Memes have become an integral part of the Facebook experience due to the virality of content and the curiosity of Facebook users. But with focus on more newsworthy items on the News Feed, has Facebook killed viral sites like Upworthy and ViralNova?
Whether it’s pictures of cats in bread, pictures of dogs photobombing other dogs, or whichever viral headline waiting for you to click (“You wouldn’t believe what happened next”), memes have become a big part of Facebook. It has become too big, in fact, that some content companies are now focusing on getting the most out of viral hits in building their business model. Never mind about the quality of content. Never mind if the photos are rehashed and recycled. If the headline is click-worthy, then most likely people will click and then like, share or retweet.
Sites like BuzzFeed, Upworthy, ViralNova and the like owe their popularity to their ability to pique the curiosity of social network users. Headlines that say “you never believe what happened next” or “the results are incredible” or whichever variation thereof often make one want to click and read on. At least this is the case if you have too much time on your hands and you don’t mind wasting the next six minutes of your life watching a video that is truly unbelievable but totally useless, taking the bigger picture into consideration.
Some will even appeal to emotion: “She Had To Leave Her Dying Baby’s Side. When You See Why, Your Heart Will Break.” You’d have to be really heartless not to be affected by this kind of headline (or someone with a really rational head).
It has become such a trend that Facebook is trying to put some focus on quality content on the News Feed. “Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme,” says a December statement by Facebook representatives.
Facebook knows we are all pressed for time, especially when most users are browsing from small screen devices like smartphones and tablet. Users want the best experience from the social network, and having to sift through a ton of irrelevant, but attention-grabbing memes makes it difficult to find real gems posted by friends or established news sources. But has Facebook actually succeeded in killing the meme, so to speak?
Recent data would indicate that sites that rely on viral content actually experienced a decline in traffic in the wake of Facebook’s announcing plans to rework the News Feed algorithm. A report by Quantcast shows how Upworthy, Distractify and Elite Daily were all hit, traffic-wise.
Not all sites were affected, however. For one, Buzzfeed actually grew its traffic from December to January. Business Insider has observed that this is one publisher that actually buys targeted advertising from Facebook in order to expand its reach. Therefore, Facebook’s intentions in changing its algorithm was put to question. However, a Facebook representative has claimed that the News Feed ranking is “not impacted at all by ads.” This means the interface shows items according to interest and interactions, and not according to who pays more.
If anything, Facebook is likely to treat Buzzfeed differently because apart from viral content, it also employs journalists who post long-form or in-depth analysis, which Facebook does treat as newsworthy.
Has Facebook finally killed the meme? Viral content is probably here to stay, and it’s likely to evolve into different forms. For now, sites like Upworthy and company are likely trying to figure a way to regain lost traffic by tweaking their content and viral sharing methods (or maybe they will start paying more for advertising).