Innovation

Facebook splitting news feed could force companies to re-think social media marketing

Facebook is trying to see if split feeds will make seeing friends' posts easier, but could cause a lower reach for business pages if fully rolled out.

On Monday, Facebook announced that it is experimenting with splitting its news feed into two sections, one for friends and one for pages, in six countries. But don't expect to see a global launch anytime soon, according to a blog post by Adam Mosseri, Facebook's head of news feed.

Users in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia can now see the separate feeds, the idea for which came from user requests for an easier way to see friends' posts. One section of the feed shows statuses and other updates from friends. The other section, called Explore, shows updates from pages and businesses that the user follows.

"The largest brands and media companies are already using paid products to promote their posts and content, so in parts of the world where this limited test has been rolled out, I think we can expect to see brands that can afford to spend for promotion doing so even more robustly," said Melissa Parrish, VP, research director at Forrester.

Mosseri clarified that this is only a test, and said Facebook has no plans to launch the split feed in additional countries. However, the company may perform additional tests in the future.

SEE: Social media policy (Tech Pro Research)

"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," Mosseri wrote in the blog.

The Explore page in testing is different from the Explore option that has already been rolled out to most Facebook accounts, which shows customized content from pages a user doesn't already like or follow, Mosseri wrote.

If the feed did split into two, it is possible a user could log on, check their friends' updates, and ignore the Explore page—therefore ignoring businesses. Split feeds would most likely lead to less organic business reach because, even if people looked at their Explore page, a page's content won't naturally show up in the primary feed, and will miss people. In the split feed set-up, businesses would need to purchase ads in order to appear in the friends feed, according to Reuters.

"Many smaller brands and publishers still rely on organic reach for traffic to their own websites and to generate interest in their content and products, so they could see the efficacy of organic posts decline precipitously as their non-paid posts are pushed to a separate feed," Parrish said.

Due to this potentially smaller reach, a shift to two feeds may change how businesses utilize their page, especially when it comes to paying to promote content. Despite Facebook's efforts to make the platform better for companies, fewer people seeing their content means less reason to pay money to promote that content. However, having an all-page news feed could mean more competition to make sure content gets to the top of the feed, and potentially lead to more paid promotions.

Since no global launch of the split is currently in the works, businesses who use the social media platform to reach current and potential customers can breathe easy.

While companies don't need to worry about a split feed right now, they should be concerned that users are asking Facebook to make it easier to see their friends' posts. Global roll out or not, brands may need to rethink their Facebook strategy to keep customers engaged and ensure they are not bogging them down with content.

In the post, Mosseri also clarified that businesses, publications, or other pages will not be charged to publish content onto the news feed—good news for any business that uses their page to reach an audience.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Facebook is testing a split news feed in six countries. The feed has all updates from friends in one section and all page updates in a separate section called Explore.
  2. Facebook says they have no plans to bring the trial to other countries, but it may inspire additional tests.
  3. The test stemmed from users requesting an easier way to see their friends' updates, which may mean businesses are taking over the standard feed and may need to revamp their social media policies to keep customers and fans.

Also see

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About Olivia Krauth

Olivia Krauth is a Multiplatform Reporter at TechRepublic.

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