Facebook has changed a lot over the years. When I first joined, you needed a US college email address to belong. There were no “likes”, no “groups”, no “timelines” and no “newsfeed”. Each new iteration of Facebook brings a different look, and each change subtly changes the way we use it.
I heard some buzz about the “algorithm changes” which were coming in December. I was warned that I should take note as a writer who primarily shares her stuff on Facebook, because the changes would affect me. I nodded for a few minutes, and then forgot about it. However, as a reader, I began to notice some differences:
- More adverts, usually second from the top item in my newsfeed,
- More links to BIG collective media distributors (viralnova, buzzfeed, faithit, upworthy, huffpost etc),
- Less photos and status updates from friends,
- Video clips which “moved” in my newsfeed before I clicked on them, and
- Less links to smaller internet posts from other people’s blogs or local newspapers.
Towards the end of the month, I noticed something significant on this blog too: I was getting 30-40% less traffic than I had in the months before, even though technically my readership had increased by more than 300. Both as a reader and as a writer, these changes irked me, and so I did some digging. Apparently, the changes were explained this way by the Facebook newsroom:
“We’ve noticed that people enjoy seeing articles on Facebook, and so we’re now paying closer attention to what makes for high-quality content, and how often articles are clicked on from News Feed on mobile.”
By high-quality content, though, what they seem to mean is high-traffic content. My newsfeed shows me what’s already popular among the mega-million media sites, rather than showing me posts from friends or pages which I signed up to follow. As a reader, it means that even if I choose to follow a business or a writer by “liking” their page, very few of their posts will in fact appear in my newsfeed unless they pay Facebook specifically to promote their posts to their fans. In Facebook language, “organic reach” is decreasing in favor of “paid reach”. The company themselves have admitted that organic reach is “falling short”, and that they encourage people to buy ads instead.
In other words: Facebook is becoming less about social media, and more about media.
As a Facebook user, this is discouraging to me. Whereas before I enjoyed my customized newsfeed including little gems from friends and friendly bloggers I follow, now my newsfeed is full of big-news media stuff which I could have found on Reddit or StumbleUpon or other big-news-collector-agencies. My newsfeed is full of memes and money; the village voices are quieter and quieter.
As a reader, this means I need to work harder to follow my friends’ updates. I need to look at their pages individually, because unless their photo is liked 15 times by others it is unlikely to stay on my radar long enough for me to see it. It also means that Facebook is no longer a good way for me to follow other writers and organizations of interest, because unless they are paying for ad space, their posts will seldom make their way to me. I’m subscribing by email to a bunch of those bloggers (a bunch of bloggers? Isn’t there a better collective noun?), and I’m wondering what new social media opportunity will step up to fill the gap.
As a writer, it means I need to think about how I share my words. Until now, most of my readers have found my blog through Facebook. However, with the changing algorithms, I cannot (and will not) compete with other businesses for space on your newsfeed by paying them $5 A DAY (which is the MINIMUM amount they charge for promoting a page). A number of prolific writers are stepping away from Facebook because of these changes, and looking for alternate venues to connect with readers who want to follow their work: I read cooking-writer Stephanie Stivetti’s story this week, and she makes a good argument for why she’s dumping Facebook.
What do the change mean for you? As a reader, you may need to be more intentional about setting your notifications to “on” for the people whose updates you specifically want to see. And if you’re following a blog, like this one, via Facebook – you might want to consider subscribing by email, because if the stats are to be believed – only 1-10% of the updates you signed up to follow are making it to you.
What do the changes mean for you if you’re a writer? I don’t know. I expect the next “big thing” will soon sweep our way and that will be the next platform for the free exchange of ideas in an online community. But until then, I suppose we’ll keep sharing on Facebook. I may not like it, but until something better comes along, I’ll keep “liking” what I see, just to spread the word a little further.