Last year, Facebook closed its Trending Topics section, which aimed to provide users with a quick news overview. According to the company it had become “less and less useful”, accounting for fewer than 1.5% of clicks for publishers internationally. This followed a dramatic dialing down of news content in user’s feeds, favouring posts from friends and family, reducing traffic to news publishers, bankrupting a number of publishers with it. Digital publisher LittleThings attributes its shutdown solely to Facebook’s algorithm alteration, whereas publications like Topix and Bustle lost 35.3% and 29.5% of their traffic respectively.
Facebook’s next change for publishers is the “News tab”. In this post, we’ll explore what the News tab means for publishers and how it will operate day-to-day, and how publishers can capitalise on its addition to the world’s most popular social media platform.
How will the News tab work?
Facebook has decided to employ humans to facilitate and moderate a dedicated ‘News’ area on the website and app. It will be the team’s job to handle a ‘Top News’ section of the tab by curating breaking, national and international stories from a wide network of publishers, while the rest of the tab’s feed is populated algorithmically based on data Facebook has on the user.
Facebook is currently seeking partnerships with media outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC News, Dow Jones and Bloomberg, though talks are ongoing. The benefits of partnership have not been explicitly stated, but it’s thought that Facebook will promote content by partnered brands in the News tab, meaning their stories are surfaced more frequently than others. But, the journalists in charge of curation may populate the tab with stories from any source. The addition of the News tab has not been said to alter the current functionality of Facebook’s News Feed in any way – yet.
According to the Wall Street Journal, these partnered publishers will receive a US$3 million licensing fee from Facebook licensing their content in the News tab. The idea for these partnerships was first raised publicly in a conversation Mark Zuckerberg had with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner earlier this year. Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement:
“Our goal with the News tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people. The majority of stories people will see will appear in the tab via algorithmic selection. To start, for the Top News section of the tab we’re pulling together a small team of journalists to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”
Brown also added that training those algorithms to personalise content is a resource-heavy exercise, in terms of both data and time. So, Facebook’s hired journalists will act as gatekeepers of the integrity and responsibility of the News tab, consequently accelerating its rollout.
How can publishers capitalise?
It’s likely the News tab will feel in some ways similar to other news curation services like Apple News, Flipboard or Smartnews, so learnings from these platforms could aid publishers here.
Facebook’s decision to hire an editorial team may open up conversation between publishers and that team, with publishers pitching to Facebook for features. Strong headlines and images will help publications jostle for space alongside each other, and it’s likely Facebook will take engagement on stories into account when deciding article prominence. Carrying (relatively discreet) branding on thumbnails could help increase brand awareness and clicks – see how The Guardian adds its logo onto each story. We’ll create an in-depth guide with more tips once we’ve seen the tab in action.
Facebook isn’t the first tech company to enlist the help of professionals when curating the content visible to users. Click here to learn how Apple News’ editorial team works with algorithms to tailor the contents of the app.