Whether you’re a casual/personal Facebook user or a business/marketer, chances are you have some assumptions about the content in your own and others’ News Feeds (for example, that the “Most Recent” filter shows you everything posted by all of your Friends and Likes, in reverse chronological order)…and chances are they’re incorrect. In the first case, understanding how it works might just be a spot of geeky fun or even help you connect better, but in the second case it’s darn near critical to getting your message into the Feeds you intend it to.
There are a few ways to think about this, and the inherent Google-esque secrecy of how the algorithm works means that what is “known” about how News Feeds work is really just via observation and testing. For that, i like what Carrie Kerpen at Likeable Media and Thomas Weber at The Daily Beast have to say:
Ms. Kerpen’s article, “The Mystery of The Facebook News Feed: How to Optimize The Hidden Jewel of Facebook“, uses a diamond analogy to explain how content gets favored into News Feeds. One thing to take into consideration is that what you’ve posted – Status, video, photo, link – may show up for some users but not for others, BASED ON THEIR PAST INTERACTIONS WITH YOU. If a given user has interacted with you in the past, that’s bonus points for your content to show up in their Feed. If the content has lots of engagement in general, that’s also bonus points. And finally, if the content is new, it’s more likely to show up than if it’s hours/days/weeks old. Ms. Kerpen calls being attentive to these “edges” ( a term which references Facebook’s Feed engine, EdgeRank, as well as defining her diamond analogy) News Feed Optimization, and there are a few other factors to consider in terms of what TYPES of content are most likely to be seen. Written Comments, for example, weigh more heavily than simple clicks of the Like button (More on that in Mr. Weber’s article)…and new feature launches always float to the top for a while, as Facebook’s way of self-promoting. While these are Facebook-specific particulars, of course they all boil down to time-honored principles: be current and relevant to your audience.
In “Cracking the Facebook Code“, Tom Weber and his team at The Daily Beast took the task a step further by setting up a new user and dictating his (and a few others’) social media moves for an entire month, to see if they could reverse-engineer the algorithm by test and observation. Their results are surprising and quite enlightening:
- A bias AGAINST newcomers was evident when their test account’s multiple updates simply did not appear on his friends’ News Feeds, especially those who already had very large Friend lists themselves.
- The Catch-22 is that you need interactions to get exposure, but you need exposure to get interactions. New users might need to “babysit” their connections a bit at first and actively reach out to Friends to get them clicking on content.
- Top News vs. Most Recent – While the former is selected based on a given post’s performance in the three areas that Ms. Kerpen described (how recent, how many overall interactions, how often a given user interacts), the latter isn’t the “fire hose” of all updates that most people assume it is. According to Weber’s experiment, their test account’s updates didn’t always show up in his Friends’ “Most Recent” feeds, either…indicating some kind of behind-the-scenes prioritization there as well. (Really, though, could you digest every update from every single one of your 632 Friends?)
- Stalking your Friends didn’t help at all either: even visiting others’ profiles often and clicking and commenting on lots of content didn’t make the test account show up in any of their News Feeds.
- Being stalked by your Friends, however, DOES get you into their Feeds. When people were tasked with seeking out the test page and interacting there, he started showing up in their Feeds…and in others as well!
- Photos and Videos trump Links, which trump Status Updates – It’s in Facebook’s interest (and in ours, whether we’re wanting simple social interaction or business interaction) that people spend more time with their eyes on the content, and that lays the hierarchy out pretty clearly. Even the most profound or amusing Status Updates are always only going to be a quick and simple read, whereas other types of content inherently need more screen time.
- Comments add power to any content, because driving engagement is what it’s all about. So a poignant Status that gets a lot of Comments can still be highly visible, but a photo or video with the same Comment-power is going to rise even higher.
- The popular kids, those users with Friend lists of 600 or more, still may have a hard time seeing your posts…there’s just too much competition for that sweet sweet News Feed space. The recommendation for newbies is to make sure some of your Friends have more modest numbers…as you rise in visibility with them, your overall visibility will improve as well.
Weber’s last paragraph sums it up well:
All the while, Facebook, like Google, continues to redefine “what’s important to you” as “what’s important to other people.” In that framework, the serendipitous belongs to those who connect directly with their friends in the real world—or at least take the time to skip their news feed and go visit their friends’ pages directly once in a while.
(An astute Commenter on the original article noted that this experiment was carried out for a personal Profile only, and not for a business/org Page. Mr. Weber’s response is that the principles are likely to be virtually identical, given the constant of “Facebook’s imperative to increase engagement.”)
Go forth empowered by knowledge, friends! Feed, and be Fed!