Facebook is making a major change to the News Feed that will show users more content from friends and family and less from brand and company pages.

In last night’s announcement, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that, as a result, he expects that people will spend less time on Facebook.

This change could have huge implications for your company’s Facebook marketing, especially if organic reach plays a big part in your stats. The change also follows on from the tests Facebook did last year with the explore feed.

According to Facebook, the move is designed to encourage people to interact more with the content that they actually do see. The thinking is that users are probably more likely to comment and discuss a post shared from a family member or friend than one shared by a business that they follow.

Behind this, I think, is Facebook’s realisation that it’s ceded ground in terms of relevance to users’ lives to other platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and a rejuvenated Twitter.

“Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained.

Then he added something else surprising: Facebook expects the change will mean that people will spend less time using the service.

“Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” he wrote. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.”

The announcement is huge for a couple of reasons:

It’s bad news for publishers who rely on Facebook for traffic, or a business who uses it as a form of organic marketing. Facebook is very clearly telling these businesses their content won’t spread as far in News Feed, and many publishers spend lots of time and resources creating stuff intended to do just that.

Facebook admitting that people will likely spend less time on Facebook has to be sour news for investors. The more time people spend on Facebook, the more ads they consume, and the more money Facebook can make. Less time, at least on paper, seems like it will correlate to less revenue. However, it’s likely that advertising and promotion costs will rise to cover the shortfall. After all, if people are spending less time on Facebook then the time they do spend scanning their news feeds becomes way more valuable and can command a higher price.

But Facebook says the reason for these changes come from a study it published last month, which found that people who aimlessly scroll through News Feed without interacting with the stuff that they see walked away feeling “crummy”. And as Facebook users ourselves, I think we can all identify with that.

The changes rolling out now are intended to encourage people to interact, which would theoretically help them walk away feeling less “crummy”.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being,” Zuckerberg continued. “The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being.”

In other words, Facebook believes that it’s sacrificing short-term gain (more time spent) for long-term gain (happier users who will come back more often).

It’s a big gamble, in part because Facebook is bound to alienate a major set of users: Publishers that create a lot of the free content that appears on Facebook. The social network has a reputation for messing these publishers around by routinely changing the algorithm, which in turn means publishers need to change the kind of stuff they make and share on the service.

But Facebook is clearly taking a stand: Personal connections trump publisher and business reach.

So what can we do? I would definitely keep a keen eye on all the key Facebook metrics and watch for swings and trends. It looks certain that organic reach will drop off significantly. The impact on paid promotions is still unknown, so I would keep close tabs on reach, engagement, and whatever conversion you’re hoping for. If the reach for paid promotions slides, you may need to up your budget to keep the reach where it needs to be to maintain conversion and ROI.

As always, any questions just drop me a line at dan@tprc.co.uk or pick up the phone 01480 478555