Many small businesses and publishers rely on Facebook as a major source of their traffic, but a trial taking place in a number of countries suggests the social media site is looking to cash in on this, perhaps at the expense of those without a large budget.
In six countries around the world, Facebook has been testing a system whereby users only see original content from their friends and promoted posts/adverts in their main news feed. Anything else will go into a secondary feed, meaning businesses without the budget or inclination to promote their posts could see their content fall by the wayside.
What are the effects of the trial?
The trial has only been running for a fortnight, and many analysts believe it’s too early to come to any conclusions about what it could mean for smaller publishers. However, there is considerable concern among them, and some claim the change is already having drastic effects on their web traffic.
According to The Guardian, a news site in Guatemala, one of the countries in which the trial is taking place, has reported an immediate 66% drop in traffic. Soy502 journalist Dina Fernandez has described the effects as “catastrophic”, and branded Facebook’s increasing authority on what news people see as “downright Orwellian”.
The 66% figure seems not inconsistent with the findings of CrowdTangle, an analytics tool owned by Facebook, on media in Slovakia – another country targeted by the trial. It identified an overnight plummet of 60% in interactions with selected media Facebook sites in the former Yugoslav country, and this figure has since fallen further.
What can businesses and publishers do if this is introduced?
If this does become a policy, it will pose a major challenge to small-budget Facebook pages that already have to battle to get their content seen. The way I see it, they have three options:
1. The first suggestion is pretty obvious – pay the man and join the promoted parade. However, this is not a realistic option for publishers and other businesses on a tight budget.
2. Turn to Twitter. It’s arguably a better tool for business anyway – especially for B2B companies – thanks to its use of hashtags and short, punchy tweets.
3. Make content shareable. It has been noticed that users will still see non-promoted content if their friends share it, so the need to create material people want to pass on would become even greater than it is now.
Overall, though, I hope Facebook comes to its senses over this. Part of the beauty of social media is the richness and variety of content, and this could really be stunted by this “promote or perish” approach. The site needs to let users decide for themselves what they want to see and act as less of a filter or broadcaster. It may have the power to monetise more, but doing so will surely affect the quality and user experience of social media in a detrimental way.