Facebook is Testing a “Pay to Play” Requirement for Publishers in the News Feed

Last week Facebook began rolling out its new Explore feed, which is now available for users globally on both desktop and mobile. The new Explore feed encourages discovery by including posts from people and pages that the user doesn’t follow.

Over the weekend, Filip Struhárik, a journalist and editor at Denník N, published data from sixty of the largest Slovak media pages that have experienced a dramatic decrease in organic reach as the result of Facebook moving Pages from the News feed into the Explore feed. Facebook representatives said this is a regional test the company is conducting in six smaller markets, including Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia, and Sri Lanka. The main News feed in these areas includes only posts from friends and sponsors.

Struhárik shared a chart that shows Slovak media pages having received 4x fewer interactions (likes, comments, shares) since the test began:

Interactions on 60 of the largest Slovak media Facebook pages – Source: CrowdTangle

Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed at Facebook, has confirmed that the experiment is limited to the six countries and the company does not plan to take roll it out globally.

“It’s not global and there are no plans to be,” Mosseri said. “People often tell us they want more from friends so we’re testing two feeds, one for friend content and another dedicated to page content.”

When asked how long the experiment will last, Mosseri said, “Likely months as it can take that long for people to adapt, but we’ll be looking to improve the experience in the meantime.”

Nevertheless, the test has had a dramatic impact on traffic to publishers in the six markets where it is currently active. It has also given the rest of the world a preview of what a new “pay to play” requirement for Facebook’s main News feed might look like in the future.

Limiting the main News feed to posts from friends and family and relocating content from Pages to the Explore feed would be a welcome change for users but bad news for publishers that depend on Facebook to drive referrals. The News Feed has increasingly become a never-ending pile of clickbait posts and ads that users have to sift through in order to see any meaningful content from friends.

Pages and publishers have had to become highly active in marketing their content to compete with advertising. If Facebook’s split feed experiments turn out to be a success, publishers may need to allocate more resources to their advertising budgets if they want to maintain the same reach on the social network.