Why Facebook Should Judge Content Quality

by · September 9, 20139 comments

My friend Brian Carter wrote a thoughtful criticism of Facebook’s new content quality analysis over at Convince and Convert last week. In it, he said that Facebook shouldn’t be judging content quality and that doing so will hurt small businesses.

Fundamental to Brian’s argument was the notion that Facebook is now going to punish lower-quality posts from businesses that try to “game” their way into the newsfeed. The way most are reporting this news, that means photo memes — text over photo elements that are easy, visual and like-worthy pieces of content — are now going to be judged bad by Facebook.

Brian wrote, “This action is a huge shift in Facebook’s modus operandi. It’s new for them to make a judgement, outside of what people interact with, on the quality of the type of content.”

The problem with Brian’s assertion is that it’s incorrect. And the problem with his opinion, in my opinion, is that he’s wrong. Here’s why:

First, Facebook has no way of judging the quality of the type of content other than social gestures. The Like, Comment and Share is the only way Facebook can really even know if a post is a “meme” or not … at least without manual review, which I can promise you won’t be happening. What Facebook is asserting with the new change is that they are going to start looking at pieces of content that have a lot of likes, but no shares or comments and rule them to be “meme-like.”

They’re able to do this because they surveyed users who interacted with content and asked them questions like, “Would you call this a low-quality post or meme?” and “Is this content genuinely interesting to  you or is it trying to game News Feed distribution?” By comparing the survey results with the social gestures (Likes, Comments and Shares), Facebook can (theoretically) triangulate trend that reasonably predict when a post is lower quality.

Facebook is only pushing us all to be better at providing relevant, engaging content. And that is never bad.

It’s easy to “Like” something. It takes effort to Comment or Share. Thus, lots of likes, but low corresponding Comments or Shares and you can assume or assert lower quality.

The definition of Facebook’s process aside, though, I also disagree with Brian’s assertion that Facebook shouldn’t be judging the quality of a post — regardless of how they measure it. Facebook, like Google, benefits from continually improving it’s algorithms to surface the most relevant content to the individual in question. By amplifying the learning, tweaking and customization of one’s browsing experience, you make the browsing experience better, more relevant and more satisfying.

Without this type of quality analysis and prioritization, Facebook would just keep getting noisier and noisier. This way, your new stream continues to get more and more relevant. This will keep you, the user, on the site longer, have a more relevant and satisfying experience and allow Facebook to continue to both grow and charge more for ads that it displays to such an engaged audience.

Brian does correctly make the point that this approach may hurt small businesses. But I would argue it only hurts the ones who are bad at providing good content. If you have to rely on gimmicks like memes to engage your audience, you need to learn to step up your game, or be satisfied with the lower engagement scores your content will now receive.

Facebook is only pushing us all to be better at providing relevant, engaging content. And that is never bad.

Sure, there are some who would say it shouldn’t be Facebook’s place to tell us what is or isn’t good or bad. But having that opinion is showing a complete ignorance for how the web works. Facebook is the only entity that can truly measure and tell us how well our content does there. If we don’t like it, we can always to play on MySpace.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.socialidentities.com Hugh Briss

    George Takei’s Page is nothing but memes but his posts get plenty of comments and shares so I’m not so sure that engagement is a good sign. I do know that Facebook is using some kind of recognition software and it wouldn’t be hard to know when someone posts a photo overlayed with text.

  • Brent White

    I think you’re right, this will hurt small business, but only those who don’t provide the relevant content, which will benefit the users of Facebook, so I think it’s a good thing.
    Brent White
    http://www.GigitalMarketing.com
    Online Marketing Gigs

  • http://www.jeffgibbard.com/ Jeff Gibbard

    Jason, for once, I have to disagree with you. I think Facebook has no business judging content and ordering our newsfeeds. The problem with Facebook judging content or ordering content, is that it assumes all audiences are equal, all social gestures are meaningful, all silence is an indication of disapproval or disinterest, and it assumes that people are not smart enough to curate their own experience. No matter what, so long as Facebook has an algorithm, marketers will continue to game that algorithm. Let it flow in real time, remove the game and good content can stand on its own.

    Facebook has trained businesses over the last year to use memes, text over images and video because that content gets more engagement, meanwhile links off of Facebook get mostly ignored. Now they want to change that in the name of “quality.” I call BS. People like memes and stupid nonsense, in fact, I would contend that keeping up with friends, and looking at stupid nonsense are the two primary reasons people use Facebook at all. I don’t think “Facebook is only pushing us all to be better at providing relevant, engaging content.” I think they’re just giving us new hoops to jump through while they figure out new ad units to sell.

    If Facebook’s goal is to provide a more relevant news feed, then they are failing miserably. Facebook is by far the worst newsfeed experience of all social media sites that I use. I constantly see the same posts over and over, I see an overwhelming number of brand posts, so much so that I’ve started unliking every page just so I can see what my friends post. I see completely irrelevant ads. All in all, the only time I enjoy Facebook is when I look at a specific friend list that I curate.

