If you manage a Page on Facebook, you’ve probably read different strategies that promise to increase the reach of your content. Some are rock-solid, some are bogus, but few of them explain why you should be doing this or that.
You wish you could just pull back Facebook’s curtain and take a look at what really matters. How does Facebook decide how many of your supporters receive your killer article in their News Feed?
Well today, we’re going to pull back the curtain for you! We’ll cover Facebook’s algorithm and the means by which it chooses who sees what on Facebook, and how many people your content will reach.
First of all, Facebook’s goal is to have its users keep coming back to Facebook and spend more and more time on the site. It’s quite similar to yours, in that you want supporters to keep coming back to your content and spend increasingly more time with it.
In order to do that, Facebook needs to give their users the best content possible. (And so do you!) Giving users the best content is the algorithm’s job, and understanding how it works is key to getting the most out of Facebook for your organization and reaching your goals.
Why and How Does Facebook Filter the News Feed?
Facebook’s News Feed is the stream of content that users see when they log into Facebook. It is made up of posts including photos, links, videos and status messages, shared by users, friends and the Pages in their network.
This stream would be overwhelming if Facebook didn’t filter through the content. The site uses an algorithm, or set of rules, that measures how relevant a post is and which users it should be shown to in the News Feed.
Here’s what that means in practice: Facebook shows users around 300 posts on their daily News Feed—out of the possible 1,500. That means the average post is only seen by 6.51% or less of that Page’s fan base.
Many organizations have noticed changes in the algorithm, in terms of who and how many people see their posts. Maybe you’ve heard some of the rumors that Facebook has been reducing organic reach or trying to get everyone to pay for ads.
However, the algorithm is only trying to show your supporters content that they will like and will keep them coming back for more—which is pretty helpful. And when you understand the algorithm, you can stand above the crowd and get the algorithm to significantly increase the reach of your posts.
The algorithm has roughly 100,000 highly personalized factors that it uses, but you only need to understand 5 concepts to understand the algorithm: user interest, post popularity, creator popularity, type of post, and recency of post.
Below we’ll discuss what each one of those components mean and give you some straightforward tips on how to take advantage of them so that Facebook’s algorithm is going to work for your organization.
The algorithm measures previous interest by paying attention to the user’s past engagement: likes, comments, posts and shares. In making decisions on what to show, Facebook wants to know whether this user historically engaged with posts that are similar to this new post. Past behavior is a strong indicator of future behavior!
If you want to see this concept of previous interest in action, you can. Go to your personal News Feed and start engaging with the posts from a particular organization—it doesn’t even have to be one that you have followed in the past. The more you start engaging, the more of their posts will show up on your News Feed over time. This is the cycle that builds real relationships with your audience.
Facebook makes these previous interest calculations for each individual user based on each post that they have engaged with historically. So our own content strategies must take the individual into account as well. Why would anyone in your Facebook community want to engage with this content?
The simple answer: They engage with content they want their friends and family to see them engaging with.
To generate engagement over time, a Facebook post must first and foremost be about helping our supporters. Here are some strategies to do so:
Identity: Make sure your post, its tone and issues, fit with the identity of your audience.
Motivation: What does ‘liking’ my organization’s post say to your audience’s friends? Does it show that they are smart, helpful, caring, intelligent, hip, humorous? Can they provide some inspiration or give their friends an opportunity to make a difference in way they’ll appreciate?
Conversational: Creating a space for discussions is another way to boost engagement. Ask questions in some of your posts, encourage users to participate in conversations, and respond to comments. This ongoing engagement will demonstrate interest.
Post performance boils down to one maxim:
The more users that like and engage with a particular post, the more likely other users will do the same.
Thus, when you post something that gets good initial engagement, Facebook then becomes more likely to share it with even more of your audience’s News Feeds.
In fact, current performance of a post might be the best prediction of whether other users will want to see and interact with your content. There are some easy lessons from this:
- Images are really great for quick engagement. They naturally attract our attention and because they are quicker to grasp than video or text, images can drive quick initial engagement.
- Seed your posts. Share it yourself, ask coworkers and allies to like, share and comment. Make sure to ask judiciously when it’s really important content—people won’t do that for you every day.
- Share successful posts from other Pages and organizations that share your values and mission. Shared posts typically perform well on similar Pages, but sharing also breeds reciprocity, so they might do the same for your posts next time!
If other users have generally engaged with your past posts, Facebook will be more likely to show users your current post. That’s right, Facebook is always judging your Page and the more your audience likes your stuff over time, the more likely Facebook will share all of your content more broadly.
This will keep coming up, but make sure to regularly share highly engaging content with your audience. Some organizations have trouble doing more than press release-style posts, and that will hold them back the one time they have a great post to share.
Be sure to build off successes. Repost high-performing content, unleash that killer meme you’ve been waiting to finish and most importantly, post opportunities for fans to deeply engage with your organization, like a petition, or volunteer opportunity.
Type of Content
There are several categories of Facebook content: status updates (simply text), links, photos and videos. The algorithm makes a note of the kinds of content an individual regularly engages with and then shows them similar content.
For example, if you have engaged with a lot of baby photo posts from your friends, you will likely see a lot more photos (and probably baby photos) in your News Feed in the future. If you get a lot of your news by clicking on link posts and going to the articles, Facebook will show you more link posts.
This really translates to one clear practice: Post a variety of content types. You want to engage all of your fans, no matter what type of content they prefer, so don’t be afraid to use all of the content types available.
Some people think this refers to how recently the post was posted, but that’s not exactly the case.
What the algorithm takes note of is the recency of post engagement.
For example, a post may not get a lot of engagement right away, but as people start to engage with it more, the algorithm notices this and the self-fulfilling prophecy of the engagement cycle takes over.
One thing to note is that no one can tell you how often to post or even how many times a day you should post. Generally more is better, but it really takes some experimenting.
The best way to determine this is to take advantage of the data Facebook provides in your Page Insights, and use that to guide your posting behavior.
Once you understand the basic indicators, there are two more features of Facebook’s filtering system you need to understand:
Constant updates. Facebook is constantly tweaking the News Feed algorithm. For example, Facebook recently decreased the reach of content that directly asks people to like or share the Page. If you understand the basics, you’ll be able to better adapt to changes.
Embrace the randomness and experiment. Facebook’s News Feed algorithm uses tens of thousands of indicators to choose who it shows posts to. Quite frankly, with the 100,000 factors in the algorithm customized for each individual, even the folks at Facebook can’t always predict what will happen with any given post or Page.
- Facebook uses an algorithm, a series of calculations, to select which posts to place in a user’s News Feed. The algorithm’s bottom line is to keep Facebook’s users happy and coming back for more. Think about how your posts can help meet those goals and more of your supporters will start seeing your posts.
- Facebook really makes calculations for each individual user. So our content strategies must take into account why any individual would engage with any particular content. Why would any user want to be seen liking your posts?
- Post various types of content; the algorithm will be more likely to share certain types of posts to people who have shown an affinity for one.
- Repost highly engaging content. Posts with a lot engagement tend to get more News Feed visibility.
As always, experiment! There are around 100,000 factors for how Facebook filters posts on the News Feed. Try some different strategies and use what works for you! Don’t be afraid to break these guidelines! Every Page and audience is different.