Last week, Facebook hosted its annual F8 Conference. Mark Zuckerberg joked about testifying in congress, apologized to developers for the turbulent past few months, and announced that Facebook would launch a dating app.
But beyond the excitement—such as being able to attend virtual concerts with Oculus Room or using VR to reconstruct childhood memories—Zuckerberg and other executives revealed upcoming changes that will impact how marketers use Facebook’s platforms.
Here’s the list of the key algorithm shifts and video best practices suggested by Facebook during the two-day conference. If interested, you can view all the F8 sessions here.
The return of the social network
“If you care about getting more distribution,” says Fidgi Simo, VP of Video at Facebook, “Then really thinking about how to get people back to your content is going to be a very important thing moving forward.”
Whether sharing the dizzying accuracy of VR or revealing new group video features in WhatsApp, other executives hammered a similar message again and again: Facebook is about connectivity. “We are here to build things that bring people together,” rallied Mark Zuckerberg at the end of his keynote. “The vast majority of things that happen on these services is helping people get closer together.”
Connectivity means a lot of things for Facebook. Getting emerging markets online for the first time. Helping more businesses use WhatsApp to replace the telephone for one-to-one conversations with customers. Or building dating features to help lonely Facebook users find their algorithmically-perfect soulmate.
But for both paid and organic content strategies, Facebook has made the evolution of their platform clear: they want to be seen less as a media and data platform—and more like a social network.
“Our goal is to reward [content] partners who invest in loyal, engaged communities,” says Director of Product Maria Angelidou-Smith. In other words, Facebook does not want to be seen as a content consumption platform. They want to help their users find meaningful content, stay close to friends and family, and help publishers build loyal audiences with more habitual watching from audiences.
Stop chasing traffic. Start building interactions.
As Head of News Feed Adam Mosseri outlined, the News Feed will look to improve experiences for users. The challenges—as we all know—are many: fake news, Russian bots, and shouting at strangers on the internet over a political news article that appeared in our feed.
Mosseri explained that Facebook’s News Feed algorithm currently works by applying a score based on inventory (the total new posts you could possibly see), signals (past things you’ve done, such as liking a friend’s post), and predictions (which looks at how likely you’re going to watch or read a piece of content).
“What we’re doing is shifting value in our predictions away from how likely you are to read an article or how long you’re going to watch a video for and shifting some of that value into how likely we think a given story is to facilitate a conversation between you and your friends,” says Mosseri.
In other words, Facebook will shift value away from shares and clicks and promote content that sparks interactions with friends and family. This impacts the “prediction” part of the algorithm.
Mosseri was explicit that marketers and publishers will be affected by this. The News Feed will promote more content from friends and family (or content that helps to facilitate that social experience) and place less value on shares and link clicks as a relevance metric. “This has real implications for all of you who work in the publishing industry or in news,” he warns, “And I want to make sure you understand those implications so that you can make informed decisions about how to leverage our platform.”
The context for these changes involves improving the relevance of discussions on Facebook. When a popular article goes viral (such as a story on Trump’s immigration policies), your News Feed becomes filled with opinions of strangers. These conversations, Facebook believes, are not the most relevant ones to feature in your feed.
“We know that comments in the News Feed are not the shining beacon of civil discourse,” says Mosseri. “People behave better when they interact with friends rather than strangers because there is accountability.”
Facebook will explore only showing comments from friends on articles (rather than shouting matches between random strangers on news articles), which would drastically reduce the hours I personally spend yelling at racists on the internet. Facebook is also experimenting with upvoting and downvoting like Reddit, helping people to push bad content down and self-regulate conversations.
“We’re optimizing now for quality,” says Campbell Brown, Head of News Partnerships, “And working very closely with many of you [publishers] to figure out what those signals are.”
News content is the most obvious target for these changes (due to the ability to use virality to weaponize information). To fight fake news, Facebook will roll out a News section in the Watch tab that will reward quality publishers and become a destination for exceptional examples of video journalism. There will also be a dedicated section for news in Watch, filled by publishers who are creating video news journalism created specifically for Facebook. Again, the focus is destination: creating loyal audiences rather than quick-bursts of attention in the News Feed.
Alex Hardiman, Head of News Products, echoed these shifts. “We’re giving priority to high-quality news publishers.” In particular, Facebook is measuring “broad trust of the news source,” which means the strength of specific news brands. Facebook is also pushing news that has more substance measuring how much it informs people.
As Facebook’s mission is to connect communities, you’ll also see more local video content in your feed. Facebook explicitly stated that it will prioritize local news, using a publisher’s “geographic click density” which simply means that a local news source is likely to have the majority of their clicks at a city or regional level. They then filter out local businesses and blogs, making sure the source is indeed a news source.
Stories: the ideal video format
Instagram and Facebook Stories, says Mosseri, are better aligned with the type of content they think is valuable for users. Stories offer engaging photos and videos that are personal and help to build connections with your friends and family—the exact type of video content Facebook feels is most valuable to their platform. Facebook predicts that Stories will be the primary way people share in the coming years.
In the past, brands were advised to think and act like publishers. With the explosion of mobile video content, we were told to behave like broadcasters. But now, brands will need to return to their role as connectors, uniting like-minded consumers and creating experiences worth sharing with friends and family.
Take Facebook Live, for instance. Facebook users have created 3.5 billion live broadcasts. Data from Facebook also shows that Live broadcasts typically have six times the number of interactions than regular video content. Facebook has studied the social nature of these video broadcasts. And in the recent redesign of Facebook Live, Facebook has put social context at the center of the viewing experience. For instance, comments and audience interactions are key for videos on Facebook.
Facebook wants people to enjoy content with their friends, talk about that content afterwards (preferably in Facebook Groups), and encourage brands to think beyond traditional broadcast content into new two-way formats that go beyond passive (and solitary)…