Facebook algorithm

How the Facebook algorithm ​really​ works (and why it’s not against you!)

If you manage a page on Facebook, you’ve probably had a rant (or few) about the Facebook algorithm. The algorithm is complex, keeps changing, is never transparent and you never quite know where you stand.

If you research strategies for how to grow your page and increase engagement, you’ll find advice that is all over the map. Post more; post less; only post images and videos; only post in the morning; tell people to “Like or Share” on every post; never include “Like or Share”; run contests; don’t run contests; keep posts under 20 words; longer posts are the way to go, the list could go on and on.

The one thing you’ll hear over and over again is, “the algorithm has changed again.” What worked yesterday isn’t working today so you’ll need to change your strategy again.

This can be frustrating to say the least!

What if I told you it doesn’t have to be this complicated or confusing?

Sure, Facebook will make changes to the algorithm, and some strategies will work better than others, but keeping up with Facebook and keeping your audience engaged doesn’t have to be difficult.

This guide will put to rest some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding Facebook. We’ll learn what the algorithm is all about and explore the reasons why Facebook does the things it does. Hopefully, by the end, you will have a better understanding of how Facebook functions and how you can make the most of it.

Facebook wants you to succeed on the platform. Let’s look at how to make that happen.

Table of contents

  1. What is motivating Facebook when they change the algorithm?
  2. How Does Facebook Filter the News Feed?
    1. Previous Interest
    2. Post Performance
    3. Your Page
    4. Type of Content
    5. Recency
  3. Serve your audience, not yourself
  4. Posting Secrets
    1. Repost what works
    2. Hard to spam
    3. Supporters don’t look at your page
  5. What this all adds up to

What is motivating Facebook when they change the algorithm?

One of the biggest misconceptions about Facebook is their intent. Many bloggers and social media trainers hold the belief that Facebook is against nonprofits. They believe that Facebook throttles the reach and engagement nonprofits receive on the platform to make them pay money to reach their fans.

This thinking is not only incorrect, but unfortunately, it also leads organizations to take a defeatist attitude towards Facebook.

What is true is Facebook is very loyal to their user base – as they should be! Facebook’s number one goal is to have its 1.5 billion users keep coming back to Facebook and spend more and more time on the site each day. In fact, their goal is quite similar to your goal. You too, want supporters to keep coming back to your content and spend time with it each day.

To do that, Facebook works incredibly hard to give their users the best content possible – and so do you! Giving users the best possible content is the algorithm’s job and understanding how it works and why Facebook continues to hone this system is essential to getting the most out of Facebook for your organization.

Does the algorithm do its number one job? Yes. If you look at Facebook usage numbers, you will see each month its users are coming back more often and staying longer. Does Facebook always get it right? Of course not, they’re human. But their intentions are good.

How Does Facebook Filter the News Feed?

Understanding how and why Facebook makes changes to the news feed is the key to getting better at creating content that will help you accomplish more on the platform.

First off, it’s important to note that if it were not for the algorithm, your news feed would be completely overwhelming. Currently, Facebook can show roughly 300 posts in the user’s news feed each day. But due to the number of friends people have and pages they follow, Facebook has to choose from roughly 1,500 possible posts from that person’s network to show them.

That means the average post is only seen by 6.51% or less of that page’s fan base.

The algorithm has over 100,000 highly personalized factors that it uses to decide which users see what pieces of content. Luckily you only need to understand five concepts to understand the algorithm overall:

Previous Interest

The algorithm measures a user’s past interest by paying attention to what each user engages with over time. In making decisions on what content to include in a person’s newsfeed, Facebook wants to know whether the user has ever engaged with posts that are similar to the new one.

The more a person engages with your content on Facebook, the more your posts will show up in their news feed. This cycle helps pages build real relationships with Facebook supporters. Facebook makes these previous interest calculations for each user based on every post they have ever engaged with. So, your content strategies must take the interests of the individuals’ you aim to engage with into account as well.

Two of the most important questions you can ask yourself each time you post are “why will the people who see this engage with it?” and “what value will they get from engaging with it?”

There are a number of reasons people engage with content, but one reason dominates them all. People engage with content on Facebook because they want their friends and family to see them engaging with. For your posts to earn engagement, the act of engaging with it (liking, sharing and commenting) must provide value to your supporters.

