Explore Feed—Is There Anything Brands Should Be Nervous About?

“Facebook may make it harder for people to see publishers’ stories, unless those publishers pay to promote them,” the headlines of industry portals cried last week. What are experts saying about this? Is there anything brands should be afraid of?

As reported by recode.net, as part of a new test in six countries, Facebook is taking content from publishers and businesses out of its main feed. Instead, those posts will exist in a separate, hard-to-find feed that Facebook recently launched for discovering new stuff, called the “Explore Feed.”

In his article, Kurt Wagner explains that Explore Feed’s main task “is to show users posts from people or publishers they don’t follow, in the hope that they’ll find new stuff they wouldn’t otherwise see. As he noted, in some countries, though, the social giant is also testing putting all publisher content in this secondary feed, even if you do follow those publishers.”

What is Facebook saying about this? Here’s an excerpt from its official statement: “With all of the possible stories in each person’s feed, we always work to connect people with the posts they find most meaningful. People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from Pages. To understand if people like these two different spaces, we will test a few things, such as how people engage with videos and other types of posts. These tests will start in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia. We have no current plans to roll this out globally.” In its latest statement, Facebook reiterates that “The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further.”

The issue here is that the majority of brands think these assurances are just another way of saying, “We are not changing anything… Until we do.” Is there anything they should worry about? I reached out to experts for their opinions on this matter:

Bartłomiej Rak, CVO, Socjomania@bartlomiejrak 

Bartłomiej Rak

The way I see it, nothing is going on that we haven’t been expecting. For a long time now, Facebook has been clearly communicating that their priority is to provide individual users with valuable content. At the same time, they’re taking measures to maintain or even strengthen their engagement. Given that the number of users is rising, we can see that the space in the ecosystem is shrinking. For our daily dose of content to fit in there, we must take up some of that space. And we’re taking that space from brands. Obviously, only in the form of organic reach, because business (sponsored communication) must go on.

It seems that there just isn’t any space left in the News Feed. This is why Facebook decided to create a complementary feed—Explore—and is testing the option to drive all organic website traffic there. Too bad this is happening almost in parallel with the launch of Explore because Zuckerberg & Co. could have focused on promoting the advantages of this feed first, and then move all organic traffic there. Right now, Explore is something new for everyone, and no one really cares to look over there, which, in turn, has resulted in a massive drop in organic reach in countries where these tests are conducted.

For us, individuals engaged in commercial communication activities on Facebook, this implies the need to look for new points of contact with our audiences. Luckily, Facebook has already taken care of that—we can use groups that lately have been intensively developed in terms of functionality, an innovation in the form of Stories, and the entire ecosystem of Messenger which is being continuously developed. Let’s face it, we’ve been fooling around the News Feed for too long, and we forgot that any social media activities must be quick-witted and speedy and that the only thing that is constant here is change. Driving communication to other outlets corresponds interestingly with the idea of storydoing. I think that Facebook will make an effort to promote the Explore Feed and that users will finally learn to use it (following brands). I think that these drastic drops in traffic won’t last too long.

Karolina Piwiec, Content Marketing Manager at Devskiller, an online platform testing developer skills

Karolina Piwiec

The discovery-focused “Explore Feed” has already sparked controversy among Facebook Page owners and marketers who are concerned, if not panicked.

The aim of this complementary feed is to help users find content from sources they aren’t following. On Facebook’s side, that’s a swift move because what you can find in the Explore Feed is essentially high engagement content from popular sources. It keeps you glued to your screen for even longer and makes you come back for more, which is good for Facebook’s business.

Given the nature of the feed, you’d think that as a brand you can get right in front of like-minded people who simply don’t know you exist. In reality, the change will likely bring about a significant decrease in reach for businesses, which has been happening gradually throughout the years. In the six countries where it was first tested, Facebook actually went a step further now. According to Jon Loomer, “Some have reported having all brand content—other than ads—removed from their main feed. Some of the best organic brand content that they should have been seeing in the main news feed was moved to the Explore Feed.”

Brand pages report having their reach lowered by two-thirds, claims Filip Struhárik. Based on CrowdTangle data (via Struhárik), engagement dropped significantly for sixty biggest Slovak media pages who now receive 4x less interactions.

Data via CrowdTangle, published by Filip Struharik
Data via CrowdTangle, published by Filip Struharik

For brands, that’s a yet another challenge because posting is getting more expensive again. The upside of having to invest more to promote your posts is that you’ll likely limit the amount of content you’re publishing and focus on quality rather than quantity. I can’t help but notice that’s a positive result for the user.

That said, separating brand content from the primary news feed is not likely to work in the long run. I don’t expect people to keep using two feeds once the novelty wears off unless Facebook makes significant design changes. I am yet to see an ad on the Explore Feed—I think that would contradict the idea of a discovery-minded feed.

