Publishers are rethinking their Facebook strategies in the wake of LittleThings’ sudden shutdown on Tuesday.
While LittleThings is the first pub to fall victim to Facebook's news feed algorithm change, it is likely not the last.
Many pubs play Whac-A-Mole with the news feed, optimizing article and video content to fit the whims of a fickle Facebook algorithm.
But while pubs might be able to A/B test their way to success within the Facebook environment, those who’ve relied heavily on referral traffic from the social media giant could have a tough time weaning themselves completely.
After all, Facebook’s audience of 2.2 billion is substantive, and publishers rely on it as a major driver of distributed reach.
Upworthy, a viral publisher that preceded LittleThings, is no stranger to algorithmic uncertainties – it took a huge hit in referral traffic when Facebook altered its algo in 2013.
But this time around, Eli Pariser, Upworthy’s co-founder and co-CEO, seems unfazed so far by Facebook’s latest algorithm change.
“We haven’t been too concerned so far since our business model isn’t focused around arbitrage or programmatic content,” he said, though Pariser noted it could take "weeks" to determine the full impact.
Although LittleThings, too, ramped up original video content like Upworthy, it was a heavily programmatic shop that had more recently moved into direct sales.
Since Upworthy merged with Good Worldwide, it has doubled down on its branded content and made a concerted effort to move away from viral tactics, instead going back to basics to tell stories that earn “trust and attention.”
“Our videos are well-suited to Facebook’s new reality,” Pariser claimed. “At its core, Facebook is a social engagement platform. They want people to interact with each other, and by creating content, even branded content, that speaks to the values we all have in common, you’re able to future-proof yourself from algorithm changes over the course of time.”
Facebook has lured publishers with new products like the video portal Watch – pubs ranging from Refinery29 to BuzzFeed all develop original content for it – but it’s still a part of the same ecosystem that both giveth and taketh away.
And sometimes, the best way to navigate Facebook’s algorithmic headwinds is to find other revenue streams to supplement it with.
Food52 maintains a Facebook presence, but it’s not the be-all, end-all for the boutique food publisher.
While it’s aiming to increase visibility on users' friends and family feeds with engaging content and even reducing links back to its own site in some cases, it has always maintained a multichannel mix.