Once upon a time, the quest for organic reach on Facebook’s newsfeed (i.e. reaching an audience through a post without having to pay Facebook for it) was a relatively easy one for businesses. But in 2014, organic reach on Facebook witnessed its own version of The Great Depression. Newsfeeds became such a saturated advertising ground that organic reach plummeted to 6.5%, and as low as 2% for pages with more than 500,000 likes.
And Facebook’s latest algorithm update has made organic reach even tougher. Implemented last May, the new algorithm prioritizes content from users’ family and friends over publisher content. Maneuvering around the obstacles the new algorithm presents is a matter of understanding how the algorithm works and how your business can adjust its social media marketing strategy.
How the New Algorithm Came About?
In 2018, Facebook administered an extensive survey to users in order to gain feedback on their experience with the newsfeed. The common complaint from users was that their newsfeed was cluttered with unwelcome, sponsored content.
This prompted Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to update his baby’s algorithm by giving sponsored content a lower ranking on users’ newsfeeds and placing particular emphasis on weeding out posts with external links.
Zuckerberg’s hope is that the 2019 algorithm update will result in the newsfeed being more personal again. Or, as Zuckerberg put it, “…encourage meaningful interactions between people.”
What the Heck is “Meaningful Interaction?”
From its beginning stages, Facebook’s algorithm has been designed to predict the likelihood of a post generating likes, comments, and shares. The way Facebook predicts success in these three categories, however, has evolved dramatically over the years.
Whereas Facebook algorithms of yore simply judged every post on a generic, equal-opportunity points system, recent algorithms introduce a new variable by also catering to the past activity of individual users.
For example, older versions of the Facebook algorithm would assign a high point value to posts featuring cute pictures of animals no matter whose newsfeed it showed up in. But in recent years, if you’re the type of Facebook user who never engages with animal-related posts, the algorithm will take that into account and rank it lower in your feed.
How the New Facebook Algorithm Works?
In predicting the likelihood of a post attracting a like, comment and share from on an individual user, the latest algorithm, similarly to recent versions preceding it, takes an array of specific factors into account through a multi-step process. Here’s how it works:
- Assessing the Whole Field – The algorithm begins by surveying the entire “inventory” of content from both your friends and publishers available for posting at that moment
- Reading the Signals – Next, the algorithm judges each post’s “signals,” i.e. all information related to the post. What kind of post is it? Who published it? When did they publish it? What’s the purpose of it? How much have audiences engaged with it? How relevant is it to the individual user? All of these questions and more are taken into consideration
- Prediction Time – Once the algorithm has gathered information about a post and compared it against the user’s past Facebook activity, the algorithm then predicts the likelihood of the user reacting positively to the post
- The Final Score – Based on this likelihood, the algorithm assigns a score to the post and places it on the user’s newsfeed accordingly
The 2019 Facebook algorithm update throws in an additional, crucial new wrinkle. When assessing a post’s signals, the new algorithm prioritizes content published by what Facebook refers to as “close friends.” This means that friends who individual users interact with and tag most frequently in other posts will automatically receive a higher ranking on the user’s newsfeed.
Ways to Combat the New Algorithm
Facebook promises that, even if a post you publish generates a low score within the new algorithm, it will never remove your post from a user’s timeline. Your post will, however, be dropped so low on the newsfeed that it might as well have been removed entirely.
This means that you, as a business, must do one of three things: have your audience add you to their “See First in Newsfeed” list in their account preferences, be close friends with every single member of your audience, or consistently publish content that engages audiences and sparks conversations in what Facebook deems to be meaningful ways.
Obviously, you can’t control the first option, and the second one is virtually impossible. You can, however, publish content in a way that increases your chances of outsmarting the new algorithm. Here are some tips on how to accomplish that:
Crank out the Videos
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a video never stops talking. Videos have an unmatched ability to catch our attention, and in turn, boost a post’s potential for audience engagement.
When running posts featuring video content through the new algorithm, Facebook takes the following into account:
- Loyalty and Intent – Facebook loves it when users watch a video. They love it even more when users come back to that video time and again. Try to create entertaining videos with high re-watchability that users will be likely to share with their friends and revisit
- Originality – When trying to attract an audience in any venue, perhaps the worst thing you can be is unoriginal. Facebook is no different. Create unique videos featuring content you can claim as your own. If you repurpose someone else’s video content or participate in a sharing scheme, the algorithm will automatically demote it
- Video and Viewing Duration – The algorithm values videos that keep audiences watching for at least one minute, and places extra weight on videos longer than three minutes. Regardless of your video’s duration, make sure it doesn’t just grab your audience’s attention, but retains it
To further boost your chances of audiences tuning into your video posts, take advantage of “Facebook Live,” Facebook’s streaming video feature. Consistent use of Facebook Live offers several distinct advantages, as it:
- Provides your target audience with updates and information in real-time
- Allows for live comments and interactions from your audience, which enables you to engage with them directly
- Triggers a notification that you’ve gone live
Get the Conversation Going
In Zuckerberg’s eyes, a post’s potential for eliciting meaningful interactions is directly tied to its ability to spark constructive conversation. So, be the one to start it! Create posts that feature polls and other key phrases that lend themselves to the conversation.
If your posts pose relevant, thought-provoking questions and end with messages along the lines of “tell us what you think in our comments section,” conversations are likely to follow. And that’s exactly what Facebook wants.
Keep in mind, however, that audience engagement is only valuable when it’s authentic. It’s important to understand the crucial difference between engaging your audience and baiting them. If your post reads like spam or a chain email your grandma would forward to you, the algorithm will crack down on it. Be sure to avoid engagement baiting posts such as:
- Vote Baiting – “Vote for which college is the top party school!”
- Reaction Baiting – “Like this post if you want to have a six-pack by summer!”
- Share Baiting – “Share this post with 10 of your friends for a chance to win World Series tickets!”
- Tag Baiting – “Tag a friend who would devour this sandwich!”
- Comment Baiting – “Comment ‘Yes’ if you loved Toy Story 4!”
Get Your Employees Talking Too
The five greatest words any marketer can hear is “your post has gone viral.” Once a post goes viral, you can sit back and watch its audience engagement stats multiply without having to lift another finger.
But spreading the word about your post so that it can reach viral status takes a village. Yes, it’s on you to make sure that your post features high-quality content, but there’s only so much you can do to promote it yourself.
Encourage your employees to help the cause by sharing your content on their Facebook and social media pages.
Avoid External Links
The fact that the new algorithm is harsh on posts including external links is easy to follow. After all, the more external links a user comes across, the likelier they are to spend time away from Facebook.
Avoid posting content with external links by, whenever possible, replacing them with links to other Facebook accounts and tagging your products within the Facebook platform.
And to ensure that you offer your audience a diverse mixture of visuals, you should also avoid consecutive posts featuring links.
Join Facebook Groups
In the same way that joining local clubs is a great way to meet people in your community, joining Facebook Groups related to your brand can help you reach new users and engage them in conversations that build your audience.
Optimists will tell you that Facebook’s new algorithm truly is an attempt to make the user experience with newsfeeds a more positive one. More cynical (and perhaps realistic) people will argue that Facebook intends for its updated algorithm to be the final nail in the coffin that eliminates original reach for good and forces businesses to pony up the dough for paid advertisements.
Either way, you don’t have to pull out the checkbook just yet. Utilize these tips to give your posts a better chance of carving out free real estate on top of your audience’s newsfeeds.
1) “Updates to Video Ranking” by David Miller, Product Management Director at Facebook https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2019/05/updates-to-video-ranking/
2) “What Happened on Social Media in May: Monthly Roundup” by Anna Bredava