Understanding and using Facebook’s algorithm

Facebook is the nexus of a lot of debate as to how best to incorporate social media into other marketing efforts.  My argument will be there is a twofold Facebook strategy: 1) using organic content to engage your superfans and 2) using addressable media to reach everyone else.

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500 million users.  How quaint.

Like Google, the base of the Facebook algorithm (EdgeRank) is fairly easy:

  • Affinity: How close the person creating the content is to the person receiving it.
  • Weight: How much the post has been interacted with it, with deeper interactions counting more
  • Time decay: How long it has been since it has been posted.

These interactions are multiplied together and summed, roughly.

Like Google, however, it has been altered over time significantly.  There are now significant machine learning components baked in that help with spam detection and bias toward quality content.  Additionally, now users can prioritize their News Feeds themselves.  Finally, because of the sheer amount of content available, the organic reach of an average post is single digit percentages or below, meaning that if you have 100,000 likes, maybe 2,000 people will see your average post.

The implications of this base algorithms are stark:

 

  • Organic reach on Facebook is for the people who really love you.  Many people think of Facebook as a new constituent acquisition system.  However, people who come in dry will almost never see your posts.
  • Consequently, only things that connect with your core will have any broader distribution.  Think of who is in the top two percent of your constituents: employees, top volunteers, board members, and that may be about it.  If those people don’t give the post weight, no one outside of this group will see it.
  • What you have done for them lately has outsized weight.  Research into Facebook interactions shows that Facebook gives outsized weight to what a person as interacted with in their last 50 interactions.
  • Facebook is not for logorrhea like Twitter.  Think of your posts as a currency you spend each time.  If your post gets above average interactions, you will move your average up and interact with more people; if not, your reach will lose.  Posting too many times (which varies from organization to organization) will diminish your audience as average reach will decline).  Additionally, all of the things you have to post for organizational reasons (e.g., sponsor thank yous) are spending your audience and you have to assess how much you are willing to spend to fulfill those objectives.
  • This all adds up to the uber-rule: Facebook is for things your core supporters will interact with quickly.  If they don’t, it won’t reach your more distant supporters and it will lessen the likelihood that your next post will reach them as well.
  • It also relates to the second uber-rule: because Facebook can change its algorithm as it wishes, you should not build your house on rented land.  The best thing you can do with your interactions is to direct them to your site, to engage your content and sign up for your list.

This all sounds a bit dire, so I should also highlight how to reach the other 98%(ish) of your Facebook audience as well as some of your non-Facebook audience on Facebook: addressable media.

Facebook allows you to upload a list of your supporters and target advertising to them specifically whether or not they are current Facebook likers of you.  You can learn more about this on my CPC ads post here.  This also goes into lookalike audiences, a way of getting people who aren’t who you talk to currently, but look a lot like them, a nifty acquisition trick.  Since organic reach won’t get you to these loosely and non-affiliated people, this is the only way to achieve that reach.  And, since it is cost-per-click, you can control your investment and your results.

But like discussed above, these campaigns should be to build your relationship to people outside of Facebook.  For the same reason companies advertising on CBS don’t work to build a greater relationship to CBS, but rather to the advertising companies, your advertising on Facebook shouldn’t be aimed at getting Mark Zuckerberg et al more friends — they have over a billion of them already.

Understanding and using Facebook’s algorithm

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