[SMK] Social Media Knowledge


Facebook Publisher Referral Traffic Plummets 50%

Meta’s strategic pivot away from news content is dramatically reshaping the landscape of digital news referrals. Recent data from Chartbeat and Similarweb underscores the magnitude of this shift, revealing a sharp decline in Facebook referral traffic to news and media websites. The statistics are striking: referrals have plummeted by 50% in the past year alone, and by 58% over the past six years, dropping from 1.3 billion in March 2018 to 561 million in March 2024.

Significant Decline in Facebook Referrals

This decline is not just a minor dip but a significant downturn that reflects a broader trend. Facebook’s share of total referrals to these sites has fallen from 30% in March 2018 to a mere 7% in March 2024. Smaller publishers have been hit particularly hard, with their Facebook referrals dwindling to just 2% of their 2018 levels. This dramatic fall is partly attributed to Meta’s ongoing reduction of news content in its apps, highlighted by the end of its Facebook News project in December last year.

Shift Towards AI and Video Content

Meta’s strategic direction, focusing on AI-recommended updates and video content, aims to foster a more positive user experience by minimising political content and encouraging more time spent on entertainment. This shift comes after significant feedback from users, who have expressed a desire for less politically charged content on the platform. In 2021, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that users were increasingly unhappy with the political discourse dominating their feeds, particularly following high-profile incidents like the Capitol riots.

Impacts on Marketers and Brands

Reduced Organic Reach for News-Related Content

With news content being deprioritised, brands that rely on current events and news-based marketing may see reduced engagement. This shift requires a rethinking of content strategies that previously leveraged trending news to capture audience attention.

Increased Competition for Engagement

As Meta shifts its focus to entertainment and AI-recommended video content, brands must compete in a crowded space. The emphasis on video means that brands will need to invest more in high-quality, engaging video content to capture and retain user attention.

Less Political and Controversial Content

Meta’s move to reduce political content may limit opportunities for brands that engage in social or political advocacy. While this can create a more positive user experience, it also means that brands need to find new ways to engage audiences on important issues without relying on Facebook’s reach.

Shifts in Audience Behaviour

With Meta focusing on longer user engagement times rather than sheer volume of interactions, brands need to create content that keeps users engaged for longer periods. This shift impacts content formats, storytelling techniques, and the overall approach to content marketing.

Broader Repercussions for Publishers

This transformation has had a profound impact on news publishers. Major UK news publisher Reach, for instance, reported a 15% year-on-year decline in digital revenues in 2023, attributing this partly to falling referrals from Facebook. The Sun, another major UK news outlet, also linked its reduced digital advertising revenue to the volatility of social platforms’ approaches toward news content.

The repercussions of Meta’s shift are felt globally. A survey by the Reuters Institute for Digital Journalism found that 63% of respondents were concerned about the declining referrals from Facebook and X (formerly Twitter). Even large publishers have seen significant drops in Facebook-driven traffic. The Independent’s share of social referrals from Facebook fell from 19% in 2021 to 6% in 2024, while Reach’s The Mirror experienced a drop from 22% to 7%.

Meta’s Algorithm Changes

Meta’s algorithm changes, which began with a 2018 decision to prioritise content from “family and friends” over news in the News Feed, have been pivotal. Additionally, Meta stopped offering grants to publishers, sharing ad revenue, and announced in 2022 that it would drop Instant Articles, a feature that allowed news links to open more quickly within the Facebook app.

Global Impact and Publisher Adaptations

More recently, Meta announced the closure of Facebook’s news tab feature in Australia and the non-renewal of news licensing deals with Australian publishers, a trend mirrored in the UK, France, and Germany. These moves have forced publishers to adapt. Some have turned to short-form video content on platforms like TikTok, while others are leveraging WhatsApp and LinkedIn for referrals. There is also a noticeable shift towards direct audience engagement through newsletters, subscriptions, and podcasts.

