Some members of Canada’s media industry say they expect to be able to weather the potential setback created by the latest change to Facebook’s content sharing priorities.
The social network recently announced that user feeds will now feature less news and other public content and more of the personal photos and status updates that first fuelled its popularity.
Facebook says it made the change in order to promote conversation and make time spent on the platform more meaningful.
As a result, Facebook says it expects pages that produce what it described as more passive content, including news and pre-edited videos, to receive fewer clicks.
News outlets have frequently used social media to drive traffic to their sites in recent years, but some Canadian organizations say Facebook is just one piece in an increasingly varied puzzle.
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The prospect didn’t appear to weigh too heavily on Global News, an early and frequent adopter of Facebook as a distribution channel.
“While we are a dominant news publisher on Facebook, we also employ strategies for diverse social media referral so as not to be dependent on any one source,” said Ron Waksman, vice president of digital and editorial standards and practices for Global News and Corus Radio.
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“As a high quality journalistic source that users depend on, we are confident we can weather these changes while continuing to diversify our content streams with strong referrals from other social platforms.”
Andree Lau, editor-in-chief of HuffPost Canada, said the effect on the industry may be more muted now than if the change had come a few years earlier.
“Media outlets have already seen a big drop in Facebook results due to other algorithm tweaks, so this isn’t a big shock,” Lau said. “We have been adjusting our priorities and strategies long before today’s announcement.”
Facebook’s shift toward promoting conversation plays to the HuffPost’s existing focus, Lau said, adding that the media outlet has always tried to foster discussion among its readers.
Conversation is at the centre of Facebook’s new approach, according to the organization’s explanation for the change.
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Founder Mark Zuckerberg outlined the rationale in a Facebook post, saying content from “businesses, brands and media” had begun to crowd out the more personal moments which he said are at the core of the network.
Those personal updates will therefore become more prevalent in user newsfeeds, he said, adding that posts from other sources will still get promoted if they help encourage social interactions.
Those interactions, Zuckerberg said, can be good for a user’s well-being.
“We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health,” he wrote. “On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos – even if they’re entertaining or informative – may not be as good.”
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Zuckerberg said he fully expected some “measures of engagement” to decline as a result of the changes.
HuffPost, too, said other platforms are already filling any potential void left in the wake of Facebook’s changes, and said digital products like mobile apps can’t be ignored.
But Gavin Adamson, who teaches digital media courses at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, said outlets will also have to rely on changes in reader behaviour if they hope to make up potential losses caused by Facebook’s new focus.
He said the impact could be “devastating” in certain cases, citing research suggesting some outlets get as much as half their traffic from Facebook.
Organizations with an exclusively digital presence could be especially hard-hit, he added, saying it will be hard to train readers accustomed to using Facebook as an aggregator to make a point of visiting their favourite news sites directly.
“Maybe (news organizations) need to get more involved in community groups and posting news within those groups, or interacting more directly with interest groups within Facebook,” he said.
The outlets themselves, however, say the best way to secure loyal readers is to produce content that will keep them coming back for more.
“Quality journalism remains a key driver of audience, regardless of the distribution channel,” said Lau.