    The final point I’d like to put out there, is that Facebook and Google are wholly different beasts so the comparison isn’t exactly accurate. I don’t choose the sites Google returns to me, I choose what Facebook should bring to me. Google orders results to deliver more relevance based on a search term. On Facebook I’ve already done my search, I’ve already chosen my inputs and now I’m wondering why Facebook won’t let me see what they’ve posted?

    You’ve always struck me as a straight up, no BS guy, so how is it that you approve of Facebook’s BS imposed CONTROL over what you view. Seems to me that would bother you.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Facebook isn’t controlling anything. They’re taking indications from other people interacting with the content to pull an indication of how likely it is for you to think the content is useful. Your friends, more specifically the people you interact with more, will have a bigger impact on what you see than those you don’t interact with.

      Like Google tracking the types of results you click on based on your keywords and factoring in personal use and perhaps even elements of social data (ie – do my friends interact with this site vs. another), Facebook is simply using data to project what you will read/interact with.

      For those, like Nichole, who want the pure, reversed chronology of posts, that feature has always been there. Just drop down and choose it.

      But those streams not only don’t surface good content, they often times bury it so you’ll never see it. Especially if you only log in occasionally.
      I’m not saying Facebook gets it right all the time or most of the time. But over time, this data should prove to produce a better, more relevant browsing and visiting experience. And when it does, and people are more engaged, commenting and sharing as much as they’re passively liking, the experience will prove more useful for everyone, including brands.

      • http://www.jeffgibbard.com/ Jeff Gibbard

        But they are controlling things, they have created a system to determine what people will organically see in the default view. Given the default behavior of the average Facebook user, that is what they are going to see. They won’t make lists, they won’t know how to curate the feed, so they will get what Facebook gives them.

        And doesn’t this create a scenario of “the rich get richer?” The more you interact with someone, the more you see their posts, so instead, the depth of your social graph becomes a kiddie pool populated by a small number of inputs. Then brands and individuals that have not had the good fortune or good tactics to get out in front, will need to pay to surface their content, regardless of quality. At the same time, the content that was once necessary to beat the Edgerank algorithm is now being regarded as “low quality by Facebook.”

        Who is Facebook to decide that memes are not worthy? They are not in the content creation business, they are engineers, they build stuff. The simple fact is that memes often work as a means of capturing attention due to the nature of the Facebook experience. Status updates and links are simply not as effective on Facebook and no amount of changes to the algorithm will fix that.

        On an unrelated note, I do enjoy having discussions like this with you. Especially when we have opposing views, or at least dissimilar views.

      • Nichole_Kelly

        BTW-I have selected the chronological order of posts and don’t believe it is all of the posts. Seriously, with our friends it’s impossible that no one has posted anything in an 6 hour stretch through the day, but I see gaps like that all the time when I sort by most recent. I guess what I’m saying is that I still believe it’s a filtered view. But I could be wrong, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. :-)

  • Michele Price

    Jason how is it of lessor quality if people only like it VS comment on it. Let’s face the fact people are lazy. When I comment on something it does not mean it was a higher quality.

    It can mean many things:

    It can mean I thought they were idiots and told them so.
    It can mean it pulled my heartstrings and I had same experience as poster.
    It can mean I want to pull the conversation over to my thread and I shared, then comment with folks on my share.

    Lots of different actions, lots of different meanings. How can Facebook judge which meant most to me? Sometimes I laugh out loud and hit like then move on. Which was more valuable?

    I’d say that is up to each person reading.

    How about facebook show all my friends and businesses I “Liked” their page in my stream and let me decide what I interact with.

    I am my own filter dammit!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    So call me crazy, but I actually really enjoy a good meme. I share them frequently when I see a great one because I enjoy the laughs they bring. The choice to share a meme, simply means that the statement made applies to how I view the world. When I like a meme, I like it because I understand how it applies to the person or brand who posted it’s view of the world, not because I didn’t enjoy it.

    The question I have is why is Facebook going after memes? What do they have against a meme that gets engagement, regardless of how they view the quality of that engagement? If people are liking it, is it possible that they actually like it? Why try to filter something their audience is engaging with?

    I’m with Jeff on this one. All the changes Facebook is doing to try to better my experience by controlling what I see in my feed, have in fact, made made my experience worse on Facebook. I want to see a true time-based news feed. I look at Facebook often and I want to really see what happened since the last time I checked. I want to see my friends AND I want to see the brands that have posted. I want the option to see everything! I don’t mind as much that they are trying to better my experience, but when I find that it isn’t in fact better, I want the option to opt-out and see it straight, just how my friends and brands posted it without their influence.

    I think there are far worse things brands are doing than posting memes to engage their audience. At least they are trying to understand what makes them tick. Allowing a brand to pay to force a sales offer into my feed, but trying to take away the stuff I engage with? That seems to only benefit them, not me. Just my two cents.

  • Dara K

    I am looking forward to this change. I think such a change is necessary to improve the content we see on Facebook. It should spark a well needed conversation.