Digital PR agency: What is Facebook actually thinking?

“New system could destroy smaller publishers if implemented, after journalists report drop in organic reach – but users will still see their friends’ posts,” says The Guardian’s standfirst this morning.

“With all of the possible stories in each person’s feed, we always work to connect people with the posts they find most meaningful. People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from Page,” Facebook is quoted as saying in the same article.

So what’s the deal?

Last week, Facebook began a new trial in six different territories, which sees non-promoted posts removed from the standard News Feed, and dropped into a secondary area, leaving the main rolling ticker filled with posts from user’s friends and family, advertisements, and posts that publisher’s have paid to promote.
Already many media outlets are voicing grave concerns about how this may impact on the media landscape going forward if it were to become the standard format for Facebook across the world. Those organisations that seem to be most vulnerable are small publishers, and larger ones that have an imbalance in their web traffic- i.e. they rely on social referrals for the majority of visitors.
We’re surprised at the development when Facebook has recently appeared keen to be seen more more favourably in terms of its relationship with publishers and content creators of all kinds. Pledges have been made to give creators a fairer share in revenue from Instant Articles, and the Facebook Journalism Project we reported on earlier this year was a major gesture of support for the industry.
In contrast, this latest change to the Feed is the complete opposite, and stands to create a greater gap between the major and minor editorial outlets, potentially threatening the very existence of those in the latter category.
[Tweet “@SmokingGunPR reacts to new #Facebook change – biting the hands that feed?”]

Biting the hands that feed

While this may be worrying from the perspective of those working in house, and the owners of websites and blogs, it threatens to be catastrophic for freelance writers. With few rates improving in the last decade, already the income for professionals who work independently is being stretched to breaking point, with less and less titles able to pay for work as it stands- conversely, there has been an increase in reliance on freelancers while all this has been going on.
The impact of this new proposal on smaller outlets would either be the complete closure of the title, or, more than likely, those that currently offer some recompense for work would switch to an unpaid model, using inexperienced (and in many cases student) writers for their content, thus lowering their own value when it comes to quality of product, and also adding further cuts to the income of freelancers that can’t afford work for free.
Whichever way you look at it, this doesn’t seem like a very fair or well thought out plan when you consider how much Facebook needs content from third parties to keep people logged on. But then perhaps there’s more to the story.
As was widely reported last year, Facebook has been growing increasingly concerned about the lack of personal information being shared in status updates. More and more, people are posting content they find interesting- images, videos, articles- rather than personal thoughts and feelings. When the business model of the social network is based on collecting data about interests, hobbies, likes, and dislikes, then perhaps attempting to quieten (or even silence) publishers unless they pay is also an effort to get people sharing what you might call more ‘traditional’ statuses again, helping the platform get reacquainted with its users.
Food for though, either way.

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