Understanding the Facebook News Feed Algorithm
Published on August 18, 2017
Have you ever wondered about the content that fills up your Facebook feed? About why you see the posts that you do, rather than the countless other photos, videos, or updates that your friends and family post every day? Why you’re seeing posts from near-strangers you haven’t seen since high school, even though the brunch spot you visit every Sunday just released a vital menu change that flew completely under your radar?
For everyday social media users and marketers alike, the Facebook feed is one of the most omnipresent parts of our day – which makes it all the more odd that the algorithm that powers this feed remain so mystifying, in so many ways.
Facebook’s algorithm – the way in which it sorts out what posts you see and which pass you by – is quite complex, and is a secret held pretty close to the vest by the company. More often than not, even seasoned marketing pros have little to react to other than the occasional Facebook dispatch and their own personal, anecdotal evidence - say, that organic reach is declining, or that videos reach more users than text posts.
Part of the reason that it’s so hard to grasp how Facebook’s feed algorithm works is because every single user’s experience is going to be slightly different, based around a number of pretty heady criteria.
Recently, though, Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s VP of News Feed, talked through some finer points of the algorithm at the company’s F8 summit. Using Mosseri’s speech, along with this handy guide from Social Media Examiner, we can break down Facebook’s feed algorithm into a four step process, one that consists of:
Let’s go into each of these categories in some more depth, breaking down what they mean and how they affect the reach and engagement rate of your personal and branded content:
Throughout his talk, Mosseri draws connections between the experience of using your Facebook feed and choosing a meal at a restaurant. Following this metaphor, the inventory is, more or less, like being handed the menu; it’s the process in which Facebook’s algorithm takes stock of every piece of content posted by your friends or the pages that you follow over a certain period of time, lining up what you have the potential to see on your personal feed.
In Facebook speak, “signals” refer to the hundreds of thousands of criteria the system uses to evaluate each piece of content posted by your friends, family, and favorite pages. Drawing from this available data, Facebook’s algorithm can make an educated guess about what sorts of stories or posts you’re going to want to see.
In his talk, Mosseri claims that “the most critical input into what you see in your news feed is who you decide to friend and what [pages] you decide to follow in the first place.”
Extrapolating from that, we can get a sense of what signals Facebook prioritizes when it comes time to take the next steps in the algorithmic process (which we’ll dive into in just a moment).
First and foremost, then, we can assume that Facebook cares a lot about “who” signals – who posted the content? How often do they publish? Have they gotten negative feedback, or do they tend to elicit positive responses from other users? Does the poster have a complete, up-to-date profile? Are they an individual or a branded page?
That gets us into the realm of engagement signals – whether or not a post has already elicited lots of reactions, shares, or comments (for better or worse), or how long users are spending on the content. Going back to the idea of the “who,” Facebook also considers if the people who are associated with this content matter to you – are your friends tagged in the post? Are they the ones liking and commenting, or is it largely individuals you don’t know?
As Facebook’s feed algorithm weighs all of these signals, it also begins to make…
Using the accrued signals, Facebook then begins to evaluate the content in order to make educated guesses about the likelihood that you’ll care about it. Specifically, the algorithm attempts to predict whether or not you’ll be likely to:
- Spend a significant amount of time with the content
- Click a link to an outside landing page
- React, comment, or share
In essence, Facebook is determining whether you’ll find this story, photo, video, or infographic informative or relevant – while also weeding out clickbait and material that you may find objectionable or offensive. In doing so, the algorithm is able to establish…
Using the signals and predictions it gathers from the available inventory, the algorithm finally assigns every piece of content a “relevance score,” mathematically quantifying how much it expects you to be interested in each item and ranking it on your feed accordingly.
This ranking and delineation process occurs instantly, every time you open Facebook, and, while it is exacting, it is far from a perfect science. In his lecture, Mosseri himself even stresses that the social media site is making little more than an “educated guess” - hence why the makeup of your feed may be confusing or seem downright wrong at times.
The most important takeaway from the scoring process is that’s entirely subjective, and changes on a person-to-person basis. What this tells us is that there cannot be one end-all, be-all, completely effective posting strategy for Facebook.
How to Make Your Content Stand Out on the Facebook Feed
No matter what you might hear, there is no perfect way to use Facebook for business. And, as you may have gathered, there is really no meaningful way to “game” the algorithm in order to rocket to the top of the feed, because the feed changes for each and every individual.
So, for instance, if you were to come across a piece of advice saying “only post to Facebook at night,” you now know that this is bogus; it might work for one brand whose audience base consists of all night owls, but this offering, like all others, is not a universal truth.
So what can you take away?
1.) Quality content matters. The better the content you post, the more time people will spend on it and the more people will engage with it, better positioning it in the feeds of other users. Quality creative output begets quality input.
2.) Know your audience. The better you understand who you’re trying to reach, the better you can create the content that speaks to them, and distribute it when and how they want to get it.
3.) Remember that there are other options. While it would be nice to have a thriving Facebook campaign that required as little investment as possible, the reality is that the platform is gradually moving to a paid advertising model, rather than one that emphasizes organic marketing. There’s a reason that so many companies are investing in paid social media promotions this year – it gets results.
We hope this helped make your Facebook feed a little less mysterious! Have any other pressing questions about social media or marketing? Ready to launch a campaign of your own and not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place! Drop us a line today to see what our team of social media aficionados can do for you!