For whom is the Facebook news feed? Is it for users or advertisers? the question isn’t spurious even though you might get very different answers depending on who you ask the question to. Now, open up the Facebook app. What are the first five posts you see?
Facebook News Feed Dilemma: Is the Feed for Users or Advertisers?
A picture of your friend’s new dog, a Buzzfeed article liked by your friend, a viral video, a suggested post promoting a brand, a suggested app. The use of the Facebook news feed as an advertising platform for marketers is growing at a rapid pace, and users see more and more ads on their news feeds. Facebook users tend to express a dislike toward the number of ads invading their news feed. Facebook faces the challenge of creating a pleasant user experience while still generating revenue from their advertisements. Facebook, like most free services, need advertisements in order to succeed. It is a matter of finding the right balance between personal and promotional information.
[Editor’s note: this piece by Diana Mylonas was written towards the end of December 2017 and, for some obscure reason, never published. We are releasing it now with a 7-month delay but its question is more relevant than ever before in the light of recent events.]
Facebook News Feed Ads: A great success?
One must take a look at recent Facebook reports to understand the significance of Facebook as an advertising platform. Today, Facebook is the preferred social media network for 62% of marketers. This statistic increased by seven percent from 2016-2017, meaning that more businesses are advertising on Facebook in 2017. In fact, around five million businesses currently use Facebook to advertise. Based on these statistics, it is no surprise that Facebook’s advertisement revenue increased by 51% between 2016 and 2017 to total $7.86 billion. According to Forbes, an increase in user engagement and advertisement prices drives this growth, and it is not plummeting anytime soon. The company’s success with advertisements raises a concern to users who are already fed up with the flood of ads on their news feed: does increased success mean an increase in ads?
The screenshots below are some of many complaints taken from Facebook’s help center regarding advertisements. Some users requested to block ads because they saw ads almost every other post. Facebook was created as a way to stay connected with friends and family, but users express that this experience is disrupted by advertisements. Some even claim that they are planning to limit their activity on Facebook because the ads are such a nuisance.
Making A Change to the Facebook News Feed
In 2016, Facebook implemented a new plan in an effort to decongest user’s newsfeeds. The company lessened the organic reach produced by brands by using the shares and likes of a user’s friends to determine what ads to show. While this cut down the number of organic posts, the promoted posts were still prevalent.
A business can pay to promote their post to “people who like your page and their friends” or “people you choose through targeting”. The latter option means that an advertisement can show up on your feed if you fall under their target location, age, target, or interest. This feature makes it easier for marketers to reach you, and it could be a contributing factor to the unnecessary ads on your feed. The plan helped make advertisements more relevant to the user, but it did not yet solve user’s main concerns.
Introducing the Explore News Feed
In 2017, Facebook continues their efforts to please both users and advertisers by experimenting with the “explore” feature. Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook news feed announced, “We always listen to our community about ways we might improve News Feed. People tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family. We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages.” Explore is a customized, ad-free, feed designed for users to explore new and relevant content. Mosseri shared that the goal of the experiment is to determine if people would prefer public and personal content to be separate. The explore feature could be beneficial to Facebook because it will promote interested users to scroll through certain content for longer. Facebook will earn more revenue from advertisements because of this increased user engagement. The success of the explore page could bring Facebook one step closer to a compromise between users and marketers.
The company also experimented with a news feed that contained zero organic promotions in certain countries (Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Serbia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala). The news feed only displayed friend’s posts and sponsored posts. While this shift would undoubtedly please a large group of everyday Facebook user’s, it severely impacted the publishers who use Facebook to share their work because their “organic reach” plummeted. The company released a post stating that this experimental news feed would not be permanent. Facebook’s recent tests raise questions about the direction that they are heading. Will its team come up with a way to meet the needs of both news feed users and advertisers?