Sahail Ashraf posted on 22 June 2022
A leaked memo has shown that Facebook is making sweeping changes to compete with TikTok. What are these changes? And is it too late?
It’s no secret that the Facebook app is not what it used to be. It has lost younger users by the truckload, and the parent company had so much controversy dogging it over the last few years that it had to change its name. But there is one rival platform that seems to be giving it serious scares. TikTok is seemingly unstoppable, and holds a similar position in the industry to that which Facebook enjoyed just a few short years ago. TikTok genuinely makes Facebook executives nervous, and it seems they have taken action to combat the threat.
The Verge just ran a story about Facebook changing how its feed works. That’s right, it is actually changing the most important part of any social media app.
This news has come from a ‘leak’, but the article features a discussion of content found in an internal memo sent by the head of the Facebook app, Tom Alison, to his team. Alison also spoke to The Verge too. The plans for Facebook and its feed are genuinely huge, and it is a clear attempt by the company to find a younger audience.
The biggest area of change that users will notice is the content inside the feed. With TikTok, perhaps the crucial point of difference was that the algorithm showed users stuff they were interested in, but didn’t necessarily follow. The outcome of this is TikTok users finding new areas of interest and generally a lot more fun.
Not to say that Facebook is not ‘fun’, but it didn’t have that kind of feed. The vast majority of what people saw in a Facebook feed came from people and companies that the user followed. Essentially, Facebook users knew what to expect, while TikTok users were generally given new and exciting content that the algorithm had decided they might like.
That had the positive effect of making it easier for brands and creators to go viral. You didn’t have to be followed on TikTok to get into someone’s feed. The algorithm pushed you there. Marketers did the work, and were rewarded.
So what else is new? According to The Verge:
Here’s how the future Facebook app will work in practice: the main tab will become a mix of Stories and Reels at the top, followed by posts its discovery engine recommends from across both Facebook and Instagram. It’ll be a more visual, video-heavy experience with clearer prompts to direct message friends a post. To make messaging even more prominent, Facebook is working on placing a user’s Messenger inbox at the top right of the app, undoing the infamous decision to separate the two apps eight years ago. The Verge 15/6/22
The Discovery Engine is the name of the new way of doing things, and it speaks to Meta’s concerns about Facebook, and how it doesn’t compete with channels like TikTok.
Alison wants a cleaner and more dynamic experience on Facebook. However, the new approach is not without its critics. Apparently, employees at Meta have voiced their concerns about how Facebook seems to be copying TikTok very openly and aggressively. Mark Zuckerberg has said that he wants to open up Facebook to discovery rather than just connection. These are interesting ideas, and valid points.
If facebook copies TikTok so brazenly, will it lose its essence? It’s probably a good idea to open up feeds to new discoverable content, but that could potentially change the platform for good. Maybe it is a single minded effort to bring in younger people, who are used to discovery rather than just connection. TikTok is a fun place that is quick and frenetic, and you can get involved in the fun too at the push of a button. You can’t say that about Facebook anymore.
Facebook saw its first drop in user numbers this year. Executives (including Alison) have publicly acknowledged that they have underestimated TikTok. Maybe this is the time when things really come to a head. For the first time ever, it is impossible to say whether or not Facebook will still be relevant in three years time. And if it is, it will look nothing like the Facebook we know today.
It may even just look like TikTok.
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