NewsWhip study downplays fears Facebook algorithm change will kill publishers

The Facebook algorithm didn't hit publishers as much as reported

Publisher-centric social media research company NewsWhip has taken a deep look at the damage caused to media companies by Facebook’s NewsFeed algorithm changes earlier this year. Despite Facebook reducing news on the NewsFeed from 5% to 4% earlier this year, the research shows how publishers have adapted.

NewsWhip, uses two tools, Spike and Analytics, to scour and assess social data for publishers. It highlights important trends and emerging stories for clients including the BBC, the Guardian and the Washington Post.

The company recently released the ‘What to Know for Facebook Publishing Ahead of 2019’ report, digging into how the social media network’s algorithm changes de-emphasise some forms of viral news content and shortform video.

It outlined the most read stories from the top publishers on Facebook. These are examples of the network driving traffic to external websites. Deaths of seven famous politicians, celebrities and other public figures made up the top 20. Breaking news was also a notable high performer.

It measured views from August 17-18.

The research noted some trends from the top-performing posts. Performing better than par was viral publishers that drive comments, how-to-videos, breaking news journalism, Facebook Watch and emotional storytelling.

Fake news, live video, short video and clickbait had all reportedly been reduced during the same period.

Connecting with readers is more important than ever. Only 20% of publisher web content was distributed firsthand, readers were responsible for 80% of distribution on the social network – known as “personal sharing”. Only 50% of engagement came through publisher’s Pages.

Overall, it found that average user interactions with the top 25 publishers have increased in the last year. It did not highlight how smaller Pages are performing.

The research actually shows that the news publishers actually benefited from the decluttering of the NewsFeed.

It looked in particular at the performance of CNN on the site. The algorithm change may have turned the publisher's fortunes around.

There was much talk of damage caused to the fortunes of viral publishers. Much of this was overstated although some companies failed to adapt to the changes to the ecosystem. LittleThings was one commonly cited victim.

Unilad, LadBible and Bored Panda were all charted in the following graph. Bored Panda's volumes were in decline before the algorithm change.

The report read: "There have definitely been winners in this space, and ones who didn’t quite survive the algorithm shift. LadBible, Unilad, BuzzFeed and Someecards have all seen marked increases. After a dip in June, 9Gag has also continued at an upward trend. Simple Most remained consistent until June, then dropped drastically. Elite Daily mostly remained the same. Bored Panda, Clickhole, and a couple of others declined."

It dissected the performance of the two 'lad' titles, claiming they both pursue an "audience-first strategy" with content that will have a longer-lasting connection than it may have in the past. Their recent growth has also been attributed to "emotionally-charged storytelling, double the comments in the last year, and a deeper understand of their audiences' habits.

Despite its fortunes online, however, Unilad is currently embroiled in a bankruptcy case with HMRC.

Top native posts

It is true that a certain type of content outperforms the rest on Facebook. Especially native video which benefits from personable language, emojis, and usually cute animals.

To finalise, the report outlined opportunities available on Facebook's Watch tab.

It will be looking for publishers to concentrate their video efforts there as it looks to adapt user behaviour.

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