While lots of people still get their news by regularly reading certain sites, doing searches to find stories of interest, or through any of the countless aggregating platforms, Facebook has increasingly become many content producers’ most important source of traffic. And while some sites pay to have their stories inserted into Facebook users’ news feeds, others are reaping the benefit of social sharing without paying Facebook a dime. In a move ostensibly intended to declutter users’ feeds, but seen by some as a way to strong-arm content companies into advertising, Facebook is now looking to possibly limit primary news feed access only to those sites that pay to be there.
Instead, according to tests begun last week in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia, posts from “Pages” — meaning anything from your local deli’s Facebook page to an international news-gathering organization — will be shunted off into a secondary feed dubbed “Explore.” Users in test areas will still see these items, but only if they look at this secondary feed.
Facebook claims the dual feed system was created after the company heard from users who wanted an easier way to see posts from friends and family.
“The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content,” Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed for Facebook, wrote in a blog post Monday after concerns about the new feed came to light.
The company plans to listen to feedback to “understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further.”
“As with all tests we run, we may learn new things that lead to additional tests in the coming months so we can better understand what works best for people and publishers,” the post states.
What Facebook glosses over is that — at least according to reports from areas where these tests are being run — sites that pay for advertising will still have their sponsored posts showing up in the main news feed.
Analysts tell The Guardian that they aren’t surprised by the move.
“The classic Facebook playbook: First give lots of organic reach to one content type, then they have to pay for reach, then they can only get through to anyone by paying,” Matti Littunen, a senior research analyst at Enders Analysis, told the publication.
However, hearing those concerns, Facebook on Monday reiterated that the new feed is just a test.
“There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore,” Mosseri wrote.
Drop In Views
Shortly after Facebook launched the dual feed test on Thursday, many companies noted that after the feed was launched their Page traffic declined, The Guardian reports, adding that user engagement with Facebook publishers’ Pages dropped 60% to 80%.
For instance, Slovakian newspaper Dennik N reported a “dramatic” drop in organic reach after the test began in the country.
“Pages are seeing dramatic drops in organic reach,” journalist Filip Struhárik told The Guardian. “The reach of several Facebook pages fell on Thursday and Friday by two-thirds compared to previous days.”
Those drops were common for the 60 largest Facebook pages in Slovakia, The Guardian reports, citing Facebook owned analytics company CrowdTangle.
In addition to concerns of dropping traffic, many companies have expressed worries that the new system, if rolled out more widely, would require Pages to pay in order for their content to be seen.