Facebook becoming less reliable for publishers

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Publishers are once again seeing a downturn in their Facebook reach, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell why, as it is affecting publishers across states, genres, and industries.

Although Facebook’s frequent changes to its news feed algorithm have proved difficult for publishers for years, Kurt Gessler of the Chicago Tribune says the publication’s reach has significantly dropped since January despite a growing Facebook fan base.

Gessler, who serves as the deputy director for digital news, posted about the decline on Twitter and received validation of the declines from other publishers.

Matt Karolian, who is the director of audience engagement at The Boston Globe, echoed Gessler’s concern: “Last month was probably the worst we’ve had in reach in about a year. The fact everyone else is seeing it is a little bit troubling.”

Aysha Khan from Religion News Service (RNS) says her publication is facing the same challenges as the Globe and Tribune:

“Reach spiked in the summer, and we started hitting 15, 25K reach on bigger posts that were polarizing. It wasn’t just political posts, but any kind of interviews … anything that had potential to get a big reaction got a big reaction. But then we noticed that kind of stopped, and by January, it was just gone. Now we’re worse off than we were to start with.”

Brandon Doyle, the CEO and founder of a social media consulting firm called Wallaroo Media also said that in the first quarter of 2017, he’s seen a decline in organic reach across about 20 publishers he tracks.

While there are several things that factor into how much reach Facebook posts receive, such as subject matter and frequency of a post, Doyle believes Facebook may be suppressing the reach of publishers so that they spend more money on Facebook to promote their content.

Other theories are that Facebook is in the midst of an algorithm tweak or that the social media giant prefers publishers who use its Instant Articles format, as well as those that use video.

However, RNS’s Kahn said her publication’s reach declined even as it produced more video, including Facebook Live.

Lifestyle sites such as LittleThings, on the other hand, have been moving largely into video and have seen an increase in reach. In March, the site experienced the second-highest recorded traffic in its history. Co-founder Joe Speiser said it’s clear Facebook has made video a priority but also said some of LittleThings’ success is due to A/B testing on Facebook — a step he claims many other publications do not take.

Another lifestyle site, Thrillist, also claims its new emphasis on video has resulted in an all-time high in Facebook referrals. The site also has adopted Facebook’s Instant Articles format, however.

Some believe reach may be affected by users not wanting political news, but this does not seem to be a great factor. Gessler is still searching for the answer and said, “Maybe it’s a little of everything.”

Publishers continue to search for the key behind a continuous and successful Facebook reach, remarking that Facebook has a hold over their audience.

“There’s a large segment of the population that gets most of its news from Facebook,” said Karolian. “If there’s been an overall decline in high-quality news that’s circulating on the platform, that is generally concerning from a philosophical standpoint.”

Khan lamented, “In my mind, we’re kind of at the mercy of the algorithm. But there’s a lot of stories that are getting underwhelming responses that readers can’t even see. It is this constant thing … trying to figure out how to incorporate it into your workflow. At one point, they were pushing images, and then they were pushing video, and live video. I don’t think it’ll ever stop.”

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