There’s a lot of content going around on Facebook, more and more of which seems to consist of brand updates. It’s not surprising, considering how much they’ve been pushing companies to advertise left and right. In spite of high content volumes, users seem to be hearing less and less from their friends.

Over the past year and a half, it seems like personal sharing has been taking a dip. Sharing has reportedly dropped by around 5% from mid-2014 to mid-2015, with people sharing fewer personal updates – the network’s bread and butter.

The newsfeed is, without a doubt, Facebook’s biggest money-maker and, for the second time in the last two years, the company is tweaking its newsfeed algorithm to favour friends and family over brands. For those of us sick and tired of content that’s nothing more than self-advertising and branding, it seems like Facebook is finally taking steps to improve something other than their own revenue. The change might not all be sunshine and butterflies, though, and here’s why.

Popularity over relevance

Within newsfeeds, Facebook awards more weight to posts that are shared, liked and commented on frequently and this decision to prioritise popularity can be detrimental to the social network’s users.

Whether Facebook wants to be a media provider or not, clearly a large percentage of its audience is getting its news from newsfeeds. According to a study by the PewResearch Center, in the US, 66% of Facebook users get news on the site, meaning that the network is an undeniable contributor in shaping public opinion.

So what happens when you combine Facebook’s unintentional role as a news provider with its algorithm favouring popularity and engagement?  Forget CNN and BBC, you’re about to get your news directly from your aunt, 3rd cousin twice removed and your downstairs neighbor.

Family-endorsed content

Aside from an increase in photos of cats, kids and food, Facebook’s shift towards a more friend and family-friendly newsfeed, translates into an automatic boost in the ranking of content directly shared by these groups and a subsequent drop in that of posts published by the news outlets we’ve subscribed to.

Simply put, instead of reading/ watching an analysis on the latest political crisis from several sources you’ve expressed a clear interest in, helping you form your own opinion, you’re likely to get swamped by opinion pieces that click with how your Facebook friends feel about the issue. The content itself will still be available but you’ll have to scroll quite a while before you get to it, leading to a decline in publishers’ reach and website traffic.

“We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about, we are in the business of connecting people and ideas — and matching people with the stories they find most meaningful.” – Adam Mosseri, vice president of product management at Facebook

Since we spend over 50 minutes every day on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, Facebook’s suite of social apps definitely play a significant role in creating a subjective reality for its users. So long as you use Facebook as a means to stay connected, entertained, treat posts with skepticisms and don’t trade off good-old research in their favour, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

From publishers to gamblers

Brands, publishers and companies in general, will bear the brunt of this change, with reach and traffic likely to decline significantly. Over the years, Facebook has taken active steps to stimulate Pages to spend their budgets first on acquiring an audience, then spending more budget to reach them and recently, spend even more budget scrambling to rethink their marketing strategy and accommodate Facebook Live and video into their content strategy.

Granted, Facebook never guaranteed that brands will enter “revenue Heaven” through marketing on the network but it’s easy to understand why some might be reluctant to further invest in something that could easily and dramatically shift tomorrow. It’s not surprising that companies with big marketing budgets are looking into building their own platforms, apps or re-shifting the focus of their strategies to acquiring subscribers rater than fans.

The Bottom Line

Facebook, first and foremost, is a company not a non-profit organisation, and its focus will continue to be generating revenue. Page managers have to be especially adaptive to change and never rely on a single tool if their efforts are to pay off.

With the new tweaks in Facebook algorithm, their focus now has to shift to creating content that people will share, rather than like and comment. On the other hand, if users are to have an enjoyable experience on Facebook, they first have to learn to use it beyond posting, liking and commenting.

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