This article is produced in partnership with EzyInsights.
When Facebook made two significant changes to its News Feed algorithm earlier in the year, news publishers in the UK feared engagement, and likewise referrals, from their content across the platform could go into sharp decline. Turns out, those fears were misplaced.
After Facebook’s Friends and Family and Clickbait algorithm changes, the UK’s top ten news publishers saw engagement continue to rise throughout 2016. In fact, the pace accelerated for Metro, Channel 4 News, The Huffington Post UK, BBC News, the Guardian, ITV Central, ITV News, Sky News, The Telegraph and The Independent.
Data from EzyInsights, an organisation that provides publishers with story-tracking technology, suggests the total number of Facebook engagements – likes, reactions, shares, comments – for these ten publishers rose from 3,182,215 on 4 April, to 7,060,377 by October this year.
Once peaks for Euro 2016 and the Rio Olympics were averaged out, the figures for April and October 2016 mark the start and end points for a period of consistent growth of Facebook users engaging with content submitted by the UK’s leading news publishers.
Why is that significant? Because Facebook’s algorithm changes were launched during this period.
The Friends and Family change, which prioritised content and links shared by family members and friends in the News Feed, arrived on 29 June; and 4 August saw Facebook tweak its algorithm to crack down on clickbait-type misleading headlines.
“The Friends and Family change was, initially, a concern for publishers who feared a fall in referrals, but despite the change, engagement levels have risen,” said Steve El-Sharawy, head of innovation at EzyInsights.
“In effect, Facebook said a publisher’s audience sharing its stories would be valued more highly than a publisher sharing that same content itself, no matter how many Facebook fans it may have.
“Despite publishers’ fears, that seems to have benefited them. People love sharing news and trust it more when it’s shared by friends, so it does make sense. Publishers’ content might not appear as frequently in their fans’ feeds, but people sharing content seems to have helped, partially at least, to fill the void.”
It’s interesting to note how this pattern isn’t just affecting the UK’s top news publishers. Those in the US, such as The New York Times and NPR, and across the Nordic countries, including Aftonbladet and Svenska Dagbladet, have witnessed similarly improving levels of total engagement, according to EzyInsights data.
The leading US news publishers saw total engagement climb from 5,002,171 on 4 April this year to 9,965,309 by 5 September 2016, while the leading Nordic news publishers saw growth from 929,892 to 1,055,236 over the same period.
Live video driving engagement
When you look deeper into the data, however, it becomes apparent how higher engagement figures aren’t simply down to more people sharing more links.
In the UK, and further afield, engagement with links from the top ten news publishers remains consistent throughout the period, but there is increased engagement, particularly, with live videos.
For UK publishers, the engagement per post for links in April was 757, and this rose slightly to 1,147 by September; however, engagement per post for live videos rose from 2,527 to 8,295 over the same period.
A similar pattern is seen by the leading news publishers in the US and across the Nordic countries.
“Live video over-performing offers a way for news organisations to keep driving up levels of engagement. As we see more live videos being produced this may balance out, but the opportunity is there now for publishers to capitalise on,” added El-Sharawy.
“It’s worth remembering Facebook makes changes to the News Feed algorithm fairly regularly. These changes can and do have direct influence on the reach a publisher can achieve, which is closely linked to referral traffic.
"Publishers need to remain limber and responsive to these changes if they’re to stay relevant to audiences on Facebook.”
EzyInsights.com is used by 9 out of 10 top Swedish publishers and across Europe to help other news publishers increase reach and traffic.
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