Facebook engagement of major publishers all over the world has been hit badly over the last 12 months while their video engagement has shown a noticeable improvement. It has also been observed that the decline in engagement is not restricted to a particular genre(s) of sites or to a particular type of interaction. This has become a major cause of concern for sites which were hitherto enjoying the traffic and engagement from the networking giant.
The numbers which have taken a drubbing have been compiled after taking into account the number of Likes, Shares and Comments on the content published on a website during any given month.
Links Getting Lesser Engagement on Facebook As Videos Gain In Popularity
In spite of having 1.6 billion people across the globe addicted to it, the king of networking sites, Facebook, is worried. Original, personal content sharing over the platform by users has fallen drastically as users now seem to share news and information from other websites instead.
People who were earlier happy sharing personal experiences, views and photographs on Facebook have started showing reluctance in doing so. After years of flaunting holiday pictures on exotic locales, of a late evening drive with friends and even Saturday evening drunk selfies on Facebook, users of this platform have finally realized that all their updates and photographs might not be relevant or seem interesting to all the people on their contact list. They are also wary of sharing too much, out of fear of having to regret later thereby preferring to share instead among smaller audiences like WhatsApp groups, Snapchat, WeChat, Instagram, etc.
This lack of personal sharing has been termed by Facebook insiders as ‘context collapse’. CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself is worried by this and had spoken to his employees about the need to encourage personal sharing at staff meetings.
According to The Information, original sharing of personal stories and experiences (barring sharing of news and other links) has fallen by 21% as compared to mid-2015.
Besides that, “only 39% of weekly active users posted original content in a given week.”
How Decreased Engagement Affects Publishers?
Overall engagement (which is the sum total of Likes, Shares and Comments) on Facebook content, except native videos, has fallen from mid-2015 to April 2016, as is evident from the graph embedded at the beginning of this article.
The top ten sites whose figures have been reflected here include, among others, very popular global news brands like The New York Times, digital natives like The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, Fox News, BBC and The Guardian. The most popular type of engagement, Likes, is down by 55%, Shares by 57% and Comments by a depressingly huge 64% from July 2015 to April 2016.
When Facebook introduced Fan Pages in 2007, anyone could set up a page and start posting content thereon, assuming their updates would be seen by all those who had liked their page. But in 2012, Page managers noticed that only 16% of their Facebook fans were getting to see their Page posts in their NewsFeeds, a number which has only gotten smaller and smaller with the passage of time.
The main reason for this reduced visibility and consequently lesser engagement was the fact that too many pages had sprung up over the years. And there was too much content being churned out. The competition between publishers for visibility across their fans’ NewsFeed got all the more fierce. The Menlo Park-based people who pull the strings behind the scenes heightened their efforts to ensure that their users get to see only the content which was most relevant to them, based on their past engagement and content consumption behaviour on the social network.
There were detractors who accused Facebook of arm twisting the publishers into spending more on ads to get more clicks to their sites. Though that ulterior motive has never been ruled out, the EdgeRank algorithm which decides what appears on our NewsFeeds also changed a lot. The content which now appears on the NewsFeed is based on users’ past preferences and engagement in the past, as has been pointed out earlier. If, for instance, an individual named XYZ never engages with posts from news sites, posts from news sites will gradually start showing with lesser frequency on his/ her NewsFeed. Similarly, if I repeatedly like, share or comment on posts related to dogs, my NewsFeed will show me more dog related content.
“News Feed will begin to look at both the probability that you would want to see the story at the top of your feed and the probability that you will like, comment on, click or share a story. We will rank stories higher in feed which we think people might take action on, and which people might want to see near the top of their News Feed.”
Just that it is not as simple as that. There are hundreds of other factors that go on to decide what shows up on a fan’s NewsFeed- like the amount of time spent on reading an article, etc.
Chris Cox, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer, had said to Time in an interview last year,
“If you could rate everything that happened on Earth today that was published anywhere by any of your friends, any of your family, any news source…and then pick the 10 that were the most meaningful to know today, that would be a really cool service for us to build. That is really what we aspire to have News Feed become.”
Compared to 2014 when major publishers were getting up to 10 million engagements per month from Facebook, the scene has changed dramatically. However, that does not mean that publishers can now turn their back to Facebook or ignore it for diverting more traffic to their sites.
“People continue to share a ton of Facebook,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “The overall level of sharing has remained not only strong, but similar to levels in prior years,” without furnishing more details.
A new Pew Research report has pointed out that 44% of the US population consumes news from their Facebook NewsFeed. So obviously, as much as publishers might want to hate Facebook, they can’t do away with it. However, to get the most of the big bucks they now spend on Facebook ads, they will have to monitor the internal analytics carefully before they can chalk out a strategy that helps them engage their targeted audiences effectively.