How the Facebook Algorithm Works and How to Make it Work for You

By Shannon Tien

Social

Image via Alessio Jacona under CC 2.0

Since Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 announcement that the Facebook algorithm will prioritize “meaningful interactions” from friends and family over content from brands, it has become trickier than ever to ensure your organic content gets the screen time it deserves. But, Facebook is still the largest social media network in the world. Making its algorithm work for you is key to a successful Facebook marketing strategy.

Read on to find out:

Bonus: Download a free guide that teaches you how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four simple steps using Hootsuite.

How the Facebook algorithm works in 2018

On January 11th, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be changing its News Feed algorithm to prioritize content from “friends, family and groups.”

“As we roll this out,” Zuckerberg wrote, “You’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard—it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Zuckerberg cited “a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being” as justification for the change, admitting that businesses will have to work harder than ever to gain their customers’ attention on the platform.

Many brands and publishers understandably reacted to the announcement with worry and apprehension. After all, Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world. And though organic reach has been declining for a while, the platform has never publicly admitted it until now.

Luckily, Facebook offered several clues in their announcement and official press release about what brands can do to continue reaching customers on the platform. They also ran a News Feed webinar for publishers, which Matt Navaro generously shared on Twitter.

What are “Meaningful Interactions”?

First things first. Facebook no longer cares how much time users spend on its platform, as long as that time is “quality” time.

This is a big deal as most social networks, including Facebook, have traditionally competed for increasing lengths of “time spent.” The longer users spent on a network, the better. It was a signal of the network-in-question’s popularity.

But no longer. One of the ways Facebook is measuring quality is by defining certain actions as more “meaningful” than others.

The new algorithm prioritizes active interactions like commenting and sharing over likes and click-throughs (passive interactions)—the idea being that actions requiring more effort on the part of the user are of higher quality and thus more meaningful. Rather than passively scrolling through the News Feed and occasionally pausing to “like” a photo or an article, Facebook wants users to be inspired to engage in conversations with each other.

It is these kinds of “meaningful” interactions—the ones that take more effort—that contribute to “quality” time on the platform and (arguably) help Facebook get back to its roots as a network primarily used by friends and family to keep in touch with each other.

Here’s a breakdown of the interactions Facebook says qualify as “meaningful.”

Top ranking factors for the Facebook algorithm

1. Comments

In his announcement, Zuckerberg wrote, “Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”

This means brands should create quality content focused on sparking conversations between users. Try including questions in your posts, or writing about timely, relevant topics that users are sure to have an opinion on.

The point is, users will be more likely to see your Facebook posts if their friends and family are commenting on it.

2. Reactions

If a user takes the time to hit the “love” icon vs. the “like” icon, your content will receive a minor boost in the News Feed. Just as in life, “loving” is a more valued emotional signal than “liking.”

The same goes for all Facebook’s reactions: Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. Facebook wants to see those “active” emotions.

3. Comment replies

The algorithm not only favors comments, but also replies to comments. These signal that a piece of content is inspiring conversation between users. (Remember, Zuckerberg deems “conversation” the most important outcome of this algorithm update). That means you want to be publishing content that inspires users to tag their friends in comments and start a conversation.

4. Sharing links over Messenger to a group of friends

If a user shares a piece of content to their wall, that’s great. But what’s even better is if they take the time to send it to a friend (or a group of friends) over Facebook messenger.

Of all the “meaningful interactions” listed here, this is the one that makes the most sense to me because—think about it—what’s more meaningful? A friend posting an article to their wall? Or a friend sending an article to you with a note that says, “Hey, just read this and I think you would really enjoy it too”? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

5. Engagement on shares

While sharing a post is a pretty “active” interaction compared to most, Facebook is going one step further. Simply getting shares is not enough. Your post must be shared and get engagement on that share to be prioritized in the algorithm.

Other Facebook News Feed ranking signals

According to Facebook’s News Feed webinar, the five “meaningful interactions” listed above are priority signals. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only actions the algorithm cares about. The following ranking signals are less important, but still worth noting:

There are likely many more signals that contribute to a post’s News Feed ranking, but these are the only ones we have information on at the time of writing.

8 tips to increase organic reach on Facebook

1. Focus on video—but especially live video

As far as we can tell, videos are still favored under the new algorithm, but live videos will be even more important. In his announcement, Zuckerberg wrote that “live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook—in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.”

This means if you haven’t already invested time and energy into posting live videos on Facebook, you 100 percent should do so now. This is one of Facebook’s few concrete examples of content that will perform well under the new algorithm, so we would all do well to pay attention to it.

