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Major Changes to Your Facebook Feed are Coming, According to a New Strategic Overview
Change is coming to your Facebook feed once more, with the Meta-owned network aiming to adapt its approach to changing media consumption habits.
According to an internal memo leaked by The Verge from Facebook App Chief Tom Alison, Meta is trying to introduce more AI-recommended content into Facebook feeds, based on general engagement and popularity, rather than personal connections. This is comparable to how TikTok receives content from sources other than your immediate network, and Facebook is attempting to expedite content sharing by reintroducing more chat capabilities to the main interface.
According to Meta:
“Both connected and disconnected content will be balanced in the Home experience.” We’re cleaning up the top-of-feed and making it just as easy to see Stories from friends as it is to find new material in Reels. We’re also looking into creating a Community Panel to provide you direct access to the groups you care about. Finally, we’re beta-testing a product that will provide you with consistent access to your linked Feed, including the ability to sort by date and filter by Groups, Pages, and Friends. This is referred to as “Mr. T” internally, and I’m pleased with the team’s progress.”
This sounds intriguing, but, as Mr. T famously said, “I pity the fool” who pushes too hard on major product shifts, putting major aspects of the core app experience at risk.
The Verge has its own explanation of how the new Facebook feed will work:
“A combination of Stories and Reels will appear at the top of the main tab, followed by posts its discovery engine suggests from across Facebook and Instagram.” It’ll be a more visual, video-heavy experience, with better cues for messaging pals about a post. Facebook is working on putting a user’s Messenger inbox to the top right of the app to make chatting even more prominent, erasing the disastrous move to divide the two applications eight years ago.”
TikTok, which continues to grow in popularity at the expense of Meta’s own apps, has largely impacted the new strategic move. Those trends are now too important to ignore – and it’s not just the focus on short-form video; it’s the broader habitual shifts that this generates, such as decreased attention spans and new user behaviors, as informed by TikTok’s appealing ‘For You’ feed.
If it wasn’t already clear that Meta is doing everything it can to keep up with TikTok, the suggested improvements to your main feed will make it further clearer.
Alison highlights the anticipated transition toward AI-powered content discovery based on your interests, rather than what your friends share, in his assessment of strategic priorities for the app.
“In the past, Facebook’s discovery strategy was entity-centric. We let you connect with the people, groups, and pages that matter most to you, and then we rate the updates from those connections in Feed. Unrelated information surfaced in Feed via reshares from your friends, groups, and pages, but unrelated recommendations weren’t always a part of the Feed experience. We did, however, put a lot of money into finding unrelated information on neighboring surfaces, such as through search queries or recommendation-first products like Watch, News, and Marketplace.”
The new technique, which Alison refers to as a “discovery engine,” aims to emphasize more intriguing material on the app, “regardless of whether it was made by someone you’re related to or not.”
Meta has already made efforts in this area, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted in the company’s Q1 earnings call:
“While we’re seeing a rise in short-form video, we’re also seeing a significant shift in feeds, from almost entirely being curated by your social graph or follow a graph to now having more of your feed recommended by AI, even if the material wasn’t shared by a friend or someone you follow.” Social content from friends, people you follow, and businesses you follow will continue to be a lot of the most valuable, engaging, and differentiated content for our services, but being able to accurately recommend content from the entire universe that you don’t follow directly unlocks a large amount of interesting and useful videos and posts that you might have missed otherwise.”
That follows TikTok’s lead in surfacing more content, which is better for creators (who get more views) and users (who get access to a wider range of content), but it’s a fundamental shift away from Facebook’s long-standing key point of differentiation – that it has by far the largest user base of any platform, which is why it’s so valuable as a connection tool.
While sites like Reddit have traditionally relied on crowd-sourced suggestions, TikTok’s algorithm has successfully systemized user preferences, allowing you to see more of what you enjoy without having to overtly communicate it by following specific profiles and/or communities.
While Facebook remains a critical linking tool, it is now striving to update its systems in line with this new paradigm change.
Of course, Reels, Meta’s fastest-growing content choice, is a primary focus in this regard.
People spend more than 20% of their time on Instagram watching reels, while 50% of their time on Facebook is spent watching videos. And now, according to Alison’s plan, Facebook will focus even more on this.
“Today’s public short-form video genre provides new opportunities for anyone to create and discover content.” While Facebook’s discovery engine is built to handle a variety of forms (text, images, video, and eventually Metaverse experiences), our biggest shortfall right now is short-form video, which is why we’re working to integrate Reels into Home, Watch, In-Feed Recommendations, and Groups.”
In other words, expect a lot more Reels in Facebook’s apps, in a lot more places.
If you don’t like short-form video, you’re now in the minority, and because of the behavioral shifts brought by the proliferation of shorter content, all video platforms must adapt to these new consumption behaviors or risk losing viewers.
This would necessitate a substantial shift in strategy from Meta, which has previously depended on offering content recommendations based on your explicit interest signals, such as the people, groups, and businesses you’ve chosen to connect with in its apps.
The switch to algorithmic suggestions is riskier, as getting it wrong can quickly lead to a drop in engagement. However, as TikTok has demonstrated, getting it properly can have significant benefits.
Another major concern for Facebook is the amplification of more contentious, sensationalized content, which may perform well in algorithms but isn’t necessarily the most wholesome material to show its 2.9 billion users.
This is also a problem on TikTok, where users are frequently exposed to highly sexualized films created by young creators who are driven to upload them in order to gain more likes and reach. Because of its focus on younger viewers, TikTok gets away with it in some ways, but you can bet that if Facebook starts algorithmically promoting dubious footage, it won’t get the same leniency.
Putting more trust in algorithms could be a huge concern for Facebook in this regard, as the site is already known as a hotbed for conspiracy theories and misinformation, owing to the high levels of engagement that sensationalized content receives in the app.
Currently, Facebook can argue that these types of messages are mostly limited by personal sharing, but a more comprehensive algorithm will change that dynamic, allowing Facebook to push these posts out to a wider audience.
Is this a sensible strategy for Facebook to pursue? Time will tell, but I’m prepared to predict that as a result, more issues and worries will surface.
Alison also mentions that assisting individuals in realizing economic opportunities is a strategic emphasis, with commerce continuing as an important long-term focus for Meta and Facebook.
“It’s also important for Meta because more on-site commerce experiences help us offset ad signal loss [and] it’s one of our major products with a nice market match with YA,” says the company. As part of our goal to democratize economic opportunity on Facebook, we will continue to invest in both organic and business-driven commerce solutions, and there is a growing opportunity to incorporate great commerce experiences into products like Groups, Live, and more.”
To summarize, there will be more Reels, product listings, and information from individuals who aren’t related to you in the app.
When considering larger online engagement trends, it makes sense, but there are also significant dangers for Facebook here that could backfire on the app.