- Publishers are scrambling to try to figure out whether Facebook’s big algorithm change will affect their business.
- Many are confused and anxious, while others see a big win for quality publishers.
- There is a sense of betrayal among some-media companies, given how actively Facebook has courted the industry.
- Others say they moved from relying too much on Facebook for traffic long ago.
Across the media industry, publishers are trying to figure out what the big Facebook algorithm change means. According to more than half a dozen conversations with media executives, the early reactions vary widely, including:
- Deep anxiety.
- Shoulder shrugging.
- Fatalistic acceptance.
- Betrayal and frustration.
- Exuberant cheerleading.
Here’s what Business Insider is hearing regarding the thrust of some of these Facebook-related discussions happening inside publishers’ walls:
Reaction 1: Duh – publishers should have seen this coming!
Several publishers have long warned against putting all their eggs in the Facebook basket and have tried to diversify revenue streams. And they have kept their eyes wide open when it comes to Facebook’s level of caring about media partners.
Bryan Goldberg, CEO of the female-focused publisher Bustle, said there is no reason to panic if you’ve been paying attention. “This one was predictable, and smart CEOs should be years ahead of it in their thinking,” he told Business Insider.
But he warned that Facebook has to be careful in being too blunt, and becoming inhospitable to media companies.
“Facebook will need to come up with some solution,” he said. “Users absolutely want to read professionally created content and news. So they will either fulfil this demand, or they will cede a huge market opportunity to Apple and Google. “
Reaction 2: Is Facebook the boy who cried algorithm?
As one social-media-centric publisher put it, Facebook has said this sort of thing before, and not entirely followed through.In June 2016 the company similarly announced that friends and family posts would be prioritised in the news feed, and the predicted publisher armageddon didn’t unfold.
Reaction 3: You told us we mattered.
Here’s why several publishers feel so frustrated: In their eyes, Facebook led them on.
They say that Facebook has long encouraged publishers to build out audiences on Facebook, working with them directly to get their content viewed, testing various ad products with them, and, in several cases, paying them to make content for Facebook specifically – whether that’s live-streaming shows or series for Facebook Watch.
Now, their feeling can be summed up as, WTF? You pushed us to go all in on Facebook, and now you’re sidelining us?
“It’s kind of strange, this mass deprioritization,” said one veteran Facebook publisher. “We’ve been very much encouraged to build audiences here. People spend lots of money to build these operations. At some point it grows tiresome. You start thinking, over time, is this really worth it?”
If you’re a publisher that has a strong website as well as an audience on other platforms like Instagram and YouTube, this is perhaps less of concern. But for many a publisher that has launched a property first and foremost on Facebook, it’s scary.
There’s also frustration about Facebook’s communication of its rollout. Not every publisher has been briefed directly. “The way it’s worded is so opaque,” this publisher said. “I fear the way they put this into effect; it treats all content the same.”
Reaction 4: This is a big win for the good guys.
On the flip side, several publishers who spoke with Business Insider are encouraged by the idea that Facebook is trying to weed out low-quality content. They think they will end up winning.
Publishers that have talked to Facebook directly said that the algo change is aimed at pushing out passive video content that few people share or engage with, and articles that send people to stories off of Facebook for very short visits (like clickbait).
If you have real, organic audiences, and you produce video content people seek out, you should be fine, or so the thinking goes.
“This isn’t war on all publishers,” said Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media, which includes the digital-video brands NowThis and The Dodo. “If your strategy is not to create content with meaningful interactions, you should not be in this business … If the spirit of what [Zuckerberg] said about quality makes it into the algorithm, we should win.”
“Succeeding at video has never been easy, and Facebook’s presentation of video always felt forced and nonsustainable,” said Goldberg. “Publishers should be creating long-form video with an eye toward distribution on dozens of platforms. The short-form-video craze was obviously never going to work.”
Lilian Leong is the COO of 9GAG, a purveyor of funny videos and memes. It has 38 million Facebook fans.
Leong was nonplussed about the move.
“Change is constant in the social-media world,” she said. “Our rule from day one is, we make shareable content. That’s what people want to share with their friends and family. I never gamed the algorithm. Who can do that? We don’t feel betrayed. If anything, this raises the bar.”
Reaction 5: This is a calculated move by Facebook to boost traffic and drive more revenue.
Most publishers and advertisers using Facebook have accepted the fact they they may need to pay to run ads that direct people to their content, simply because hoping that all of a company’s posts are seen or shared is impossible, given how crowded the Facebook news feed is.
But several publishers see this tweak as a way to make it crystal clear: Pay up publishers, or you’ll disappear.
Another top media executive theorised that it’s more than a money grab. Facebook’s users are getting bored, and there’s some evidence of audience stagnation, as Business Insider has reported.
“Sharing is down on Facebook’s platform, and they are freaking out about it,” this person said. “The real story is the American public is not using Facebook as much.”
Reaction 6: Facebook doesn’t even know what’s going to happen. But the bad guys always figure it out.
As one veteran Facebook publisher said, it’s probably going to take a while for the marketplace, and even Facebook, to gauge the true effect of the algo tweak. Facebook is so massive, and 2 billion people essentially get a unique News Feed every day.
“It’s hard for anyone to know how this will all play out,” this publisher said. “It’s such a complex algorithmic system. And any system that is built toward a certain reward system can have unintended consequences. You could end up with a whole new genre of weirdness. Facebook may not even know what’s coming.”
Another publisher questioned how much effect the tweak will have toward solving what Facebook says is its ultimate mission.
“They say they want to emphasise the surfacing of what your friends like,” said one digital-media veteran. “Well, that’s how the fake-news thing happened. From your friends sharing it.”
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