For just about anybody publishing things on the internet, from the struggling author to the biggest magazines out there, two of the biggest challenges are search engine optimization and audience engagement. Facebook in particular can be a tough crowd, with a huge variety of users who are mostly their to connect with their friends and perhaps a few chosen small groups or fandoms. The last thing most users on Facebook want is to be inundated with ads or irrelevant content when they're looking to chat with friends or share their lives. This can make online marketers and social media experts' jobs very hard. According to an announcement made on February 1, however, Facebook plans to help publishers in this department with a new feature set they're calling Audience Optimization.
The new set of features, targeted mostly at content publishers, allows partners to take advantage of a few different tools targeted at increasing user engagement. The first big feature on deck is called preferred audience. This tool allows publishers to add interest tags to their content that, as well as allowing content to show up in hashtag searches, shows content to users who have shown similar interests and prioritizes that content in the feeds of users who most accurately match a piece of content's target consumer.
The second feature, called audience restrictions, allows a content publisher to specify a subset of users that would only see their content as something to scroll past with an annoyed sigh. Alongside the preferred audience feature, audience restrictions should allow publishers to reap a larger crop of engaged viewers and less complaints about content users don't want to see. The third feature, which ties into the first two, is called audience insights, and allows a publisher to see how well their content is doing by both views and engagement, on a tag-by-tag basis. Insights are delivered with consideration to the audience providing the engagement, allowing a publisher to see how a given audience is reacting to their content, down to the level of individual posts.
Facebook decided to give a few publishers a test run of the software and three big names came back with rave reviews. Bleacher Report saw a "considerable" increase in engagement, with posts bearing interest tags having more comments, likes and shares. The New York Times gave it a whirl and said of the new tool set, "Our stories generally find a wide audience on Facebook, but some stories can take off thanks to especially strong engagement from niche Facebook communities such as TV show fans, sports fans, etc. The vibrant discussions taking place on some of these posts suggests that this new tagging feature is helping to attract the readers who are most passionate about specific topics." MTV added that the tools "did a great job at picking apart the massive entertainment audience and identifying which segments were most responsive to which kinds of stories."