Despite the challenges, Meta’s strategy could yield positive outcomes. By distancing itself from news and political content, Meta hopes to create a more engaging and less contentious user experience. This approach has already seen success with Threads, Meta’s Twitter competitor, which focuses on positive, entertainment-based content. For marketers, in 2024, it will call for experimentation, agility and innovation.

Strategies for Evolution

Diversify Content Formats

Brands should explore various content formats beyond traditional posts, such as stories, reels, and live videos. The focus should be on creating interactive and immersive experiences that can capture and hold audience interest.

Invest in Video Content

Given Meta’s emphasis on video, brands should prioritise video production. High-quality, engaging videos that tell a story or provide value can help maintain visibility and engagement. Consider using tutorials, behind-the-scenes content, and user-generated videos to enhance relatability and authenticity.

Leverage Influencer Partnerships

Collaborating with influencers can help brands tap into established audiences and create more engaging content. Influencers often have a loyal following and can effectively communicate brand messages in a relatable way.

Focus on Community Building

With the reduction in news content, brands have an opportunity to build stronger communities around their products and services. Engaging directly with users through comments, groups, and interactive posts can foster a sense of belonging and loyalty.

Optimise for Other Platforms

Diversification is key. Brands should not rely solely on Facebook but also invest in other platforms like Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and even emerging platforms. Each platform has unique strengths and audiences, and brands need to tailor their content accordingly.

Utilise Paid Advertising

With organic reach becoming more challenging, strategic use of paid advertising can ensure that content reaches the desired audience. Brands should focus on targeted ads that use Meta’s sophisticated data analytics to reach specific demographics and interests.

Embrace AI and Data Analytics

Leveraging AI-driven tools and data analytics can help brands better understand audience preferences and behaviour. This information can guide content creation, ensuring it aligns with what users are most likely to engage with.

Enhance Content Personalisation

Personalised content that addresses the specific needs and interests of different audience segments can drive higher engagement. Brands should use data insights to tailor their messages and deliver relevant content to individual users.

Learn with SMK through June

Start your SMK: Digital Excellence 7-day free trial today and unlock unlimited, on-demand access to hundreds of hours of digital masterclasses, training courses and hands-on tutorials.

Your risk-free trial offers the perfect opportunity to expand and upgrade your digital intellectual property.

Each month SMK releases 30 hours of new and updated social media and digital marketing educational course content, ensuring you never get left behind – be it on digital strategy, tactics or implementation.

Alongside this, SMK offers live help and support weekly within the SMK Working Group. It might be a quick fix or the root of a bigger problem; either way, a problem shared is a problem halved. On a day-to-day basis, SMK’s team gives you hands-on support and fresh ideas.

Not to mention a shoulder to cry on, occasionally.

June's Courses, Live Help & Support Options

Live Member Clinics every Monday & Tuesday from 1 pm – 2 pm AEST

  • Live help and support from SMK’s team of analysts.
  • Book in to request a personalised discussion for 15 or 30m via Zoom within the Facebook Working Group.

Weekly Technical Labs: Meta Business Suite on Wednesdays from 1 pm – 2 pm AEST

  • Technical Labs explore the technological process and workflows related to key digital marketing activities.

Google Analytics 4, Data Analysis & Evaluation Masterclass on Thursdays from 10 am – 12 pm AEST

  • Module 1: GA4 Optimisation, Key Features, Tools & Reports
  • Module 2: Setting up GA4 Conversions & Understanding Analytics Events
  • Module Three: Analytics campaign tracking and report analysis
  • Module Four: GA4 report round-up, conversion attribution & visualisation

Influencer Marketing Masterclass: Organic, Paid & Commerce on Fridays from 10 am – 12 pm AEST

  • Module 1: 2024 Influencer Marketing Trends, Forecasts & Opportunities
  • Module 2: Organic Influencer Marketing Best Practices
  • Module 3: Optimising Influencer Campaigns With Social Ads
  • Module 4: Evaluation, Reporting and Influencer Commerce

Leave a Comment