Our guide to algorithms: Facebook
Your Facebook feed may seem simple enough, but there’s something important going on under the hood.
What you see is controlled by an algorithm, and it’s one that’s constantly changing. A coded selection process determines the order and prominence of posts, making judgements on which stories might be most engaging and relevant to each of us out of a cast of thousands.
With a current 1.71 billion monthly active users on an increasingly growing platform, it’s becoming more and more difficult to guarantee you’ll reach the audience you want. So it couldn’t hurt to know more about the algorithm that’s doing the sifting.
Here are a few things to consider…
The popularity of a post plays a role in how far up the newsfeed it goes. For example, when older posts are thought be be receiving good engagement, they are bumped to the top of the newsfeed to give more people a chance to see them.
Furthermore, if many of your friends – or pages that you follow – are all posting about the same story or video, Facebook gives it a push – with a title such as ‘Zara and 9 other friends have shared/liked this post’ to highlight its popularity.
Timing is everything
Facebook also looks at when people are liking, sharing or commenting, and tracks the last time you viewed your newsfeed. If you frequently check and refresh, more recently posted stories will appear. If you haven’t logged in for a while, the algorithm will gather the posts and rank them to include the older but popular posts that you may have missed.
Alongside tracking and engaging with posts, the algorithm also takes account of how much time you actually spend on a post. The more time you spend looking at, hovering over or watching something, the more likely that content will appear on your friends’ newsfeeds.
It is also worth noting that the amount of time spent on pages is affected by content length. The lengthier the post, the longer the time spent reading that content. In theory, that could mean a larger post could appear higher up the newsfeed, but there’s also the chance the viewer might get bored and wander off quickly. Remember that quality overrides quantity, and that creating interesting and engaging content is still key for your audience.
Getting people to share is a key part of Facebook’s goal. Because they want us to share are much as we can, Facebook have set up their algorithms so it will still look like most of your friends are sharing too, even if they aren’t. Its algorithm works to push shared posts to the top of the newsfeed.
Family and friends vs business
Whilst businesses and advertisements have become more predominant on Facebook, they aren’t necessarily appearing on our newsfeeds in the same way anymore. This is due to Facebook’s decision to tailor the newsfeed toward posts from family and friends.
50 million small businesses – including 2.5 million advertisers – have created Facebook pages, so that’s a big battle for the user’s attention on the platform. As a result of recent changes, businesses may well see a decline in reach, which means that creating quality content as a company is more important than ever. Depending on your specific audience, you will be impacted in different ways as a business. Therefore, businesses are encouraged to pay to perform well on the platform as their organic reach is increasingly lessened.
With this more family-orientated and personalised approach, Facebook has granted each individual the ability to slightly alter the algorithm for a more tailored finish. There is a ‘see first’ function which allows you to pick who appears at the top of your feed and in the drop-down bar on your newsfeed settings, as well as a newsfeed preference tab where you can spend time choosing what you do and do not want to see.
The people you interact with most also receive preference on your newsfeed. Liking or sharing certain friends’ posts or tagging them in content, visiting their profile or clicking through their posts shows Facebook you interact more frequently and positively with them, meaning that the algorithm shows you more of their content in the future.
Furthermore, people prefer viewing content in different formats, and so the type of posts which you like also bares weight with the algorithm. For example, if you have a preference for liking videos over text, or text over images, the algorithm will show you more of these types of content in your newsfeed.
Prediction and relevancy scores
The algorithm further cleverly predicts whether a post will be liked, shared, hidden, marked as spam or commented on, and gives an overall ‘relevancy score’ to each. This helps to rank the various posts in order of expected popularity on each timeline.
It’s not just personal posts that receive these scores, however. Advertisements also get relevancy scores, which are based on positive feedback such as video views or conversions, as well as from negative feedback expected from their target audience.
Video is the most consumed content on mobile devices. In January 2016, Facebook alone tallied 100 million hours of video watching time. As a result, a short video can often be more effective than a large post full of text when it comes to gathering views, likes and shares.
Just like other content, the algorithm for videos on Facebook depends on various signals. Muting, duration spent watching and amount of people engaging affects a video’s distribution on the newsfeed, while the act of enabling sound on a video is another factor. The algorithm also picks up when the viewer switches to fullscreen mode or enables high definition, interprets that as you enjoying the video, and subsequently shows you similar videos higher up in your feed.
Audiences spend at least three times as long on average watching a Facebook Live video as they do watching a video that’s no longer live. Therefore, if there are company insights, behind the scenes bonuses, news updates or other content that can be broadcast live, it is worth considering experimenting with this option as a company.
While there is a lot here to take on board, it is always a good starting point to begin consciously thinking about how you are using the platform and what you are consuming. By becoming more aware of how these algorithms are shaping the content your audience is exposed to, this should begin to shape your ability to use Facebook more effectively.
If you have any questions or want to find out more about digital communications, content or social media, please get in touch.