Facebook's New 'Time Spent' Measure Changes Everything, And Nothing


Carat's digital director, Jerry Daykin has been urging marketers to look beyond 'engagement' metrics to understand if their content is really effective – now Facebook's newsfeed is doing the same with 'Time Spent'.

Facebook Time Spent
Announced a couple of weeks ago 'time spent' looking at or reading an article is now one of the key determinants of what is ultimately shown in your Facebook newsfeed, usurping active clicks and engagement as the ultimate indicator of interest.
Facebook's newsfeed algorithm famously attempts to show you the most interesting & relevant content based on you, and your friends, interactions. It's often criticised by consumers and marketers alike but the reality isthe sheer weight of thousands of updates would be hugely overwhelming without this filter, and in fact most content from brands would be even further buried. 
Clicks and active engagement obviously give some steer on what content you are finding worthy of a response but there are many cases when you find something fantastically interesting but don't choose to engage with it, and in fact a large proportion of Facebook users very rarely actively engage
Facebook's own research has found that: 'In many cases, just because someone didn’t like, comment or share a story in their News Feed doesn’t mean it wasn’t meaningful to them. There are times when, for example, people want to see information about a serious current event, but don’t necessarily want to like or comment on it. Based on this finding, we are updating News Feed’s ranking to factor in a new signal—how much time you spend viewing a story in your News Feed.'
There's bound to be plenty of marketing industry discussion and thought leading articles about how this impacts brands and how we should all tweak our content accordingly, but I'll be bold and say it makes no difference at all for two clear reasons:
  1. Haven't you heard? Organic reach is already meaninglessly low and it's far more cost effective to drive reach by even small amounts of media support than slaving away to try and 'beat' the algorithm. Any brand which hasn't realised that a FB content strategy needs to align with a media one by now needs a wake up call anyway! No need to be quite so cynical about that change either... The biggest factor that has reduced reach over the years is the vast increase in content being shared, driven by the rise of the smartphone, not a malicious algorithm.
  2. Having said all that, optimising your content so that people want to actually look at it, read it or watch it rather than specifically so they click on it is EXACTLY the content change I've been advocating for years. Surely again however for serious marketers this isn't a change? Who wouldn't want consumers to actually care about and pay attention to their communications, rather than triggering a knee jerk click? 
Facebook's move to look past engagement as the best way of determining this should only encourage more advertisers to do the same, just as their 'Relevancy Score' started the move to look beyond pure engagement. This once again raises the importance of video, which has already begun to dominate the newsfeed
Mind you, if you spend a lot of time silently stalking your ex or office crush you may have some explaining to do when they start popping up in your newsfeed all the time ;)


Facebook Time Spent
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