Two weeks ago, Facebook sent publishers and content creators into a frenzy with its latest News Feed change.
Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s News Feed will change so that users “can expect to see more from [their] friends, family and groups [and] less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
The change will force digital creators, publishers and brands alike, to focus on building meaningful relationships with their audiences. It will come down to creating relevant and timely content that sparks conversations, or, spending ad dollars to rank in the News Feed.
Quality storytelling will be at the crux of content, as Facebook returns to its roots. It’s all about connections and bringing individuals together.
As many have already posited, this isn’t new. Parse.ly noted a decline in traffic to publisher links from Facebook in November. We noted the slowdown as early as April 2016, while other, more engaging formats like native videos were emphasized.
However, some publisher Pages are already asking their followers to change user settings, to spare them from the algorithm changes:
Publishers on Facebook in 2018 pic.twitter.com/kQ4tqi1t19
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) January 23, 2018
We decided to get away from all of the speculation and take a look at what we do best — data. Let’s get down to what the impact has been.
What’s going to go viral
What goes viral will continue to go viral. Stories go viral because of people, not so much because of algorithms.
Sharing happens across web, platforms, email, the ominously-named “dark social”. LinkedIn, Reddit, WhatsApp, etcetera — content creators have been diversifying their strategy to match.
In the roughly two weeks since the announcement, we decided to analyze what’s top across Facebook for web links, and what percentage of engagements came from other notable platforms.
We looked at January in 2016 and 2017, as well as June 2017 (since last January was skewed by the inauguration of Trump in the U.S.), and compared the top engaging web links across Facebook to the time period from the latest algorithm announcement change.
Surprisingly, the top stories since the algorithm change have been primarily hard news. If we look at January 2016 and June 2017, we see more soft news. One might hypothesize that without Facebook’s News Feed emphasis, these harder news stories would languish, but the data shows that this hasn’t been the case.
It is mildly alarming that several of the top stories in June 2017 and this month came from YourNewsWire, a notorious fake news site.
More and more, other platforms are playing a role in an article’s overall shares. We examined the LinkedIn shares on top content from as far back as January 2015. There has been serious growth in content’s reach on the platform.
For Facebook, power has shifted away from the publishers’ Facebook Pages, to the inherent virality of the content itself. Most publishers only get about 50 percent of the engagement of their site content through their Page engagement. The rest comes from “personal sharing”, the stories you or a friend found on the web and shared yourselves.
In our own analysis, we’ve found that publishers only put about 20 percent of their web content on their Pages, the other 80 percent comes down to their readers.
Spark a conversation
According to Facebook’s Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, content that sparks meaningful discourse and longer comments at that, will receive more distribution.
We’ve already considered comments more valuable than likes, but now this is truer than ever. Looking at the top 100 Facebook posts from January 2016 onwards, we decided to compare the comments as the percentage of total engagements.
We can see there is a significant shift. In January 2016, comments only accounted for 3.36 percent of a top Facebook post’s engagements, on average. There was a “Trump bump” in January 2017 that mellowed out. But since the algorithm change, this number has skyrocketed to 11 percent.
What trends can we see in what currently drives comments?
As to the content with the highest percentage of comments, this hasn’t changed substantially from January 2017 to June 2017 to now. Here are the posts with the highest percentage of comments since the News Feed announcement:
And here’s a look at just news-focused Pages, again with little change since June 2017:
Live video, particularly politically-charged ones or breaking news, see the biggest share of comments. Beyond the top ten, weird news and relatable videos also see a high percentage of comments, as well as total comments.
Political stories and breaking news can spark comments since they are relevant and timely topics. Weird stories or relatable memes can prompt discourse, as people may feel encouraged to share an opinion or a personal experience.
The Daily Mail has been notably strong with its Facebook Page over the past year, and engaging videos are a part of that:
This video, with 74,000 comments as of January 23rd, saw many of those come from people sharing their own stories and thoughts about the video:
The Daily Mail is also encouraging its followers to join a new Facebook group. Facebook groups are being encouraged as a more authentic way for publishers and brands to reach their audience and cultivate a community.
