Analysis of NewsWhip data shows a decline in Facebook shares for external content from sites in recent weeks.
The data shows that the fall-off in shares started in mid-February, and continued into March.
It’s understood that a reduction in the reach of these links – how many people see them in their news feed – is behind the fall-off in engagements. Likes and comments on the stories don’t seem to have been affected as much. It may be that these changes are designed to give more prominence to Facebook native content, such as videos.
NewsWhip’s social analytics platform, Analytics, illustrates the fall-off in shares. We plotted the daily Facebook shares of ten major publishers over January and February:
Although it’s normal for shares (along with article output and other interactions) to fall on weekends, before rising throughout the week (as shown in the January graph), February’s shares didn’t recover after falling early in the month.
For individual publishers, the fall-off is as obvious. Here’s a graph showing the difference in daily share rates for the Huffington Post in January (blue) and February (red) 2015:
A staff member at one major UK publisher described the reduce in engagement as a ‘Faceboocalypse’, and said that his team had noticed what he described as “a change to news feed algorithm which drastically reduced the reach of many news sites’ posts”. Another major global publisher also acknowledged that they had seen a fall-off in Facebook engagement in recent weeks.
NewsWhip’s data team noticed the reduction when analysing data for the biggest Facebook sites of February 2015. A wide range of top publishers, including BuzzFeed, the New York Times, Fox News and more seem to have been affected.
The 100 most shared English language stories (which include quizzes and other viral content) on Facebook in February had just over 10.2 million shares, compared to over 16.4 million for the same set in January.
So, what does this mean for publishers?
This data is a reminder that the Facebook algorithm can give, but it can also take away. Many of the sites that suffered would not have thought it possible to see such fall-offs in shares in such a short space of time, while others likely saw big boosts for their Facebook native content. More than ever, few things are guaranteed as Facebook optimises the best experience for their users.
Last week, it was reported that Facebook has held talks with several publishers about hosting content directly on the platform. The algorithm already favours native content, especially video, which Facebook has invested significantly in. It’s not news to publishers that this gradual shift may have been on the way for their content, but the quick decline in engagement (and presumably, reach and referrals) for external links likely came as a surprise.
Meanwhile, some publishers are already making more moves to showcase their content directly on Facebook, including BuzzFeed, whose post impressions on the network are already astronomical:
It’s those impressions that both Facebook and an increasing number of publishers are now taking notice of. It seems as though Facebook is less concerned with sending major traffic to external sites than it is with ensuring that its users can consume high quality content without having to leave the network’s familiar surrounds. Since adding Facebook posts to Spike, we’ve seen just how far some of the bigger posts can get.
However, it’s important to note that engagements for top publishers remain very high, compared to 12 months ago. Indeed, many publishers in the top 25 have increased their engagements from 12 months ago significantly. NBC went from 9.2 million total Facebook interactions in February 2014 to over 19.8 million in February 2015. Likewise, the Daily Mail almost doubled their engagements, from 7.6 million to 14.5 million. The vast majority of sites are experiencing much higher levels of engagement than they did 12 months ago, reinforcing the fact that this is less wipe-out, more restructuring.
Another look at our data indicates that some sites made a recovery from early March onwards, while others continued to languish. In any case, the algorithm’s effect on traffic and engagement will be clearer than ever to all publishers. We’ll be watching the engagement rates in the weeks ahead closely.
We’ll be looking at the full effects of the fall-off in engagement when we resume our Facebook rankings for March. In the meantime, if you’d like to add anything to this post, feel free to drop us a line.
April 1 update: Facebook have told Mashable that a bug was behind the fall-off in reach last month. A Facebook representative also contacted NewsWhip with the following statement:
“We experienced an issue with Page Insights logging in February that failed to count some viral reach accurately. Importantly, actual delivery of posts was not affected by this issue; this was a reporting issue only. We identified and resolved this issue in early March and Page Insights are now correctly reporting organic reach. We apologize for any unintended impact this may have had to our partners.”
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