.

If replicated more broadly, such a change could be catastrophic for many smaller publishers, as well as larger ones that rely too much on social media referrals for visitors, the paper said in a Monday report. 

Filip Struhárik, a journalist at Slovakian newspaper Dennik N, was quoted as saying that “pages are seeing dramatic drops in organic reach”.

A selection of the top 60 Facebook Pages in Slovakia saw two-thirds to three-quarters of their Facebook reach disappear, the report said, citing statistics from Facebook-owned analytics service CrowdTangle.

Notably, the change does not seem to affect paid promotions. Such content still appears on the news feed as normal, as do posts from people who have been followed or “friended” on the site.

Even for original Facebook videos, if they are posted by a publisher on a page but not shared through paid promotion, it will not get into users’ personal feed.

In a statement, Facebook said: “People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from Pages.”

Matti Littunen, a senior research analyst at Enders Analysis, told The Guardian that many “premium” publishers had already cottoned on to the trend, and backed off relying too strongly on social media.

But entities such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, which create commoditized content aiming for the biggest reach, could take a hit, the analyst said.

And new media companies, which rely on social media to bring in traffic and revenue, would be wounded, perhaps fatally, by the switch, said Littunen.

After The Guardian published its article, Facebook issued a second statement in which it said the social media giant has “no current plans” to roll out the new change globally.

Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of the News Feed, indicated in a blog post that the trial would likely go on for months.

“The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content,” he wrote.

“We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further. There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 25

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal