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Facebook Updates Could Give Nonprofits Better Visibility

Facebook released this graphic to show how it is making changes to better highlight information people want others to see.

Facebook is making big changes in how it organizes and displays information about people who create profiles on the site. And nonprofits stand to benefit from the new format.

Until now, Facebook, by far the world’s largest social network, has organized information on a person’s profile pages in reverse chronological order. When a charity supporter posted a status update or a volunteer “liked” a posting or shared content from elsewhere online, that item was displayed at the top of the profiles. As soon as other items went up, though, the charity reference would get lost on the page.

But Facebook this week said it will soon roll out a different format that will rely heavily on algorithms to decide what gets the most attention on a profile page. The change will also provide smoother integration with applications like Causes, a fund-raising tool many charities use.

Matt Mahan, the Causes vice president for social impact, says interactions on Causes competed for space with daily updates on people’s walls.

“The challenge is that high-value actions like donating and sharing video content ends up being drowned out by a large volume off really lightweight games,” says Mr. Mahan.

Facebook hopes to reduce the problem by using formulas to decide what appears on a person’s timeline, grouping similar activities into “reports” while relegating less important but higher-frequency items to a separate feed.

This is expected to help nonprofits stand out more. Mr. Mahan says that when someone donates to a charity through Causes, he or she can make that action prominent for a long time.

In addition, while people could recommend information on other sites only by using the ubiquitous but vague “like” designation on Facebook, they can now share the things they want to promote to friends and others with terms like “watch,” “listen,” and eventually “donate” or “support.”

“We believe altruism is ultimately a social exercise,” says Mr. Mahan, “and it’s the kind of activity that people want to share with others and celebrate with other people.”

While most of the updates have yet to go live, some nonprofit leaders say they are optimistic about the changes.

“Say you had a very important update you wanted to make sure your fans saw. There’s no way to keep that at the top of the page unless you don’t make any more posts,” says Ryan Lombardini, digital marketing manager at the Trevor Project, a group that seeks to prevent gay and lesbian youths from committing suicide.

If he goes to his group’s Facebook page, he says, “there’s not really a lot that encourages [visitors] to go too far back in the timeline.”

The Facebook announcement did not say how pages for organizations or brands would be affected.

How do you think Facebook’s changes will affect nonprofits and their supporters? Post a comment to share your thoughts.

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