Facebook Tests Separate Stream for Non-Paid Brand Posts

This email originally appeared in the October 25th edition of The Scribble, KYC's weekly marketing newsletter. You can subscribe to The Scribble at the top of this page.

This week The Guardian reported that Facebook is testing two separate streams on its platform. One stream would contain all posts from your friends, as well as promoted paid posts (ads). The other stream would contain all non-paid posts that are not from your friends.

Yes, in other words, Facebook is testing separating posts from brands and publishers who aren’t paying ad money to Facebook, placing them in a secondary, non primary feed. To see those posts, users would have to go to that secondary feed. The primary feed would remain a place for posts from friends and advertisers.

This test was run only in Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia, and Sri Lanka. A statement from Facebook read in part, “There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in news feed or explore.”

Facebook’s spokesperson insists this was a test simply to see if users would prefer to see a separation between personal (friends) and public (brands/publishers) posts. That makes sense as a test, except that there’s the money-grabbing ploy included of allowing primary stream access to those brands and publishers who pay for it. That basically contradicts everything Facebook tried to convince the public it was testing since it’s actually thepromoted posts that most annoy people. Those are fed to us whether we want them or not. While non-paid posts currently appear in our feed, we’ve actively made thechoice for them to be there by following a brand or publisher page. 

Make no mistake, this was a trial focused on revenue at least as much as it was a trial focused on user experience. The results would show Facebook 1. theincreased reach paid posts would receive if non-paid posts were relegated to a secondary stream, and 2. the overall increase in paid posts once brands and publishers saw thereduced reach of the secondary stream.

If Facebook were to ever move to this multiple stream scenario, it would present significant challenges to marketers. Here’s some of what we could expect to see.

  • A reduced focus on Facebook by brands. With organic content receiving far less visibility, it wouldn’t make sense to use Facebook as a primary source of original content. The reduced focus on Facebook would likely coincide with an increased focus on other social media channels, especially Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. It could even lead to a resurgence in activities on Twitter.

  • When brands do decide to use Facebook, they would go the paid route. While we’d probably see less consistent posting on Facebook from brands, when they do post, it would very often be paid. From a user perspective, we could expect to see the stream that Facebook positioned as the ‘personal’ one, reserved for posts from friends, quickly overridden with ads.

  • We’d see a huge rise in influencer and ambassador programs. This would be the other route to gaining visibility, the alternative to paid posts. Since posts from your friends would appear in the primary stream, brands would try to use them for marketing purposes as influencers and ambassadors. From a user perspective, I sense this would lead to frustration as well. You know those friends who are always pushing their pyramid scheme products on Facebook? We’d see even more of that, except they’d be pushing all kinds of products and services. 

Nothing about this test seems positive to me, not as a marketer (even one who handles paid promotions) and not as a user. We can only hope this was a one time thing and that Facebook drops it.
 

-Kevin

Kevin YorkComment