BuzzFeed Responds Perfectly to Facebook's Changes

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BuzzFeed bought this Facebook ad on Friday.
BuzzFeed bought this Facebook ad on Friday. Credit: Buzzfeed

BuzzFeed is taking matters into its own hands on Facebook, after the social network announced moves that could restrict publishers' ability to reach people there.

The digital publisher, which has often relied on Facebook for its audience, was buying ads on Friday to bring readers into its own mobile app, where it has a more direct relationship with them.

"Facebook is taking the news out of your News Feed, but we've got you covered," BuzzFeed's Facebook ad says, urging people to download its app.

"Interest in news is greater than ever before, and we want to assure our loyal readers—and ones we haven't yet reached—that these changes will not affect our ability to connect with and deliver for them," a BuzzFeed spokeswoman said in an e-mail statement. She declined to elaborate.

BuzzFeed's campaign encapsulates how most publishers are reacting to the changes Facebook described Thursday, saying it will limit the visibility of posts from brands and publishers in favor of posts from friend and family. On Thursday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to Facebook to explain the move.

"We've gotten feedback from our community that public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.

Zuckerberg basically called news a downer, and said the passive consumption of articles and videos led to low morale among users. It says more posts that encourage conversation among friends will help build community and well-being.

Publishers took the word as a warning. Many have become overly dependent on the social network to drive traffic to their websites.

Publishers will have to adjust to a reality that brands have gotten used to, says Brittany Richter, VP and head of social media at iProspect. Facebook has long limited the exposure that brands' unpaid posts could get in its News Feed, forcing them to develop ad strategies.

"Brands already have such low organic reach that this isn't really going to affect them," Richter says. "Now, publishers, that's a different story."

Facebook's algorithm will show people posts that have earned comments from their family and friends, and it will de-emphasize the importance of shares and likes. Facebook says it is interested in "meaningful interactions."

The social network is trying to fix a number of problems that were exposed over the past two years, including the fake news that infected the service during the presidential campaign. The obsession with news on the platform has also meant users often got more messages from media than from their friends.

"Consumers are spending less time with the platform as they have become more aware of fake news on the platform, the toxicity of commentary that can exist," says Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal. Time spent on Facebook declined in August and September, down 7 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, compared to the year prior, Wieser said in an investment note to clients.

Facebook could fear becoming too much like Twitter, which is dominated by news-related content that leads to negative conversations and an environment that brands aren't as eager to sponsor.

"What we're seeing from both Facebook and Twitter is this desire to become kinder gentler social media," says a digital ad agency executive, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They're both looking to bury stuff so people don't see as much negativity."

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