Joanna Drabent, CEO at Prowly@jdrabent 

Facebook has defined a new way of consuming content online and thus became of the key content distribution channels for media and brands. Today, every brand is fighting for more visibility in Facebook’s main feed. No wonder then that the latest tests of two separate spaces for branded and private content that Facebook has recently announced are stirring so much emotion.

From the consumer’s perspective, I see this change as something positive. The truth is that in today’s environment brands know everything there is about us and can reach us with their message anytime, anytime. The way I see it is that it kills the creativity of the message. The increasingly visible trend of much better consumer rights protection (even as seen from the perspective of changes related to the entry into force of the GDPR) will, on the one hand, allow protecting consumers from the intrusive and unwanted promotion, and, on the other, make brands work harder to find some other ways to reach them than through a well-targeted Facebook feed campaign.

Iliyana Stareva, Global Partner Program Manager at HubSpot@IliyanaStareva 

Illiyana Stareva

If you look at the results of the 2017 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER, you’ll see that a person like you (your peer) has now reached the highest trust level just as a tech expert or highly skilled professional. Trust in CEOs, NGOs, the government, the media and institutions, and companies has gone down to its lowest point of all times. It’s no surprise then that Facebook is trying to show people what they really want to see, namely other peer content and thoughts. What this means for companies is that rather than trying to pay to be seen, they should think about how they can make ordinary people the heroes of their stories and content so that they then naturally spread the word and improve brand’s visibility.

Jan Barbosa, Global Brand Ambassador at beBee@JBarbosaPR 

Jan Barbosa

Facebook has been tweaking its algorithms for some time, we have heard some authors mention that changes are cutting reach for their brands, that the move is related to monetizing the platform, the paid vs. organic dilemma. Nevertheless, a deeper question arises… Has Facebook become so big that brands need to stick to the platform to reach their consumer bases? This is where the biggest problem lies. Facebook is in a state of supremacy where it controls too much of the sharing of news and content and small changes can mean a lot. The need for alternate outlets/platforms for brands to distribute content to their customer base has become a real necessity. More now than ever.

Mateusz Kołodziejski, Digital Marketing Manager, Liber Finance

Mateusz Kołodziejski

The decline of the organic reach may only agitate those who still see Facebook as a social platform. In reality, it’s a mass medium, which puts it on an equal footing with press, radio, and TV. No marketer demands to have his or her commercials or ads broadcast for free. Thus, I don’t see why we should expect that from Facebook.

A large proportion of profiles posts stuff on Facebook every single day. But how many companies can say something interesting about themselves several times a week? Not that many. Lack of good ideas coupled with pressure to communicate on a day-to-day basis makes the quality of posts deteriorate. In this context, paying for better reach may be considered as a filter that stops mediocre content.

Just as a brand can’t afford to have a lousy ad printed in a newspaper, it shouldn’t be publishing bad posts. What’s more, it will put an end to posting stuff every day, because (with very few exceptions) it won’t be able to afford it. On the other hand, cutting back on communication schedules will allow marketing teams to perfect every piece of content before posting it.

This is why I see the changes planned by Mark Zuckerberg as a great opportunity. For brands to create content that will make them really proud. For social media experts to do a more efficient and satisfying job. And, finally, for clients who will be able to consume memorable stories which they will be more willing to share with their friends. As a marketer and Facebook user, I am looking forward to it.

Michelle Garrett, Writer and PR Expert, Garrett Public Relations@PRisUs 

Michelle Garrett

When I read the news about Facebook making it harder for people to see publishers’ stories, the words of Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, came to mind.

Joe has talked for years now about the danger of building your content house on “rented land”—meaning social media platforms. (Here’s a link to one article)

He argues that you don’t own those followers—and those platforms can go away at ANY time—or the rules can change, as they have again with Facebook.

All brands—including publishers—need to keep this in mind and not put all their eggs in this basket. Be sure to own the rights to your content. And, remember that building a diversified online presence is a safer bet in a world where the rules can change “on a whim,” as the Recode article states.

Rich Leigh, Founder of PR agency Radioactive Public Relations and best-selling author of Myths of PR: All Publicity is Good Publicity and Other Popular Misconceptions (Business Myths)@RichLeighPR 

Rich Leigh

This isn’t especially surprising. Facebook is looking after number one, as it always does, which means maintaining the precarious balance of the happiness of users – by ensuring their experience is as unencumbered by crap in their timelines as possible – while also maintaining enough of a stranglehold on brands and publishers to keep them paying.

While I don’t think we should be too concerned by sensationalist reporting about the Explore feed just yet, given this is, as has been said, a ‘test’ in a small number of countries, it’s yet another reminder that Facebook has an awful lot of brands and publishers by the short and curlies.