June 29, 2016

Facebook announced on Wednesday it’s changing its News Feed to prioritize friends and family over news organizations, a shift that will cause referral traffic to publishers to decrease.

The change was announced in a blog post addressed to Facebook users Wednesday that said users are “worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about.” So, over the coming weeks, a change will be implemented that prioritizes updates shared by friends, rather than publishers.

Here’s Facebook’s explanation on what the change means for news organizations (nothing good):

Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts.

The News Feed tweak is likely to be a momentous one for news organizations that rely heavily on Facebook as a major source of referral traffic. In particular, it hurts publishers that emphasize revenue from advertisers (contingent upon monetizing large quantities of pageviews) over revenue from users (which are less subject to the audience-driving whims of platforms like Facebook).

Josh Benton, the founder of Nieman Lab, put today’s change in the tradition of declining importance of Facebook publisher followings.

This is another step in the continued devaluation of large publisher followings on Facebook; the social network has over time reduced the share of your fans who see each of your posts (though they’re happy to take your ad dollars to show them to more!). Add in Instant Articles and the strong preference given to Facebook-native video and you see, once again, the primary hoarder of Internet attention consolidating its position. And various undulations in publisher Facebook traffic — seemingly driven more by algorithmic decisions rather than publisher success or failure — have shown over the past year or two that small tweaks can have big impacts.

Mike Isaac and Sydney Ember of The New York Times said the tweak underscores the fact that news organizations need Facebook more than it needs them:

It is also a reminder that while Facebook is vastly important to the long-term growth of news media companies, from older outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post to upstarts like BuzzFeed, Vice and Vox Media, publishers rank lower on Facebook’s list of priorities.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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