Facebook giveth and it taketh away…

Facebook held a press event yesterday (6th August) discussing the ins and outs of the EdgeRank algorithm, changes and new additions to the Facebook algorithm(s). This is the first time in almost 7 years that Facebook comes out and transparently discusses how the systematic algorithm works and how it plans to change this.

Lars Backstrom, Engineer Manager in charge of News Feed Ranking, spoke about the infamous News Feed and how EdgeRank controls what stories fit in it.
These are the main takeaways from Lars’ speech:
  • There are, on average, 1,500 stories seen on Facebook every day
    • Facebook scores each and every one of those stories based on how relevant Facebook thinks it is for the user. This score is calculated by EdgeRank, which is made up by the following three factors:
      • Affinity: the relationship between the user and the content creator (so, the closer the two parties are, the higher the score and the higher the propensity for that story to be shown at the top of the user’s News Feed)
      • Weight: the ‘weight’ of the post type, with the highest scoring one being pushed to the top. The weight is as follows:
        • text update
        • photos/videos
        • links
        • questions (also known as ‘survey’ by marketers)
      • Time decay: the more recent a post is, the higher the propensity for it to rise to the top of the News Feed.
  • When the user logs in, the News Feed is compiled and sorted based on that score, meaning that the higher ranked ones are shown at the top.
You’re probably rejoicing at the thought of knowing how EdgeRank works now (If you didn’t already) – not too soon: Facebook have announced that they’ve decided to ditch EdgeRank altogether and use an all-new algorithm for organic content.
A quick note on this: this will only affect non-paid content, so content from your friends and organic content from brand pages.
The new yet-to-be-named algorithm works using ‘Story Bumping’:
  • Facebook takes all the most recent posts and assign them a score based on the following three factors:
    • recency (how recently was the story posted?)
    • the relationship between the user and the story’s owner (whether it’s a friend, user you’re following, or page)
    • engagement (how many comments it has first, then how many likes it has).
  • When a Facebook user logs in at 9am to see their News Feed, Facebook will show the user those 50 posts, but the user only views 20 posts, leaving 30 unread
  • Between 9am and 12pm there are 40 new posts from friends and pages that the user follows.
  • When the same user logs back in again at 12pm, not only will they see those 40 new posts , but also the 30 unread posts that the user didn’t see when they logged in at 9am.
To make a practical example, look at your inbox: whether you rely on Gmail or Outlook or Yahoo etc, you probably have the routine to check your emails first thing in the morning to see what you missed overnight. If you’re like me you probably have your inbox set to “unread first”. This means that every morning I’ll see the most recent unread emails that I received overnight, as well as those unread emails that I didn’t bother to read the previous day.

Does it work?

Facebook started testing this some time ago and from their testing they noticed:
  • a 5% increase in like, comments, and shares of stories from friends
  • an 8% increase in interactions between fans and Pages (including more follows)
  • an increase from 57% to 70% of stories being read in the News Feed

What does that mean?

  • Facebook users will start to see more content that they can personally connect to, hence increasing the propensity to engage with that content (which they might have otherwise missed).
  • Facebook users will see more from brands they ‘like’ as long as they regularly connect with those pages, hence developing more of a connection.
  • Facebook users will see more content that they like more often, hence drawing them back to their News Feeds more often and for longer.

So, what’s the aim of Story Bumping?

Facebook story bumping

Facebook Story Bumping

Facebook’s aim with this is to highlight content that you might have missed, as long as it’s relevant to you. There is a limit to the age of content that Facebook displays in your News Feed – though it will show you stories that you didn’t see last night, Facebook won’t show you content that it believes isn’t relevant to you. Except to see more cute puppy pictures from your close family and friends, and less from brands you ‘like’ but don’t particularly follow.

Is that all?

Nope – Facebook announced another feature ‘Last Actor’. This keeps track of the last person or page you’ve interacted with. This new algorithm relies heavily on this ‘last actor’ factor, as Facebook aims to help users build long-term interactions on the platform. This algorithm keeps track of your last 50 interactions (likes, comments, and shares), so when you check your News Feed next you’ll start seeing more content from people you interact with the most.
Lastly, Facebook also announced a new algorithm that is still in development and will be released in the near future. This other new algorithm, ‘Chronological by Actor’, will look at a particular user’s posts (as long as this user has a strong connection with you) and order their posts in chronological order in your News Feed.

When are these three new algorithms rolling out?

Check your Facebook – you already have at least one, depending on where you’re accessing Facebook from. ‘Story Bumping’ has already been rolled out on web but not yet on mobile, ‘Last Actor’ has been rolled out on both web and mobile. ‘Chronological by Actor’ is still in the works, and there’s no word on when it’s going to be released.

And here’s where the marketing talk starts…

This change is great for Facebook users, as Facebook gives more prominence to content that is close to you. However, this could mean heaven or hell for marketers and brand owners. I’m going to explain how these changes are going to affect your brand page by looking at what things you need to actively review:
  • Content Review: Facebook puts a lot of focus on connection, and Facebook users will find a greater connection between users and pages they engage with the most. Take some time to think about your content: is it engaging? How engaging is it? Does your fanbase find your content interesting? Are they more likely to click on a post to view and maybe like it, or do they also actively comment and share the content? Bear that in mind now that Facebook can potentially punish you for publishing boring content.
  • Action Review: don’t assume that just because you posted something on your page, people are going to actively engage with it. If you don’t already do it, it’s time for you to start using call-to-action (CTO) in your posts. Now, a word of caution: when misused, these can look tacky and boring, and they can also lead to people unfollowing you. ‘Like this page’, ‘Like this picture’, ‘Like and share’, ‘Comment and share if you want X’. However, find creative ways of integrating CTO in (some of) your posts – perhaps a nice picture with a CTO but leaving the caption short and sweet, so you’re being ‘covertly direct’ in the action you’re asking your fans to do. (The same applies to Twitter and pretty much any other social network where you have a presence.)
  • Frequency Review: Your most loyal fans (those who engage with you the most) are the ones who will see more and more of your content. However, because they’ll be more likely to see all your posts on their News Feed, it’s time for you to reconsider how many posts you’re putting on your Page. 3 posts? 2 posts? 1 posts? One every 2 days? There is no magic number, and the number of posts you should post mainly depends on your sector – for example, if you’re an SEO Agency or an SEO Company and you have a fanbase that is mostly interested in SEO, digital media and marketing, more than one post could be ideal. Test with your posting frequency and see how your fanbase reacts to it. Do they click more on your content? Do they engage more with it? Are they driven to unlike your page because of your constant publishing?
  • Money Review: yes, the dreaded money review. While Facebook didn’t mention paid advertising yesterday, we can be sure of two things – paid advertising won’t suffer any changes, and it will still be a focus for Facebook. While Facebook isn’t changing paid advertising, it is definitely going to be impacted by these two new algorithms (and the third one to follow). If you’re being stagnant with your content strategy, your content is less likely to be shown to Facebook users, while they enjoy more content from their friends and other pages who actually DO engage more with them. To put it bluntly, you’re going to see more competitors within the same industry competing for the most engaging content, to win more space on their fanbase News Feeds. Since there’s just so many people your posts can reach organically, more and more brands will recur to paid advertising. Is YOUR brand ready for this change? Will you only recur to paid content as a last resort, or will you use it regularly? Either way, it’s time to review your Facebook budget.
To read the official blog post from Facebook about the new algorithms, click here.
So, what do you think of the new changes? Let me know in the comments below, or if you have any questions just give me a shout!