Post Performance

Post-performance boils down to one maxim – the more users there are that engage with a particular post, the more likely other users will do the same.

When you post something that earns good initial engagement, Facebook takes this as a positive sign and will share it with even more of your audience’s news feeds.

In fact, early performance of a post might be the best predictor of whether other users will want to see and interact with your content.

Your Page

If other users have engaged with your previous posts, Facebook will be more likely to show users your current content. Facebook’s algorithm is continually 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.

One key strategy to help your page succeed in this way over time is to focus on sharing highly engaging content on your Facebook page. 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.

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 a person regularly engages with and then shows them similar content.

For example, if you, as a user, 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.

Different people like different types of content, which mean your job is to 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 try all different types of content.

Recency

Some people think this refers to how recently the content 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.

No one can tell you how often to post or even how many times to post each day. Generally, more is better, but it will take some experimenting. The best way to determine this is to make use of the data Facebook provides in your page insights and use that to guide your posting behavior.

Serve your audience, not yourself

If I told you that Facebook is a social network, you certainly wouldn’t argue. But the truth of the matter is that Facebook is a platform* of* social networks. Users come to the site to connect with people, organizations, and content they care about. In short, to succeed as a page manager, you must serve your audience, not yourself.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of serving yourself as a page manager rather than your audience and supporters. What does this look like? Well, it looks a lot like using your Facebook page as a soapbox, talking* at* your audience, not with them.

Facebook is not a broadcasting tool; it’s a community tool.

To protect against this, bake your supporters into your content and posting strategy. Asking yourself these questions will help you head in the right direction:

  • What subjects do they care about right now? What are they already talking about and sharing that pertain to my cause?
  • What types of content do my supporters enjoy the most? I.e. Images? Videos? Articles?

These two simple questions will keep you in the right headspace to fully connect with and engage your supporters on their terms, where they are currently at.

The best way to answer these questions and keep a pulse on your supporters is to use the Inspiration and Timeline tools offered inside of ActionSprout. These tools quickly show you what your supporters are currently talking about and in what form(s) they consume their content.

Posting Secrets

Now that we understand the philosophy of using Facebook let’s look at some tangible ways to post better.

Repost what works

When you notice one of your posts over performing, repost it! We suggest reposting a piece of content as long as the reach and engagement are growing or the same as the original post. Once reach and engagement start to drop simply stop reposting.

Why repost?

When you repost a piece of content, it will reach, and, therefore, engage, a different slice of your audience than the first time you posted. In this way, you are increasing the reach and engagement of that post without having to spend a penny on ads.

When we say “reposting” we don’t mean deleting the old post and posting it anew. We simply mean resharing your very own high performing content like you would from another page.

Hard to spam

Now you may be thinking, “Isn’t this the same thing as spamming my fans?” No, it is not. It is actually relatively hard to spam your followers on Facebook. The Facebook algorithm is sophisticated enough to know that the content you are reposting is the same piece of content you posted before. Therefore instead of delivering it to the same audience as last time, the algorithm will look for new folks in your fan base that would also enjoy that piece of content.

As we said up front, Facebook’s number one goal is for users to keep coming back to Facebook. Delivering them spammy content is not a way to do so. Therefore, Facebook doesn’t want to spam your followers as much as you do.

Supporters don’t look at your page

The next question is usually, “won’t it look strange to have multiple of the same post on my Facebook page?” The answer is, yeah it might, but no one will visit your page to notice. The thing is supporters don’t spend time on your Facebook page. In fact they rarely, if ever, visit it.

Users spend most, if not all, of their time on their own news feed. That is where they see and interact with your content. And by reposting your high performing content multiple times you ensure that more of your supporters will see your content in their news feeds.

What this all adds up to

We’ve covered a lot of material! Hopefully, you understand Facebook a little better and have some new ideas and strategies to try. Let’s wrap this up with the core idea: Facebook wants you to be successful. Your success means more great content on Facebook. Great content is good for users, and it’s good for business!

I’ll say that again: Facebook wants you to succeed at creating great content. Their entire platform depends on having good content they can use to fill countless hours of their 1.23 billion users’ time.

So, if you focus on creating and posting great content that number one serves your audience, you’ll find Facebook really can be a highly effective channel for reaching, engaging and capturing supporters.