Facebook Features Push for More Personal Sharing

Facebook Features Push for More Personal Sharing

Do news articles from your friends on Facebook increasingly dominate your news feed  vs. personal updates (what Facebook calls “original sharing”)?  If so, you are not alone.

Here is the challenge for Facebook:  Providing a platform for media is a huge growth driver for FB, but, personal updates, like family photos, weddings, births, new jobs, and personal news generate much higher engagement.  Personal updates also create more of a friendly, open community.  Facebook is keenly aware of this and has been working on ways to re-tilt the balance toward personal updates.

The Information posted an article in April 2016 providing numbers and insights into this issue entitled: “Facebook Struggles to Stop Decline in ‘Original’ Sharing.'”  I think it’s safe to say that news dominance over “original sharing” became even more pronounced as 2016 marched toward the US Presidential election and its aftermath.

Facebook VP Adam Mosseri was interviewed at Techcrunch Disrupt in September about the FB news feed (click here for the video on Techcrunch) — what appears and what doesn’t, how people respond, and Facebook’s point of view.

These are the key factors driving news dominance (as I see it):

  1. Momentum and the Election Cycle: News and opinion drives more news and opinion.  The more news article shares a user sees, the more likely they are to share news articles.  The election drove big increases in news consumption across media platforms in 2016, and hence more news media sharing.
  2. Content Publisher Needs:  Publishers have an urgent need for Facebook as a tool to drive traffic.  As the publishers chase audience volume for their own ad businesses, they are heavily motivated to promote sharing on Facebook (through prompts and “viral” headlines”).  Publishers also spend ad dollars to promote content on Facebook as they struggle to grow (ironically competing with Facebook itself for advertiser mindshare and budgets).
  3. The Current “Scary” News Environment:  The news is polarizing, scary, and never-ending .  Publishers use shock and hyperbole to drive clicks and drive the news addiction of users by providing constant updates.   The fake news problem takes this all to another level.  Facebook is playing whack-a-mole:  just as click-bait and pulp was de-prioritized and filtered in the algorithm, fake news exploded on the scene…what’s next?
  4. A Less Friendly and Safe Context for “Original Sharing”:  Anxiety and polarization create a poor context for inserting pictures of your new baby or a family vacation.  Election articles exposed users to more comments from friends-of-friends, including bickering, trolling, and (heavens) contrary viewpoints.  All of the above, plus Facebook’s overall size and increasingly commercial nature/ad load suppress “original sharing.”
  5. The continued growth of Snapchat and Instagram as more visual, and personal environments.  Instagram continues to be a brilliant acquisition for Facebook, but it is clearly chasing and copying Snapchat as both platforms continue to grow.
  6. Social Network Brand Identity:  As Snapchat and Instagram cement their identity as the place to share personal updates and have fun with your friends, LinkedIn is the place for professional updates and business articles, and Facebook is becoming the place to share news and opinion.

As a side note, Snapchat has done a great job of separating professional publisher content with Channels – this enables them to play in the media and personal spaces without too directly mixing the two.  Add this to Snap’s less intrusive policies on privacy, and disappearing content structure and you can really appreciate its differentiated strategy.

Can Facebook Turn The Tide in 2017?

Facebook is working to stimulate “original sharing.”  Feature examples include new text status background colors , and share prompts called “Moments” like the lead photo of this essay (“It’s the First Day of Winter!”) which FB says are part of a marketing program.

Other ongoing features like reminders of your friend’s birthdays and flashbacks from previous years also serve the purpose of promoting personal sharing and connection vs news.  I’ve also seen a prompt in my feed for a tutorial to help users better understand their privacy settings on FB.  Moves like this create trust and goodwill.

On a macro level, with the election behind us, it is likely the news cycle will go back to its more regular modern hype cycle – still nuts, but not 2016 nuts.

The big picture is that Facebook is a juggernaut in no immediate danger, but in need of smart responses that promote an environment of trust, safety, community, and sanity in the news feed.