Off Topic – Facebook & Twitter focus on topics for engagement

May 13, 2021 - 3 minutes read

Facebook have recently introduced another recommendation feature to their newsfeed with ‘Suggested Topics’ so we wanted to explore what these were, how it will affect users, and what it means for social media for businesses.

What are topics on social media?

Topics are a hot topic on social media right now, with multiple platforms introducing features that group content this way. An easy way for platforms to marry interests with behaviours, it also benefits users by making discovery a much smoother (and faster) process.

One example of a platform leveraging topics in the user onboarding process is Pinterest, where you select from topics like recipes, DIY or fashion to be served what you’re interested in seeing. With Facebook and Twitter it’s slightly different, as topic selection won’t have been included when users were onboarded (likely a long time ago, the average Facebook user has probably been on the platform for years if not a decade).

Facebook Newsfeed Update

Facebook’s new topic recommendations will come up as suggested topics to follow. These are based on a combination of content you consume, pages and people you follow. Matt Navarra shared this image from @whimchic of how it would look in-situ:

As in the picture, the module will appear below topic-related posts in line with the newsfeed. For users, it will be a new way to familiarise yourself to new content based on interests you’d like to see more of. Business pages also have a related feature on Facebook, where users get recommended similar businesses to follow when you engage with a page. This again is in line with previous updates from the platform, expanding public content discovery with the ‘Related discussions’ feature showing where posts have been shared with public comment threads.    

These topics focused changes haven’t just been happening on Facebook but Twitter too. The platform has emphasised how topics will help those who don’t know which accounts or people to follow. Instead you can follow a topic and get a selection of related tweets, and you can share links at a topic level too. Back at Twitter’s Analyst Day in February, they also said they were looking at topics supporting businesses (especially smaller, local ones). Users choosing to follow topics will demonstrate to platform algorithms stronger intent signals, resulting in more relevant ads being served.  

Trending Topics

Topics are emerging as a good way for platforms to segment their audiences and organise content in a more discovery friendly way. However, users and businesses won’t always get what they bargained for when aligning themselves with a topic. Content is varied, take ‘Comedy’ as a topic example – within this there will be a lot of variation of styles and types. Each page/account will have their own brand. This shift in Facebook and Twitter is conceptually similar to platforms like Reddit, where content is categorised by subreddit (topic) rather than accounts and personalities. They can also go extremely niche. Take a second example: Cats. Reddit has a subreddit for cats sitting in a loaf shape with a completely separate subreddit for cat ‘toe beans’.  

People are becoming very picky with who and what they follow these days. On the other side of the coin, platforms are always pushing for more content digested, not just for more engagement and interaction but for better ad relevance. Topics will help Facebook better define audiences based on topic interest, as opposed to just the pages and people they follow and/or interact with. This will be much better for ad targeting, especially as it’ll mean they won’t have to track user behaviour explicitly. Instead users following topics would have it as part of their profile. The future is topical. Even Instagram dipped their toe, with the ability to  follow hashtags. Could this be a potential feature crossover from Facebook in the future? Who knows, but it looks like topics are here for now, we’ll wait to see how they impact ad spend and revenue with baited breath.