Facebook still wants to be the place you share your vacation photos, but it’s also trying to become home to more conversations about what's going on right this moment. Company engineers said in a blog post Thursday that the social network is going to be showing more “timely” updates about trending topics.
Facebook has long focused on showing content it expects to be most relevant to users, without stressing those posts’ connection to current events. This has allowed Twitter to slowly become the go-to place for instant updates and social commentary on breaking news.
"When there’s an earthquake, I check Twitter to see funny comments, see what people are talking about,” said Dave Yoo, chief operating office of digital marketing company 3QDigital. “If you look at any sort of major event on TV, it’s always this hashtag or that one. You don’t see Facebook as much anymore.”
Facebook is trying to change that. The Menlo Park, California-based company said “posts about something that is currently a hot topic of conversation” are now “more likely to appear higher up in News Feed.” The social network also said it will downgrade the priority of these kinds of posts days after the fact.
“Facebook is recognizing that they’re not as real-time as Twitter, that they have to move to real-time advertising models or else they’re going to fall behind," Yoo said. "With more and more mobile adoption, the industry is heading towards instantaneous news and interaction. Wearables are a good example of how the whole industry is leaning towards information delivery in a nanosecond."
Twitter is boasting about its real-world impact for potential advertisers, like boosting the ratings of a TV show. Now, Facebook says that it has recognized a need to prioritize posts at certain times, such as when two users "are both watching the same sports game, or talking about the season premiere of a popular TV show."
Yoo calls it Facebook's attempt to become more ubiquitous "in all of the ways that people communicate," and he thinks the social network will likely succeed. "When you think about social media during a real-time event, you think Twitter," he said. "Facebook has that mountain to climb, but they have the moxie to pull it off."
Not everyone sees the change as a major move into Twitter territory. Jon Loomer, a Facebook marketing consultant, says he does not see the move as hugely significant.
"Facebook is constantly tweaking, responding to feedback and engagement of users," Loomer said in an email. "As a Facebook user, there has long been the complaint that too many old posts get bumped to the top of News Feed that are no longer relevant. They are simply putting more weight on current engagement before doing that now in an attempt to improve engagement level."