Ever wonder what a Facebook algorithm actually looks like in action?
No matter how much you hear about the things Facebook wants you to do – and doesn’t want you to do – actually understanding how all those rules and guidelines come together in an algorithm can be tricky.
Fortunately, seeing the exact process Facebook uses to determine the reach of your posts just got a lot easier. At their F8 developer conference in April, Adam Mosseri – their VP of Product Management for News Feed – gave a presentation demystifying just how Facebook qualifies posts on a user-by-user basis.
If you want to know exactly what a Facebook algorithm looks like, this is it.
What are the factors that determine a post’s placement in the News Feed? How does Facebook make those decisions? And what are the four things this Facebook exec recommends everyone do more of?
Get a look at everything you need to know in this recap:
There are a LOT of granular little factors that influence Facebook reach.
Some of them are specific to the type of page you are.
Ultimately, though, it always comes down to variations on four main aspects to every single post.
Facebook wants every user to see the posts that will be most interesting to them, whether those posts are shared by friends, family, brands, or legendary recording artist and pride of Quebec, Celine Dion.
How does Facebook predict what a user will find interesting? By analyzing these four things:
True story: You’re more interesting to some people than others.
It’s nothing personal – you probably post really valuable stuff! (Honest.) But the fact is, you’re just more relevant to some people, and those are the people Facebook wants to see your updates.
Think of this as the “Your mom” principle. (Not to be confused with the “your mama” principle, which has fueled many a schoolyard feud.)
If you have one of those moms who always wants to know what you’re up to, then she’s gonna love seeing every single one of your posts, right? Probably more so than, say, your coworker’s nephew’s roommate’s field hockey coach, who you friended by accident.
Basically, the more into you somebody is, the more they’re gonna see the things you share. The less they care about what you share, the less they’re gonna see it.
(How exactly does Facebook determine whether or not someone cares about what you’re posting? Read on – we’ll explain in a minute!)
Different people prefer different types of content in the News Feed.
Maybe you like it when people share photos, or maybe you never met a link that you could resist clicking.
Facebook pays attention to your behavior, and factors it in when it’s deciding what types of post to show you. It wants you to like what you see, so it’s going to show you what it knows you like.
No surprise here – engagement rate matters. Facebook has been saying it for years, and it’s still as true as ever.
When a post is getting activity like comments, likes, clicks, and shares, Facebook assumes that it’s interesting to the people who see it – and it may start getting better reach.
The way that Facebook evaluates different types of engagement has evolved over the years (especially with the addition of features like live video and reactions), but at its most basic level, one thing has never changed – quality activity on your posts is a huge advantage.
Recency matters on Facebook – but it isn’t the only thing that matters.
Facebook doesn’t want you to miss something that might be important to you just because you haven’t logged on lately, so even though it values newer updates, it also considers that something older might be relevant.
(It’s the same reason Twitter has increasingly deviated from its strict “newer is higher” timeline and gotten into the algorithm game, too – sometimes, older is just more valuable!)
Facebook uses these four factors to give every update a value score – and that score is different for everyone.
Because remember – the whole point of all this is that your posts are more valuable to some people than they are to others!
Facebook assigns a value score to every post that might appear in a person’s News Feed, and uses those scores to determine their order when that person visits their Feed.
The network repeats this process every time someone visits their News Feed, too – so the order is based not only on what’s being posted, but on how often someone is logging in, and when!
While this whole process of determining a post’s quality and relevance sounds totally automatic, there’s a huge human element, too – and to understand how it impacts what you share and what you see, you’ve gotta look even deeper behind the scenes.
Let’s go back to a question we asked earlier – how does Facebook know whether or not someone cares about what you post?
The factors we talked about already are all behavior-based. Liking someone’s updates, for example, or frequently leaving them comments.
Behavior isn’t everything, though – you probably don’t actively engage with everything that you like in your News Feed.
That’s why Facebook also relies on a feedback system called the Feed Quality Program. This program allows them to evaluate the way the News Feed works based not only on what people do, but on what people say.
This program has a lot of influence on how Facebook’s algorithm works, and it’s comprised of two parts.
First, there’s what Facebook calls its Feed Quality Panel – a test group of people who build their own News Feeds based on which stories are most interesting to them. Facebook gives them a bunch of updates to choose from, and they place them in the order they’d like to see them.
Second, there are user surveys – and a lot of them. Facebook distributes tens of thousands of surveys every single day, in 30+ languages and to users all over the world, asking them to weigh in on the stories in their News Feeds.
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With the panel and the surveys, Facebook measures how well they’re able to predict what people will do. They make guesses about what people will prefer the most, and then they compare those guesses to what people actually said.
The goal? Make the difference between those things as small as possible – and that’s the algorithm’s job.
With all this in mind, there are four things Mosseri recommends you do when you’re posting updates on Facebook:
First, writing compelling headlines for your content – which Mosseri describes as headlines that “give a real sense of the content behind that click” (as opposed to click-bait).
Second, avoiding posting nothing but promotional content, which can make your audience lose interest over time. (Here are some other types of content you can share.)
Third, trying new things – this is what he describes as the most important thing you can do. Because everyone’s audience on Facebook is different, there are no set rules for what audiences consistently appreciate seeing. Experimenting is the only way to see what your audience gravitates toward the most.
Finally, familiarize yourself with the tools that Facebook offers. Your Insights tab makes it easy to track what is and isn’t resonating with your followers – so don’t neglect it!
This peek at the inner workings of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm is a perfect reminder of the posting practices most important to this network – and of the experience it wants to create for its massive user base.
With a marketing mindset, it’s tempting to focus single-mindedly on strategies and hacks. Ultimately, though, Facebook wants to create a rewarding experience for its users that will keep them coming back – and the more you can help create that kind of experience through what you share, the better off you’ll be!