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Understanding the Facebook algorithm

27 November 2017

By Matthew Bishop, Social Media Director for Y&R ANZ

 

Outside of Mark Zuckerberg and a few other high-ranking Facebook employees, there are not too many people who truly understand how the Facebook algorithm works. Why should we care? Because it's the Facebook algorithm that determines what content gets placed in our News Feeds, and the order in which the content is displayed. As Facebook’s userbase continues to expand and the amount of content on Facebook grows exponentially, the likelihood that our posts will be shown to our followers and intended audience diminishes. This article explores what we do know about the Facebook algorithm and ways to maximise the organic reach of our posts.

Relevance Score

At the heart of the Facebook algorithm is a ranking system known as Relevance Score. Each user will have a unique Relevance Score for every single post on Facebook, based on their connections and activity on Facebook. The higher the Relevance Score, the higher up in the News Feed that a post will be displayed. The Relevance Score is determined by a multitude of factors, most of which aren’t public knowledge. What we do know is that a user’s relationship with the post publisher, the type of media posted, the recency of the post, and the interactions of other users all play a pivotal part in calculating Relevance Score. Let’s review each separately.

Publisher-user relationship

If a user regularly reacts to, comments on, or shares your posts, it will have a positive influence on the Relevance Score of future posts for that user. This is Facebook’s way of determining that the user is interested in what you have to say. That may seem pretty obvious, however it is the opposite scenario which we need to be mindful of. If a user fails to interact with your posts on a continuous basis, Facebook will stop delivering your content to that particular user. From that point on, it is extremely difficult to re-engage with them. This is the case even if that user is one of your Page followers.

Tip: Try not to lose users by posting just for the sake of posting. Your content always needs to offer something in return for a user’s attention, so avoid being boring or spammy.

Type of media

Certain media types (photos, videos, links, text) will resonate better with certain audiences. Moreover, individual users will have different propensities to different media types. If a user regularly likes photos but thumbs past links, then the effect on Relevance Score for photo posts will be higher than for link posts.

Tip: Track which media types perform better with your followers and then publish more of that media type.

Recency

The older a post gets, the lower the Relevance Score. All other things being equal, a post published in the previous hour will have a higher Relevance Score than a post that is 4 days old. Recency also takes into account the initial engagement that a post receives. When you publish a post, Facebook will deliver it to a sample of your biggest fans and use these results as a gauge of how others will react. If your biggest fans don't like your post, why would your extended audience?

Tip: Check the Posts/When Your Fans Are Online section in Page Insights for what days of the week and times your fans (followers) are most active, then schedule posts around these days and times. As the saying goes, “strike while the iron is hot”.

Interactions

How many interactions, as well as the type of interaction your posts receive possibly has the greatest bearing on Relevance Score. To explain, let’s use some math. For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll give a reaction (like, love, haha, wow, sad, or angry) a value of 1, a comment a value of 6, and a share a value of 13. All else unchanged, a post with 8 reactions, 6 comments, and 10 shares (174) will have a higher Relevance Score than a post with 20 reactions, 15 comments, and 4 shares (162). But it goes deeper than that. A negative action (e.g. hide post) could have a value of -100, and therefore counteract almost 8 shares or 17 comments. When it comes to video views, duration matters. A 3-second video view might only be worth 0.25, whereas views greater than 15 seconds or 50% are most likely valued higher than a share. We've all heard that video is hot right now and that Facebook is giving preference to video, but the truth is that the Facebook algorithm only cares about engaging content, regardless of the type of media (live video excluded).

Tip: Check the Posts/All Posts Published section in Page Insights and try to replicate posts with a higher ratio of shares and comments compared to reactions, or video posts with a higher ratio of views greater than 15 seconds or 50%.

One last tip...

Now that we’ve covered the major factors affecting organic reach and ways to beat them, I’ll leave you with one last tip. To give your posts the best chance of being delivered to your intended audience, be sure to turn on Audience optimisation for posts in your Page’s General Settings. This allows you to set Preferred audience and Audience restrictions for each post you publish, which in turn increases a post’s engagement rate and limits negative actions.