Native videos posted by publishers’ Facebook Pages average 268% more shares than article links
Facebook execs already believe that people’s news feeds “will be probably all video” in five years. Maybe a lot sooner when it comes to the publisher portion of people’s feeds after Facebook’s latest algorithm change rolls out.
Late last month, Facebook announced a tweak to the uber-arbiter news feed algorithm that will make Pages’ organic reach more dependent on people sharing their Page posts.
“We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends,” Facebook engineering director Lars Backstrom wrote in a company blog post advising Page owners that their organic reach and referral traffic may drop as a result of the change.
So what are those “things” for Pages to post that people on Facebook are most likely to share? If you’re a publisher, they appear to be videos people can watch without leaving Facebook way more often than they are links to a publisher’s site, based on Facebook data collected through social news analytics tool NewsWhip.
I used NewsWhip’s analytics tool to pull data for the 15 most popular publishers on Facebook, according to NewsWhip’s April 2016 list (the most recently available list). I’ll get in the weeds on the exact data I pulled at the bottom of this post, but for the sake of not alienating those uninterested in an itemized list, I looked at the 300 most-shared videos, the 300 most-shared photos, the 300 most-shared text posts and the 300 most-shared links across those publishers’ Facebook Pages — including some Pages connected to those publishers; I’ll explain that later — as well as the 300 most-shared links to their sites posted to Facebook by normal people.
Before we get into the stats, let’s parse what Backstrom said in the aforementioned blog post about how Facebook’s tweaked algorithm will look at Page posts.
“[I]f a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts,” he said. In other words, if someone typically comes across a publisher’s Page post because someone shared (i.e., Facebook-retweeted) it, and then so many of that person’s friends liked or commented on it that it signaled to Facebook’s algorithm that this post has enough of the relative zeitgeist, that publisher will be okay. Or at least better off than the publishers who rely on making it into people’s feeds the old-fashioned way, aka directly.
Put yet another way, Facebook’s news feed algorithm will take a closer look at how many people are sharing a Page’s post. But it’ll also keep an eye on how many people like and comment on those shares. So shares seem to be akin to a touchdown, and likes/comments are somewhat closer to an extra point. Okay, table set. Now the numbers.
Facebook-native videos received more than three times as many shares, on average, as any other type of content publishers posted to their Pages, as well as links to publishers’ sites that people posted on their own to Facebook (Let’s call these “domain links”).
That suggests that if Facebook’s updated, share-centric algorithm wants to pick out a piece of content from BuzzFeed or The New York Times to spice up your news feed, it’s more likely to pick a video you can watch on Facebook than a link that would direct you back to the publisher’s site or to an Instant Article (NewsWhip’s stats don’t show which links convert into Instant Articles).
Of course, it’s not as binary as that. Facebook’s algorithm takes into account other factors beyond share counts, like how likely you are to click a link or watch a video. And if that link opens an Instant Article — Facebook’s algorithm loves how quickly Facebook’s proprietary article format loads — or has proven to keep people on its page for a while, then it may fare better against a native video when competing for the same news feed real estate.
But article links appear to be a heavy underdog against Facebook-native videos, which seem poised to be an even bigger front-runner after the algorithm change officially rolls out.
Here’s another way of looking at how different content types stack up in Facebook’s new share-centric feed: Of the 300 most-shared posts across all 35 publishers’ Pages, 186 were Facebook-native videos, 69 were links and 45 were photos. In other words, depending on how strictly Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes shares when ranking Page posts and how representative the most popular publishers’ Pages are, native videos are the odds-on favorite to make it into people’s feeds over any other post type a Page could publish.
If there’s a silver lining for publishers in the data, it’s the links to their sites that people are sharing independently. While they trail the share rates of Facebook-native videos by about as much as Page-posted links do, they actually outperform those videos when it comes to likes and comments; those extra points will still count for something.
Okay, now to get in the weeds about the data I pulled from NewsWhip.
As I mentioned above, I pulled data for the 15 most popular publishers on Facebook, per NewsWhip’s list. I pulled the 300 most-shared domain links that people had shared from each publisher’s network of owned sites, (e.g., for NBC, that meant NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, CNBC.com and Today.com, as well as local NBC network sites like NBCChicago.com). I also pulled data for posts published to each Facebook Page corresponding to the different domains in that network that were among the most-shared domain links (e.g., for CBS, that meant CBS News’s Facebook Page, as well as the Pages for six of CBS’s local TV and radio stations). For those 35 Pages, I pulled the 300 most-shared posts across all Pages, as well as the 300 most-shared posts that didn’t contain a link to a non-Facebook site. And for each individual Page, I pulled the 300 most-shared video posts, the 300 most-shared photo posts and the 300 most-shared posts that contained a link to a page outside of Facebook, typically to an article on the publisher’s site. For each category, these were the 300 most-shared links and posts over the past month, as of Wednesday morning. In total, I analyzed more than 1,000 links and posts.