Just when you thought it was time to give up on that journalism career and re-train as a teacher, it seems that hope has arrived in the most unexpected of forms. It’s not everyday that good writers will fall to their knees and thank the good Lord Zuckerberg, but with news coming in of the latest in Facebook’s algorithm changes, they might want to invest in a decent grovelling mat and a robust pair of shin pads.
For some time, Facebook has been waging war against ‘clickbait’ and its dark arts. Two years ago, the social media giant took its initial public steps in this worthy fight, penalising links that people opened and then immediately closed. In this manner, it attempted to determine what constituted ‘clickbait’ – a rather prehistoric method by the standards of some of today’s engagement-measuring tools, but a valiant effort nonetheless.
Scroll forward to 2016 and things are really looking futuristic. According to a post on their news blog, Facebook’s algorithm will promote pieces in your newsfeed that are genuinely read, while discounting links that prompt little in terms of further engagement. ‘This update to ranking will take into account how likely you are to click on an article and then spend time reading it,’ write Moshe Blank and Jie Xu. ‘We will not be counting loading time towards this — we will be taking into account time spent reading and watching once the content has fully loaded. We will also be looking at the time spent within a threshold so as not to accidentally treat longer articles preferentially.’
As far as I can see, this is nothing short of a triumph for the ‘Attention Movement’. Anyone that has been cheering from the sidelines as the likes of The Economist and The New York Times attempt to remodel the way adverts are paid for will recognise the importance here. Facebook is tweaking its algorithm to celebrate and support work of substance, whether it’s the written word or a great piece of storytelling through video. That ought to have huge and positive knock-on effects for anyone involved in the creation of that content. Journos, put your lifejackets away. You needn’t jump ship just yet.
For those of us involved in content strategy, now’s the time to really embrace editorial. I don’t say this purely as an editorially-minded content strategist looking for work (although work is always welcome), but as someone who has been waving the banner for well-written, useful content for many years. Thoughtful, well-researched, well-edited articles are a proven and cost-effective way to pull in readers (and leads, if you’re in content marketing), helping brands of all sizes to engage with their audience, build trust, and – vitally – improve on their SEO rankings.
However, with the latest in Facebook’s algorithm changes, it looks as though the humble article is coming home to rule the roost. From a marketing perspective, engagement has always been key – although you’d be forgiven for not realising that, given the amount of attention we give to page views and other frustrating metrics. As long ago as 2014, the likes of Tony Haile and other ‘Attention Movement’ leaders were pointing out the folly in paying for adverts on a CPM model. According to this article, ‘66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold, and people spending at least 20 seconds on a page with an ad are 20-30% more likely to recall that ad afterwards.’ So it seems logical that content that genuinely engages should be where the real money goes. And any content marketer worth their salt is going to be upset with a mere 20 seconds of engagement. Personally, I see it as failure if my average dwell times are anything less than three minutes per article. That Facebook is going to reward our efforts is delightful news.
Brands employing an editorial strategy that embraces strong written content mixed in with engaging video will really be onto a winner, and I predict they’ll start seeing valuable, engaged traffic arriving on their pages in a way that they may not have seen before. I’m really excited about the branded content prospects this opens up but, on a personal level, I’m even more delighted that we’re taking a bigger step towards damning the sludge that swamps our daily web interactions.
Three cheers for Facebook and the Attention Movement! And so say all of us.