What Content Gets the Most Engagement on Facebook? [Content Made Simple]
Issue #198: Instagram makes Reels front and center, Republicans crushing Democrats on social, and more.
Facebook wants you to know that Conservative influencers may get the most engagement on the platform, but they don’t get the most reach.
Since July, New York Times journalist Kevin Roose has been posting daily lists of the top 10 most popular link posts on Facebook in the United States, under the Twitter handle @facebookstop10. The lists, which tend to be dominated by conservative and even right-wing sources, have become a touchstone for critics of the social network’s role in shaping Americans’ news consumption and political views. They’ve also been cited as counterevidence to the notion — popular on the right — that Facebook suppresses or even censors conservative viewpoints. Roose draws the data from Facebook’s own analytics tool, CrowdTangle.
This week, Facebook pushed back. The company published a blog post sharing new types of data on its most popular sources of content, aiming to give a more nuanced picture of the news feed’s composition. And it did, albeit only in snapshots, which would be hard to interpret for anyone not already steeped in this kind of data. The broad takeaway from Facebook’s lists was that the news stories people see most on Facebook tend to come largely from established, mainstream sources, after all — not the firebrands that populate Roose’s lists.
Just last week I wrote about the Conservative flight to Parler and Kevin Roose’s work with the @FacebooksTop10 Twitter account. Here, for OneZero, Will Oremus explains how Facebook has attempted to push back on Roose’s work by providing a host of their own Top 10 lists. They don’t dispute anything Roose has collected, but they try to write a different narrative about what kind of content actually dominates Facebook feeds. They focus more on “reach” in their analysis when Roose’s work focuses more on “engagement.”
ON THE POD
Elizabeth had to miss the podcast this week, so Jonathan and I had the opportunity to interview Kendall Baker. Kendall writes the Axios Sports newsletter, one of the best daily sports emails around. He joined us to talk about sports, his newsletter, and how content consumption is changing online.
HITTING THE LINKS
This update has received mostly negative feedback from what I can tell, and it is clearly a play by Instagram to force their users to use their app in a way the developers want rather than how the users prefer to use it. Facebook/Instagram is clearly threatened by TikTok, and they’ve given their most valuable real estate in their most popular app to fight it.
Most of the discussion around Reels thus far has indicated that users find it to be a less-good version of TikTok, which is largely populated by re-purposed TikTok clips (complete with the TikTok logo) anyway. Most users, it seems, would prefer to just use TikTok instead, and with TikTok looking set to remain in the US, unabated, despite the Trump Administration's Executive Order seeking to force its sale, Reels doesn't look like it'll get the free boost of a TikTok ban, which it's had in India.
This was a fascinating exploration into why Republicans are doing so much better on social media than Democrats in terms of support and strategy. (Even as Republicans complain about being oppressed by social media platforms.)
“The right is able to cultivate these personalities on Fox News. Sit down and watch Hannity over the week, it’s the same 10 people over and over,” said one Democratic communications strategist. “They build up a celebrity on the right in a way that we just don’t do on the left. Those celebrities then take their content to Facebook, and then they all interact with each other and push their content out.”
In my twice weekly writings about social media and the effects it has on our lives, I am usually highlighting the detrimental ways these platforms impact our lives because I fear we don’t consider them enough. But I want to inject some more positivity from time to time, and this was my first attempt at that.
I think one of the most wonderful aspects of social media is that learning really is inevitable. I am convinced that people are learning things on social media every day without even trying. Surely one can learn a lot of things on social media with a little bit of effort—just seek out Twitter accounts that share a word and definition of the day or YouTube videos on how to fix your car. But I think that even when we aren’t trying we can be learning things on social media. When we get in arguments with other people online, we are at least learning how they think, even if it is laced with negativity and we never change our minds. Social media provides us the opportunity to learn all kinds of things that I believe we learn without even trying, and it obviously educates those who want to use it to learn.
THE FUNNY PART
If you like this, you should subscribe to my free newsletter of funny content I find online. It’s called The Funnies. It delivers on Saturday mornings.
You can subscribe to The Funnies here. (It is and will always be free.)