‘If you want ads, pay us’: Facebook cuts ‘overly promotional’ posts in news feed

‘If you want ads, pay us’: Facebook cuts ‘overly promotional’ posts in news feed
Facebook says that from next year on, it will cut adverts masquerading as news posts to improve the user experience – likely forcing corporations to stump up more cash for actual ads.

“Our goal with News Feed has always been to show people the things they want to see,” said a statement from the California-based company, which has recently been flirting with all-time market cap records, and is currently valued at $207 billion.

“People told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content,” it said.

When a typical user – with the average amount of friends and frequency of visits – logs into Facebook, he likely has more than 1,500 new items the company can display in his aggregated news feed. Those range from friends’ news to pages the user has ‘liked.'

This is more than one person will likely read, and Facebook has permanently been playing with the algorithm to produce the most lucrative and satisfying selection for its 1.35-billion user base, particularly as users complain that their feed is cluttered with ads for irrelevant items.

“What we discovered is that a lot of the content people see as too promotional is posts from Pages they like, rather than ads. This may seem counterintuitive but it actually makes sense: News Feed has controls for the number of ads a person sees and for the quality of those ads (based on engagement, hiding ads, etc.), but those same controls haven’t been as closely monitored for promotional Page posts,” said Facebook.

On this basis, Facebook has created new criteria for ads that will be culled, which includes the following:

1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

“Brands with high-quality content, like Red Bull, or ones with high engagement, like Harley-Davidson, will still reach their fans,” Jan Rezab, chief executive of Socialbakers, a web analytics firm, assured The New York Times.

Yet experts believe that while the number of ‘advertorial’ posts will fall, the number of ads, albeit clearly marked, will inevitably rise.

“It’s a clear message to brands: If you want to sound like an advertiser, buy an ad,”
said Rebecca Lieb, a digital advertising and media analyst at the Altimeter Group.

In the third quarter, Facebook received 64 percent higher advertising revenues – totaling $2.96 billion – than in the previous three months, and said that overall, its ad prices have gone up by 274 percent in the past year.

Some popular Facebook page owners are also afraid that their posts will be weeded out by the site's sledgehammer algorithms, and crowded out by other types of posts.

“I understand that FB has to make money, especially now that it is public, but in my view this development turns the notion of 'fans' on its head,” George Takei, the Star Trek actor and meme sharer with more than eight million fans, said on his Facebook page.

Yet whatever it does, Facebook, unrivaled in its size, is still likely to come up trumps.

“They are sitting on such a wealth of data to be able to target effectively. They have dominance in the kind of products they are offering the market,” said Jordan Bitterman, chief strategy officer for North America for Mindshare, a digital advertising agency.