Facebook Now Values Time Spent Reading Posts in the News Feed

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer is yes.

If a post on Facebook receives little or no engagement, did it do well?

The answer (could be) yes. And Facebook knows this.

In a recent update, Facebook’s software engineers revealed that they are updating the News Feed ranking to factor in a new signal. A signal that helps identify expressed interest without an action.

What is the new signal? Time.

In the past, Facebook used likes, comments, and shares to test how well content is performing in the News Feed. Using this data, they then surface similar content at the top of the feed for each user.

That evaluation process is now evolving to include the amount of time spent looking at a post.

“We learned that in many cases, just because someone didn’t like, comment or share a story in their News Feed doesn’t mean it wasn’t meaningful to them.”

Sometimes users will consume all the content in a post but won’t click on it. They read the lead-in, view the image in the post, and peruse through the comments at the bottom. This time spent consuming the content can be indicative of how meaningful that post was to that person. Even though they never engaged with it.

Facebook cites research as the reason why they made this algorithm change. “We’ve discovered that if people spend significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at, this is a good sign that content was relevant to them.”

When someone pauses and reads a post in the News Feed, Facebook thinks there is value in that experience.

“Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future.”

How will this affect Pages?

According to Facebook, Page owners should not expect to see any significant changes. It could take weeks for the roll out to finish.

Pages should consider how this variable may impact their posts moving in the future. Will detailed lead-ins and more long-form posts help your content surface in the News Feed as a result?

It won’t hurt to experiment with different length of posts. Try sharing content that requires the user to read more, forcing them to view your post longer.

Consider sculpting the post into a story, like a short blog post. Gobbling up users time while they are in the News Feed will help your content to surface the next time that user logs on to Facebook.