Facebook promises more community, fewer brand posts in significant shift


Dive Brief:

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is giving the platform’s product teams a new goal going forward to focus on helping users find relevant content and have more meaningful social interactions, reflecting a “major change to how we build Facebook,” he said in a blog post that went live Thursday night. 
  • The News Feed will be the first place where the change is evident and users can expect to see fewer posts from businesses, brands and media. Content that does appear from these entities will be held to the same new standard, which means content should help users have more meaningful social interactions, Zuckerberg explained. In the coming months, the changes will make their way through all of Facebook’s products. 
  • The changes are likely to result in people spending less time on Facebook and, for some, engagement metrics to drop, but Zuckerberg insisted the change will ultimately be a good thing. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable,” Zuckerberg wrote in the blog post. “And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

Dive Insight:

By putting a bigger focus on personal content — and shifting away from public content from brands and publishers — Facebook is likely to shake up the digital media ecosystem given that the social network commands 20.9% of the U.S. digital ad business, according to eMarketer, and is a crucial way for publishers to get their content in front of consumers. In a reflection of just how significant the move is, Facebook’s stock has been trading down following the news. 

Zuckerberg was clear in his post that the change in direction will mean a reduction and engagement in reach for brands and publishers. This, in turn, could lead to a reduction in Facebook’s ad revenue. The move is a response to feedback from Facebook users that posts from businesses, brands and media are crowding out personal content, which the exec blames on the explosion of video and other public content over the past couple of years. The goal is for the balance to swing back in favor of personal moments.

“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being,” Zuckerberg said. “We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long-term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.”

In shifting the focus of Facebook, the exec is also picking up the mantle for higher-quality content, a cause that big advertisers like P&G are championing. The thinking is that brands may actually be undermining their relationships with consumers by pushing out too much content — some of which is construed of banner ads, retargeted ads, auto-play video and other formats that can be a turn-off — and would actually develop stronger relationships with less but higher-quality content.

Examples of valuable public content pointed to by Zuckerberg include the many communities around TV shows and sports teams as well as live videos and news that helps start conversations on important issues. In the coming months, marketers are likely to start experimenting with ways to develop a community on Facebook.

Despite the magnitude of this development, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Just last week, Zuckerberg posted about how the world feels anxious and divided and that his personal goal for 2018 is to focus on improving Facebook so it isn’t misused. The exec also posted repeatedly throughout 2017 about how the platform was trying to address issues like fake news.

Last night’s blog post is also something of an acknowledgment by Zuckerberg that Facebook’s reputation has taken a significant hit over the past year on several fronts. Facebook has been a key focus of discussions about the role that fake news played in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. There is also a growing backlash against the amount of time that consumers, and especially children and teens, are spending social media, and the potential health and psychological harm this can cause. 

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