Facebook Is Shrinking Our News Feed Reach. What’s Next?

Yesterday, Facebook made official what media companies around the world had been worrying about for months.

The tech giant confirmed that starting as early as next week, its News Feed would be updated to give higher affinity toward the posts of friends and groups while reducing the reach of pages, including publishers, businesses, and brands.

In short, Facebook users will see more posts from their personal network of friends and groups, and less posts from publishers and business pages they follow.

Mark Zuckerberg on stage at Facebook’s F8 Conference

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained some of the rationale behind the company’s dramatic shift in a post Thursday evening, summarizing some of the changes users will notice:

“We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups. As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”

Although Facebook’s quick-fire tests and algorithm shifts have long kept media companies up at night, yesterday’s news created waves of commentary from the media industry, which had felt particularly strong winds of change since last year.

In December, the digital analytics company Parse.ly revealed data that showed that while Google increased its traffic to publishers by 17% in 2017, Facebook sent 25% less traffic to them.

In addition, Facebook rolled out a test in October that placed publishers from six countries behind a new “Explore” feed, outside of the standard News Feed that publishers rely on for substantial portions of their traffic. The company downplayed the impact of the test, ensuring pages that “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.”

These changing tides amplified mounting concerns that the social platform would eventually begin reducing the reach—and as a result, engagement and site traffic—of media companies. And despite the promotion of products like Instant Articles, Live and Watch, as well as last year’s Facebook Journalism Project initiative, the common consensus was that Facebook’s traffic clock was ticking for everyone.

That this new change will dramatically impact media and publishing companies is unanimously unquestioned. Companies that rely on Facebook’s algorithm for a significant percentage of their traffic and engagement will find themselves in an existential crisis, while even those who do not actively rely on the platform, including NOVA, will see some of its effects.

Yesterday’s announcement made that a reality. Considering this new terrain, with nearly every media program in the country certain to be affected by this change (NOVA included), the question facing media companies now is this: Has their content created enough value to their audiences to weather technological shifts like these, and will that loyalty remain in the future?

Like nearly every other company, we’re proud to have built a strong community on Facebook that engages with and learns from our content there, including educational outreach programs, short form videos, photos, Facebook Live events, and more. That said, this change has reemphasized the importance for us of not relying on any one company to remain deeply connected to our audience. This recent letter from Senior Executive Producer Paula Apsell speaks to our interest in expanding—and listening to—our community.

Facebook is just one place for you to engage with us and discover the wonders of science that have motivated us for decades. By signing up for our newsletters (to subscribe to both NOVA and NOVA Lens, check “NOVA Newsletters” and then enter your email address and zip code here), or by following us on other platforms like Twitter and Instagram, you’ll keep hearing from us for years to come.

As for Facebook users who prefer to keep certain pages in their News Feed, Adam Mosseri, Vice President of News Feed for Facebook, offered instructions in a post:

“People who want to see more posts from Pages they follow can choose See First in News Feed Preferences to make sure they always see posts from their favorite Pages.”

If Facebook remains one of your favorite places to engage with NOVA, I highly recommend taking the small amount of time to configure those settings.

As the most-watched prime time science series on American television, we’re confident that, regardless of algorithmic shifts like this one, our audience will follow us online and engage with us on across multiple avenues. Thank you ahead of time for helping in our mission to promote science education and entertainment for each and every generation.

Dante Graves
Director of Audience Development, NOVA