Much has been written about why and how Facebook is killing clickbait and what effect that might have on publishers, agencies and marketers. But to truly understand the impact of this newly updated anti-clickbait algorithm, you need to consider a few other recent Facebook policy changes that, when taken together, will make it harder and more expensive for publishers to bundle native content, drive traffic and accomplish their reach goals.
The War on Clickbait
Regarding clickbait, in answering the question, “Will this impact my Page?” Facebook writes, “We anticipate that most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed as a result of this change.” Which is code for “Of course it will.”
While reducing clickbait is a noble goal, consider the title of this article: “Facebook Is Killing Clickbait and the Results Will Surprise You!” I intentionally crafted it as the kind of clickbait Facebook is trying to eliminate. Facebook’s approach to curtailing clickbait suggests that “headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer” will be targeted by the new algorithm. But let’s not quibble about clickbait. It is generally used for untoward purposes, and there are several bad actors who need to be reined in. Instead, let’s concentrate on something that may surprise you: the collateral damage from Facebook’s systematic war on organizations that are gaming (or trying to game) its platform.
Friends and Family News Feed Focus
On June 29, 2016, Facebook’s VP, Product Management, News Feed Adam Mosseri wrote a post titled Building a Better News Feed for You. It opens, “The goal of News Feed is to show people the stories that are most relevant to them. Today, we’re announcing an update to News Feed that helps you see more posts from your friends and family. We explain this change in more detail here.” It has been a few weeks, and I can tell you that I’ve received several cries for help from small publishers who have been crushed by this. An average experience is a 50 percent loss of traffic, but in a few cases, it’s more like 90 percent. The solution is to pay up, but in most of the cases brought to my attention, the economics of “pay up” simply don’t work.
Tag Requirements for Branded Content
Earlier in June, Facebook went after branded content (Facebook’s term for native advertising) saying, “Verified Pages (with the blue checkmark) can share branded content on Facebook as long as they follow our updated branded content policy and ads policy and use the branded content tool to tag marketers in their posts.” This is actually a big deal.
Publishers have never really been allowed to promote branded content on Facebook pages. The work-around was to create a page dedicated to content and share the branded content from that page. Publishers could also create dark posts – ads that didn’t show up on the publisher’s page but did show up as ads in news feeds. This is over.
Now, publishers have to tag advertisers in branded content, which makes it unambiguously clear that “native advertising” is actually advertising. There is nothing wrong with this idea, but tagging the advertiser comes with a twist — when a publisher tags an advertiser, not only will Facebook show the advertiser the metrics, the advertiser can pay Facebook directly to turn the content into a sponsored post.
This new policy undoubtedly improves Facebook’s user experience. From a consumer’s standpoint, transparency is always good. It’s also good for advertisers. They get an opportunity to purchase a new ad product and get Facebook insights to help them evaluate their ad buys. But for publishers, giving advertisers access to the data from tagged branded content or posts will reveal all kinds of stuff publishers would rather advertisers not see. How much traffic came from Facebook ads and how much traffic came from the publisher’s site? What is the value of the publisher’s dedicated audience of avid users?
This new metric sharing is also likely to impact the practice of bundling because advertisers can now figure out the spread between the prices they are paying publishers and the price Facebook is offering directly. While it’s not always apples to apples, for many publishers, this is not good news.
Get Out Your Credit Cards
In practice, some publishers will be able to work around these algorithm and policy changes by throwing money at the problem. But many small publishers won’t have the margin to solve their referral and reach issues by paying to boost content. For them, killing clickbait is the cherry on the cake of these recent policy changes. For everyone else, it’s time to adapt.