Given the widespread adoption of social tools, it should come as no surprise that social media has become a major source of news for many users. However, one of the biggest challenges for social networks trying to engage users with news is relevance through trending sections, and this has been a particular struggle for Facebook lately. Yet amid the controversy surrounding trending topics, we need to ask: Are they having any impact?
One of the main concerns with trending topics—whether selected by algorithm or manually curated—is the recent explosion of fake news. If algorithms are selecting content, the possibility arises that highly engaging posts surface, even if they are not true. Unfortunately, Facebook, the largest and most popular network, is a notorious place where conspiracy theories are spread.
The changes made by Facebook and other social sites recently are helping, but it is important to note that Facebook’s Trending box has never been terribly popular. According to click-through data collected by marketing and analytics platform Jumpshot, the highest click-through rate of the year so far was Jan. 25, the day President Donald Trump signed a series of controversial executive orders. Still, the CTR was less than 7 percent.
On average, the chance of any given user clicking through on any Trending topic was only 5 percent or 6 percent, according to Jumpshot. Now that Trending topics have been changed to cite more reliable sources and provide a small summary of the topic, CTR is closer to 3 percent.
Randy Antin, vice president of marketing at Jumpshot, told Social Pro Daily:
On Feb. 16, Facebook made a change to Trending topics where it included an extra abstract along with the title of the article. This corresponds to a drop in click-throughs starting at that time. Our take is that by providing this additional information, people no longer have as much need to click through, since they can get enough information just by scanning the topics. This reflects general Facebook usage: how often people are satisfied enough with the title and summary of an article rather than clicking through on their News Feed.
The drop in Trending topic use may say a lot more about the state of interaction on social sites than one would think. According to a Pew Research Center poll, social media users believe fake news causes a lot of confusion. Add to that the reactionary bent of social sites and the tendency of users to skim content or simply read headlines, and it’s no wonder that personal feeds become hostile.
Meanwhile, some users are changing their views based on postings for social networks. While this may seem like a net positive, when the environment is full of confusing and contradictory information, it is hard to say if that’s beneficial.
Facebook’s Trending topics seem to be teetering between incendiary and irrelevant, and there’s no clear strategy for improving the tools as they currently exist.