Are you one of those social media cranks who becomes irritated when you see someone fairly beg you, on something they just posted, to “please share this?” Mark Elliot Zuckerberg apparently is one of those people annoyed by it. He’s that overachiever from Dobbs Ferry who created Facebook and he is intent on discouraging “please share this” behavior in his back yard.
With a reported net worth of $75 billion (give or take a few billion, depending what the stock market did today), the irrepressible “Zuck”—as his wannabe friends and his actual friends call him—is said to be the fifth richest person in the world. (OK, so even overachievers sometimes fall short of reaching the top. It zucks, but that’s life.)
“Z”—as I call him (behind his back, unless he reads this column every week)—is the guy who pretty much decrees, with merely the flick of his regal wrist, what you and me and everybody see on our Facebook news feeds. There are 2 billion of us, so when Zuck wakes up one day and decides Facebook needs a facelift, it has quite the ripple effect clear across the globe. IOW, when M.E. Zuckerberg talks, people listen. (Eat your heart out, E.F. Hutton!).
That’s why when Zuck’s company last month announced extensive changes to how it “ranks” posts in our news feeds, the reaction among social media professionals and the news media sounded a lot like, “Chicken Little, the sky is falling!”
Despite my whimsical take on how Mr. Zuckerberg and his minions make decisions, the truth is that Facebook is purely data-driven. Nothing it does is random or impulsive. Quite the opposite. When Facebook makes a move in another direction, the pivot’s pedigree comes from the proprietary science of its users’ behavior and, in some cases, the general science of such disciplines as human psychology.
For example, according to an article in The New York Times, Facebook took to heart a 2015 paper in a psychology journal that concluded passive use of the social media platform for as little as 10 minutes a day “had a negative effect on students’ sense of well-being.”
By passive, think of reading a text post or just gazing at photos of products or watching a video. Those are the types of posts, from businesses and publishers, that Facebook now will consign to lower visibility, which means they will be seen less often and by fewer people. That type of post is not engaging enough for Facebook’s taste because it does not stimulate meaningful conversations among friends, which is the direction in which Facebook wants to go—for now.
Each Facebook user can give priority to which friends’ and which brands’ posts should be most visible by checking “See First” under the “Following” tab on a page. Even without a user making that selection, Facebook’s algorithm will anticipate, based on your activity, which friends and family members you are most interested in interacting with. As Facebook likes to say, “friends and family come first.”
The kind of content Facebook now favors is longer-form conversations between people, or a long string of comments that are triggered by a post deemed relevant or thoughtful or newsworthy.
Case in point: As I’m writing this column, I’ve noticed that a news article I posted on Yorktown Moms about a new swim school coming to town has generated more than 140 Likes and comments from about 20 people. That’s what Facebook is talking about, to some extent, although it will reward with broader visibility lengthier comments rather than just tagging a friend’s name so they see the post or writing “Great news!” In fact, the longer the comment, the better.
As for Facebook’s new aversion to those posts that plead “please share this,” in many instances that activity is considered more impersonal and robotic than genuine and organic. If someone wants to share, she doesn’t need to be asked; if the person needs to be goaded to share, Facebook frowns.
Other new features are designed to give the Facebook user more direct control of the news feed. Get this: If you think a friend is misbehaving, you can make like Dean Wormer in the cult movie “Animal House” and put the person on double-secret probation. Just turn on “snooze” and you’ll banish that bad boy’s impertinent posts from your feed for 30 days.
Aaah, I feel better already…
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 914-275-6887.