Facebook’s Experiment to Restrict Feeds by Businesses Fails

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Facebook experimented with separating personal and business news feeds on their platform and failed miserably. People have had enough with fake news on Facebook and other social media channels while publishers are trying every trick in the books to attract more readers, which in return is turning Facebook users ‘off’ the platform.

Facebook, this time choose the wrong path to rectify the issues concerning fake news and the expressed desire by their users to connect more with family and friends. Having two news feeds, one for news from personal contacts and one for stories by business entities has not solved the problem. The implementation of alternative feeds managed to last for only five months and was abandoned in March of 2018.

Misread Signals

Adam Mosseri, head of news feed at Facebook, wrote at the time: “We think our recent changes to News Feed that prioritize meaningful social interactions better address the feedback we heard from people who said they want to see more from friends and family. Those changes mean less public content in News Feed like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
Such an approach looks reasonable on the surface. On the other hand, Facebook not only makes money by allowing content from brands and media but most of their users do not complain about such meaningful messages in their feeds.
The news feed is also a tool for brands to build brand awareness and monitor news coverage about their respective brand. Facebook decided to provide a news feed with limited to no free brand and company news. This is an attempt destined to fail considering Facebook makes money from selling ad space to businesses and businesses expect their content to be visible to their target users.
Yes, people are struggling to cope with the ever-growing flow of online information but the very concept of a social network presupposes participation by both individuals and businesses. Monitoring news and engagement statistics on Facebook reveals that businesses should spend money on advertising to even be noticed on the platform. This favors big businesses with large advertising budgets to spend but the backbone of any economy is the small and medium-size businesses. No wonder that SMBs are reacting negatively to changes like the ones proposed by Facebook.

Experimenting with News Feeds Was Not Justified

Under the now-defunct separate feed rules, organic reach, which is the main cause small businesses are on Facebook, would have gone to complete zero for small and medium-sized companies. It would have hurt the already declining Facebook traffic (see below).

 

Websites Experience Drastic Decrease in Facebook Traffic

Source: Statista

One would argue that the experiment was conducted only in relatively small countries like Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia. It was an optional choice for Facebook users in the United States. We will not dig into some ethical questions about validating a business idea using your own social networking platform.

But Facebook’s experiment involved also a new business approach where the platform gives priority to pages that spend money on advertising, further encouraging the spread of news stories and brand messages designed with the sole purpose to sell. Which is what users are tired of.

Lessons from Facebook’s News Feed Test

There is no debate whether Facebook playing with their news feed was a failure or not. Lessons from the failed experimentation are more important.

  • Lesson number one, you cannot force businesses to pay extra for a service when other companies provide similar service – even if you are de facto monopoly. The average business user will prefer another platform to yours.
  • Lesson number two, you cannot deny users access to meaningful company news and brand messages.
  • Lesson number three, you cannot fight fake news as well as aggressive sales messages on your social platform by providing separate news feeds with limited capabilities.

 

Overall, experimenting with a largely paid version of a Facebook feed for news by businesses and content publishers was a bad and counter-productive idea from the very beginning.

Every media-monitoring expert will tell you that even small brands want their meaningful content to compete on equal terms with content by large brands. Additionally, users are fed up with the unbearable quantity of sponsored content. So, it was a completely unreasonable move that had no valid grounds from business or user experience point of view.

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