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Publishers ponder Facebook changes

News, 01 July 2016

SAN FRANCISCO: News that Facebook will change its News Feed algorithm to give greater weight to posts from friends and family has led publishers to assess the potential impact of the move on traffic and ad revenues.

Posts from news outlet Pages should expect a decline in reach and referral traffic, said TechCrunch, "especially if they rely on clicks directly to their posts rather than re-shares by their followers".

The social media giant explained that its priority was keeping its users connected to those people, places and things they most wanted to be connected to, "starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook".

TechCrunch noted that recently the balance felt like it had shifted too far in favour of news publishers, in part because of the presidential election and in part because publishers were creating more visually stimulating videos.

By getting back to its original purpose, Facebook seems more likely to ensure users come back to the site, which may ultimately benefit publishers. In the year since it introduced Instant Articles, allowing publishers to post articles directly to the site, it has rapidly become the leading generator of referral traffic, more so than even Google.

And while that has been good news in some ways – helping to attract new readers, for example – it has also highlighted the thorny question of who owns the associated data.

"There is now an expectation, in general, on the part of publishers that platforms will change, and that they won't necessarily be informed how they will change," said Emily Bell, director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

"This completely highlights how ownership of the user is a central tension between news producers and platforms," she told the New York Times.

Joshua Benton, director of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab, added that "It's another sign that publications will have to rely more on direct reader revenue and less on advertising revenue".

Data sourced from New York Times, TechCrunch, Guardian; additional content by Warc staff