What Facebook’s New Algorithm Means Going Forward
New Facebook algorithms always remain a cause for concern, but the tech and social media giant recently implemented a “Why am I seeing this post?” button. This is designed to help users determine why certain posts pop up in their news feeds and potentially gives them more control to curate what they see and what they don’t. This could mean some big changes to users and digital marketing companies alike.
How It Works
This is the first time that Facebook has popped open its hood to the general public in the 15 years since it was founded, finally giving users a peek at the algorithm and hopefully a general understanding of how that algorithm works. Users who click the “Why am I seeing this post?” button, which can be found in the dropdown menu at the top right of a post, are greeted by an explanation of how previous behaviors and past interactions impact the ranking of that post in their news feed. For example, you may see post based on:
- A friend who shared it
- A Group you joined
- A Page that you followed.
Users can also see more specific information that has had the most significant influence on the order of the posts in their feeds. This includes:
- How often you normally interact with posts from people, Groups, or Pages you follow
- How often you interact with specific post types (text posts, links, photos, videos)
- The general popularity of posts shared by the people, Groups, and Pages you follow
The new feature also came with previous algorithm updates to the previous “Why am I seeing this ad?” feature initially introduced in 2014. Previously, this allowed users to see general demographic information, interests, and website visits that factored into certain paid social media ads showing up in your feed. This feature has now been updated to provide additional information about the ads you see.
Looking at What Influences Posts
The three main factors contributing to the posts you see in your feed come as a result of a previous algorithm update in early 2018. This update aimed more at connecting users with other users as well as highlighting content that received more attention. Essentially, the posts in your feed are ranked based on how likely you are to enjoy them, which comes down to thousands of factors that Facebook calls signals. Those signals are broadly broken down into the three main influencing factors below.
How Often You Interact with Posts from People, Pages, Or Groups
By interacting frequently with the posts from a specific friend or group, Facebook assumes a close relationship and shared interests with that friend or group. Posts from friends and family are prioritized over posts from groups and pages.
How Often You Interact with Specific Types of Posts
If you only interact with text posts or only watch videos, you can probably expect the same in your feed. In other words, Facebook isn’t here to break your habits or change how you have been using the platform.
The popularity of Posts Shared by Others
Of the three main influencing factors, this is the one that you have the least control over. Facebook assumes that a post shared by a friend, group, or page that is getting a lot of comments, reactions, likes, shares, and clicks is something that you will probably be interested based on the level of shared attention it’s getting.
Along with the above three factors, content on your news feed also takes into consideration how new that content is and to a smaller extent your location and the type of device you are using.
Why is Facebook Doing This?
“Why?” is a good question, and it’s one that users have been asking for years. Why am I seeing this ad? Why did this specific news story show up in my feed? Why am I only seeing posts from this specific high school friend whom I don’t actually talk to anymore?
Facebook has always been in the spotlight for one reason or another, but numerous scandals, particularly those involving privacy issues and user information, in the last year have garnered even more attention, scrutiny, and criticism. Answering the question of “why?” is a step towards greater transparency, which is essential to the success of Facebook (and really any company). Building that transparency is part of regaining the trust of its users. While it does not solve more fundamental problems with Facebook, the new “Why am I seeing this post?” feature is a step in the right direction that gives users at least a small glimpse into what is actually going on behind the scenes.
How Users and Advertisers Can Benefit
The “Why am I seeing this post?” feature offers a good bit of new information for the consumer and cracks open the door to transparency, but that information doesn’t matter much if users can’t do anything to affect any change. That’s why Facebook also includes a set of controls and shortcuts to help you adjust and personalize your News Feed. These controls include:
- See First – As the name suggests, this allows users to select specific friends or pages to show up first at the top of their feed. You can select up to 30 people or pages to see first, though none of these are ranked in any order.
- Unfollow – Unfollowing allows you to remain friends with someone without seeing their posts in your news feed. You can temporarily unfollow someone with the Snooze function.
- Privacy shortcuts – These shortcuts allow you to control who sees your posts, who can contact you, and a variety of other tools to protect your privacy.
- News Feed preferences – This is your main hub for customizing your news feed. It’s where you can adjust your See First list, unfollow users, or change your feed to see most recent Facebook stories instead of top stories.
Ultimately, this is about providing consumers with greater control over the information they see.
For advertisers, the “Why am I seeing this post?” feature will extend into the “Why am I seeing this ad?” feature. Users will get more details about the ads they see, like if a business uploaded a customer list to Facebook to specifically target them, when that list was uploaded, or if businesses partnered with a third-party to create an ad and target specific users. This feature also allows users to see data about the target demographic for that ad.
Businesses can reach customers by uploading emails, phone numbers, and other information on Facebook. From there, Facebook’s algorithm uses that information to match ads to relevant users without pinging back any personal information to the business.
There may not be an outright benefit or detriment to this feature for advertisers just yet. It does mean more information for consumers, and more information and transparency can help build trust between advertisers and consumers as much as it does between Facebook and its users.
The “Why am I seeing this post?” update is considered an ongoing effort by Facebook. The tech giant aims to continue collecting user feedback and data to fine-tune the information that is available to users as well as the control and customizability of your news feed. Hopefully, Facebook can take larger steps to regain trust and continue to build a platform that serves consumers and advertisers alike.