National Geographic has been doing a great job of incorporating live video into their strategy. They post 70 live stories a month reaching over one million viewers, often bringing followers on “live safaris” in the jungle.

2. Avoid engagement bait

It might be tempting to try and hack the new algorithm by asking your audience to “COMMENT on this post if you like ice cream!!” or something similar. But don’t be that brand. It’s spammy and users don’t like it.

Plus, Facebook says, “Using ‘engagement-bait’ to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed.”

See below for some even more specific examples of engagement bait. Facebook promised these types of posts would be “down-ranked” in its News Feed webinar.

3. Focus on community building through Facebook groups

Because Facebook Groups already operate on the basis of audience engagement, this marketing tactic will likely serve you well under the new algorithm. Under “What type of Page posts create meaningful interactions?” in Facebook’s official press release, Adam Mosseri specifically mentioned Facebook Groups. “In Groups, people often interact around public content. Local businesses connect with their communities by posting relevant updates and creating events.”

Bonus: Download a free guide that teaches you how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four simple steps using Hootsuite.

Businesses should look into new ways to engage customers with Groups, alongside their Page and advertising efforts.

The popular Canadian skincare company Deciem is a great example of a brand who is benefiting from Facebook Groups. In the group “DECIEM ENTHUSIASTS,” customers share product reviews, skincare regimens (which always involve Deciem products), advice, and company news (such as the much-talked-about firing of a Co-CEO).

4. Keep creating quality content that resonates with your audience

This is the single most important piece of advice in this list. Everything about “meaningful interactions” boils down to creating quality content that people actually want to see. And how do you know what people want to see? By researching your audience, running tests, and regularly checking your analytics.

Quality content should already spark emotion in your followers. But, imagery and captions are important factors in engagement as well. Check out this post that Hootsuite shared to their Facebook page:

This post did well on Facebook because:

Another way to prompt engagement and comments from followers is to ask questions. In the post below, we asked readers what books they would recommend.

Whatever your company size, publishing quality, research-backed content should be the backbone of your Facebook marketing strategy. After that, the rest will fall into place.

5. Invest in your ads budget

Organic reach has been declining across social media for years. That means you’re probably already a whiz at Facebook ads.

But now that Facebook is deprioritizing content from brands and publishers, these skills will be more important than ever. Businesses must know how to target the right audiences to ensure their advertising dollars go further.

If you need help in that department, we encourage you to check out Hootsuite Academy’s advanced social media advertising course. Our step-by-step guide to running successful Facebook ad campaigns is good too.

6. Connect with Facebook influencers

In the official press release, Adam Mosseri wrote, “Many creators who post videos on Facebook prompt discussion among their followers, as do posts from celebrities.” You could interpret this literally, but I’m willing to guess that the majority of brands on Facebook don’t have access to celeb product promos.

Enter the influencer—“regular” people like you and me who happen to have large followings on social media and who have worked hard to gain the trust of their followers. Getting an influencer to post to their page on your brand’s behalf could very well lead to increased engagement and followers for you because, if the content is coming from someone people trust, it appears more authentic. Facebook has noted that it will show more posts from “publishers the community finds trustworthy.”

But make sure the content still follows all the guidelines in this list. Just because an influencer is posting it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be well-researched, valuable, or “meaningful.” It still has to spark conversation.

Plus, influencer marketing is a whole other ballgame. Make sure you’re prepared with a strategy before diving in.

7. Localize (shift priority to local news)

In the “Priorities for News in 2018” section of its News Feed webinar, Facebook noted that local news would be prioritized. This is great for publishers and businesses that already work the local angle. But, it’s harder for larger, global brands. Try changing things up by narrowing in on different geographical areas every so often. Promote an event in a specific city, or publish stories that affect a specific region. There are many ways to interpret and get creative with this ranking signal.

8. Encourage customers to follow your Page

One thing that’s not changing about the Facebook news feed is the ability for users to make sure they always see posts from their favorite Pages by choosing “See First” in their news feed preferences.

This means businesses shouldn’t be shy about asking customers to follow their page on Facebook. They could even remind loyal followers about the “See First” option.

These tips are useful for publishing content on all social media platforms—not just Facebook. As always, there’s no reason to fear algorithm changes if you are already dedicated to providing your customers with valuable, quality content. Facebook is working hard to make sure it is showing users content that they care about and that’s from trustworthy sources—so make sure you’re one of them.

Manage your Facebook presence alongside your other social media channels using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can schedule posts, share video, engage your audience, and measure the impact of your efforts. Try it free today.

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