What to know about native content: emotions, emotions, emotions
According to the Facebook Journalism Project lead, Campbell Brown, the News Feed change will not affect links to publisher content shared by friends.
This also isn’t as drastic a drop as it’s being considered. According to Zuckerberg, the drop of news in the News Feed has only gone from 5 percent to 4 percent visibility. So either way, just relying on your Facebook Page for visibility in the news feed, hasn’t worked for quite a while now.
Even Facebook video, the golden child of Facebook formats, may end up also being deprioritized if it doesn’t lead to meaningful engagements. Let’s take a look at the top content since the change:
We can really see how comments are playing a role in the top posts. UNILAD had two posts where comments were more than 15 percent and 21 percent of their total engagements. The publisher’s content tends to be either relatable or shows the viewer something crazy and different.
And again, let’s look at news-focused Pages as well:
At this time, native video (non-Live) still accounted for 84 of the top 100 posts from news-focused Pages. Photos accounted for 12 posts, and link posts for two.
The top link posts in January 2017, June 2017, and now, tend to be political in nature or posted directly from a politician’s Page:
All of these were either political or came from a publisher known for political coverage.
What’s notable is generally, these posts are statements directly from politicians or source quotes in the caption. This allows the publisher to put in an emotive statement that can encourage an emotional reaction in the audience. A few of the links were from tearjerker, feel-good stories.
Beyond the format, it’s worth noting that the most engaging content in both of the above charts can elicit an emotional response. We’ve written previously on this trend, and it appears to be a best practice that is evergreen.
The top content since the algorithm change can spark a multitude of emotions. Some may induce outrage or sympathy, others are positive and may encourage a feeling of connectedness or community. Some are just shocking and bizarre, and stand out for that alone.
Even though it only has a small percentage of its engagements coming from comments, this video of Halsey at the Women’s March was the second top post since the algorithm change:
The powerful video has driven more than 14,000 comments, many of them heartfelt accounts and thoughts of other victims. The video is timely and touches on a topic that encourages personal sharing, which is exactly what Facebook is after.
The year ahead
According to Pew, almost half of Americans rely on Facebook for news. This algorithm change will almost certainly impact how people distribute and consume news. There are several other developments that will weigh into this.
Being able to trust the content on platforms is still critical, in the continual fight against junk news. Facebook has announced plans to rank news publishers by their trustworthiness. Edelman’s most recent Trust Barometer report found that trust in journalism is actually on the rise.
This suggests the current change may not be quite as dire for publishers as it’s been perceived. Some have already been building out strong, trusted communities for quite a while now, such as Dan Rather’s News and Guts.
Let’s take a look at what tactics and trends to know:
1. What’s going to go viral, will go viral: focus on creating high-quality content
2. Understand the full picture of personal sharing. Like we mentioned, only a fraction of shares will come from your Facebook Page. You need to understand the full scope of who is sharing your content, and when and where
3. Diversify. Other platforms are becoming ideal for distribution, like LinkedIn and messaging apps
4. Cultivate a community. Whether it’s through Facebook Groups, your social accounts, or online, and offline, you want your audience to both trust your content and come to you as part of their daily routine, rather than passively
5. Start a conversation. When we spoke to ATTN:’s co-founder, Matthew Segal, he told us, “We try to approach through a conversational viewpoint. We obsess over giving context to issues as opposed to just summarizing ‘here’s what happened today’, or giving a partisan viewpoint. What does this mean for you, why should you care, and how can we make this as entertaining as possible?”
6. Find the emotional threads. Social is inherently emotional. Find the stories that provoke strong feelings in your audience, and tease out those super-charged moments on social
As always, reach out to us on Twitter if you have any thoughts or questions about the algorithm change. For a look at what’s going viral across all of social, take a trial of NewsWhip Spike. We’ll keep watching the impact of these changes closely.