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Facebook's New Explore Feed Sparks Worries

Platform soft-pedals change as one designed to improve user experience

October 25, 2017 | Marketing

Facebook sent a slight panic through the ranks of its Pages users this week, after news that it was testing changes to the way “personal and public content” appear in the News Feed.

The alarm was sparked by reports that Facebook had moved posts originating in Pages out of the News Feed and into its new, discovery-focused Explore Feed in six countries: Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia and Sri Lanka. Some observers of the change expressed concerns that Facebook might start charging businesses and marketers to keep their Pages content in the News Feed.

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The Explore Feed, which Facebook said is now being rolled out globally, was thought to be intended to surface content to users based on their past interests and social connections from sources they have yet to follow. But in the six test markets, users have had to navigate to the Explore Feed to see content published from Pages they’d already followed.

Most news coverage so far has focused on the fact that the test moves publisher content to a separate feed. But a Facebook public relations representative told eMarketer that the test affects business Pages as well. “This test (in the 6 countries) currently affects all Pages, not just publisher Pages (even if someone is following that Page),” the spokeswoman wrote in an email. However, as of now the test still allows users to see posts from publishers or businesses in their main News Feed if a friend shared, liked or commented on them, she said.

The implications of the change could have a dramatic impact on how users are exposed to Pages posts. For example, the Guardian reported that in Slovakia, 60 of the country’s largest Facebook Pages that had their posts show up in the Explore Feed saw engagement levels fall to between two-thirds and three-quarters of normal rates.

In response to growing concerns about the effect of the changes, Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president of product management, penned a blog post published on October 23 that couched the change as one designed to improve the Facebook user experience.

“The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content,” Mosseri wrote. He added that there was currently no plan to extend testing beyond the six markets, or to charge Pages users to have their content posted in the News Feed.

“Essentially, Facebook wants to test whether its users prefer to read personal content from friends and family in a separate feed from public content produced by publishers and businesses,” said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer.

“By moving this type of content to a separate feed, this test makes it all but impossible for a publisher’s or business’s original post to be seen by Facebook users, unless the publisher or business bought a Facebook ad to promote it,” she said. “Marketers should watch the test closely, because if the feature ends up rolling out it could significantly change the way they approach marketing on Facebook.”

Whatever Facebook’s intentions, the experience underscores just how much control the platform exerts over the companies and organizations that supply it with content. Facebook has already established a trend of unilaterally implementing significant changes to its platform that can have a dramatic effect on its content creators.

And it remains unclear what effect, if any, the change might have on Facebook’s bottom line. eMarketer projects the company will generate $17.37 billion in digital advertising revenues in the US this year, meaning that more than one in five digital ad dollars will end up in its coffers.

Rahul Chadha


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