Let’s Stop Being Content Lemmings

What is “good content” and, is Facebook the authority on that? 

By Deborah Tan

Any content publisher worth his salt would know by now that Facebook has changed its Newsfeed algorithm once again. This time, the almighty algorithm will favour posts by “friends and family” over those by publishers and brands.

For content businesses that depend on Facebook for a large percentage of their traffic, this is bad news. Now your organic reach isn’t just close to zero, your post won’t get seen unless someone shares it with their friends and family. Of course, you could “Boost” a post but, from my personal point of view, that’s just money badly spent.

Because Facebook can
There is no point crying foul or moaning about how the reasoning behind the algorithm is flawed. You want to play on Facebook, you’ve got to follow its rules. As someone who runs two websites that promote their content primarily on Facebook, the platform’s ever-changing rules governing the kind of content that gets seen by fans have been immensely frustrating.

With the latest change, an epiphany has finally hit me.

The toxic boyfriend analogy
You’re in a relationship with a man. Thing is, you never know what sets him off. One minute he’s all lovey dovey, the next, he stops the car in the middle of the highway and tells you to find your own way home. What the f___, right?

To get this guy to spend the weekend with you, you have to pull out all the stops. You have to make him breakfast in bed, you have to go rock-climbing with him, which you absolutely hate, and you have to blow … a lot of money on him. But come Sunday evening when you want him to have dinner with your parents, he tells you, “Sorry! The rules have changed. You need to take my parents on a cruise holiday first!”

Facebook is the boyfriend.

And, maybe it’s time for a breakup.

I hate the person I become when I’m with you
I’m a writer. Writers live to be read. With the Facebook of old, we found a platform that could amplify our blogs to our friends, their friends, and the friends of their friends. The traffic boost from Facebook was so awesome that soon, blogs and websites began to overshadow the most traditional form of media: print.

Now that everyone is “going digital” and hoping that Facebook will be that magical highway that funnels traffic to their sites, we are slapped with the ugly truth that, hey, Facebook isn’t going to do that for free and it’s not going to do it for cheap.

Having played this game for almost 10 years, I must admit that I’m getting tired. It’s not because I’m getting old and have no desire to move with the times; I know exactly what I have to do to get traffic. I’m tired because I don’t like the kind of writer I have become in this never-ending quest for Facebook Likes and Facebook Shares.

What is considered as content that “deserves” to be pushed to readers by Facebook has nothing to do with style and flair. Rather, it’s usually about how long a list about cafes with salted egg-anything can be. Instead of a thoughtful piece about the human condition, it’s stories about stupid/reckless/feckless/thoughtless idiots that get shared and viewed a thousand times.

“Good content” on Facebook has little to do with thought but everything to do with reaction. Is this header click-bait-ish enough? Is the content incendiary enough for people to share it?

It’s not that I don’t want to produce “listicles”. Rather, I want to stop being the kind of writer who would choose to produce a listicle about Instagrammable waffles over a long-form article about the beauty of cutting my toenails at 6AM in the morning FOR THIS WEBSITE because “listicles get shared more”.

I don’t want to be a writer that writes for social media statistics. When I write, I want it to be because I have a point of view to share or an idea to promote. I don’t want to “optimise” my writing style to suit the “changing content consumption patterns of the smartphone generation who has short attention span and can only read stuff written in points or presented as a list”.

I’m NOT saying listicles, memes, videos, and infographics are less worthy than long-form pieces. My message here is: Writers, DON’T use social media numbers as your STARTING POINT when deciding what you should write.

There is no point being this idealistic if no one reads your stuff. Really?
When your entire social media circle shares only listicles about where to find good food, you’d soon be thinking that only listicles about food are ever worth reading.

The new Facebook algorithm is going to make this phenomenon even more pronounced. The type, variety, and scope of the content you consume will soon be defined by the tastes of the people you count as friends on Facebook.

So here’s what I want to do: I want to start consuming content in a more mindful manner. Rather than just read whatever appears on my Newsfeed, I will seek out topics that I want to read up on with INTENTION.

I’m not a famous writer so I don’t think anyone will be seeking out my op-ed articles intentionally. Still, by deciding not to shape my writing around the limited tastes that social media inevitably forms for us all, I have at least started on working, once again, on becoming a good, credible writer. I will still use Facebook to update friends when I have written something new but I’m not going to hanker for the Shares and Likes anymore. Articles that get shared on social media may not contain ideas worth spreading and, ideas worth spreading may not come in a “Facebook-friendly” format that facilitates “sharing”.

It is still possible to hope that people seek out content with intent and consume it with deliberation. It could be there’s only one such person out of 100,000. Still, that’s one person we have convinced to stop consuming content like a lemming, one more person able to think for himself or herself.