Facebook News Feed Algorithm Changes: What You Need To Know
By now, April’s major change in the Facebook algorithm isn’t exactly news, even if most people will not be familiar with its minute details.
Was anyone surprised by this or any other of the Social Media giant’s changes? No, me neither!
But maybe just maybe, we can start to see some positive trends happening now?
For a while, each update seemed to negatively affect organic reach. This, in turn, led to an explosion in paid content.
Perhaps the current trends are more clearly about giving the end user a better experience?
Ultimately, a happy user who Facebook has almost been pre-qualified for you, is more likely to buy what you are selling — or at least to engage with you.
The April 2016 Newsfeed News Conference
In a news conference in April, Adam Mosseri, VP of Product Management at Facebook, explained some of the latest changes in the News Feed.
He offered new insights into the inner workings of this ever-evolving platform.
No, it isn’t everything you need to know to make your content go viral, now and forever. Let’s get real — if everyone knew everything, new tweaks would be needed to highlight some of the content above the rest.
This gist here was to tell you that user experience is their ultimate goal, and that they are working hard to cut out the things that annoy us, while giving us back some control.
There’s a clear warning here that no matter how much time clickbaiters spend on trying to beat the system, they are Facebook’s public enemy #1.
Where’s The Beef!
Your Posts Are Being Ranked, and Mosseri gives us several factors that posts are scored on:
- Who posted the story — Are they a relative or good friend? Do you frequently ‘like’ or comment on their posts?
- Type of content — For example, if you enjoy photos more than news stories, and you ‘like’ or comments on these, they will show up higher in your News Feed.
- Interactions on post — There may be quite a few similar-type posts by people you’ve previously liked and in your preferred format. If one is blowing up and the other is being mostly ignored, that’s the one you’ll see first.
- When the post was originally created — An older, previously unseen post that is more interesting to a reader, such as family news, will show up before a more recent post that is of less interest. Generally speaking though, newer articles will show up before older ones.
What does all of this mean for Social Media Marketers?
Unsurprisingly, this announcement was greeted in different ways depending on whether the source was within tech, social media, mainstream press and financial publications. But I’m guessing that each will be interesting to pretty much everyone.
Yes, there are some points made in more than one of the referenced articles. But I’ve edited them out or shown you the nuances in how the same thing was presented, according to the writer’s perspectives. And of course, there are plenty of takeaways at the end of the article.
Facebook’s Own Suggestions
There are quite a number of key points made in Mosseri’s presentation, some of which are mentioned in this article by Moshe Blank and Jie Xu, also of Facebook:
- Feed Quality Program — Facebook asks thousands of users to rate their experience of what’s most meaningful to them.
- Time spent reading a post — The longer a user takes to read an article shows more interest. But this is adjusted according to how long the article is. So 30 seconds on a 300-word article scores higher than 40 seconds on a 1,000-word
- Mixing up content — Stories are now placed in a varied order instead of back-to-back posts from the same publisher.
The Change History of News Feed Algorithm
Changes to the Facebook algorithm are not new!
You could be forgiven for thinking that they are addicted to tinkering, and sometimes do so for the sake of it. (I actually have a theory about that. Bear with me a while longer)
This constantly updated timeline graphic from Wallaroo Media shows the history of all major changes.
Most recently we have seen these major updates –
- Mar to Aug 2013 –
- Facebook introduced a new design and a major update to the News Feed — this placed a higher importance on posts with the most interactions.
- Aug to Dec 2014 –
- Better identification of the universally unpop click-bait headlines.
- Keyword search for previous posts.
- Video views were added as Facebook started competing with YouTube.
- Mobile app search.
- Jan to May 2015 –
- The biggest change came after 500,000 Facebook users were surveyed. Officially, it meant that you see more stuff by your friends as opposed to from company pages — even if you liked a page. (Unofficially? Well, it didn’t exactly make things easier or cheaper for your business, did it now!)
- Jun 2015 –
- Even more user control over what posts can be seen is added with filters that block out content they don’t want to appear in their News Feed.
- Oct 2015 –
- A See First feature is added for additional user control on publisher posts. (image)
- News Feed loading times are also improved, along with a real-time search feature on stories from other sources not in a user’s connections or Page likes.
- Jan to Apr 2016 –
- Audience Optimization added for publishers to select their target market based on interests, demographics and geographic location.
- Live video now prioritized based on the high level of engagement.
- User interest on posts becomes the main focal point to changing the algorithm with Facebook measuring the amount of time spent on a clicked link.
The Tech Perspective
The main theme, as Haje Jan Kamps and Josh Constine of Techcrunch see it, is that the changes will prioritize the pages you read. Or maybe, (a little bit ominously?) the sites Facebook thinks you will read.
They picked up on these intertwined thoughts –
- “The biggest learning from its research is that the actions people take on the platform — liking, clicking, commenting or sharing a post — don’t always tell the whole story of what is most meaningful to them.”
- “Even though people are less likely to interact with articles about a serious current event or sad news from a friend, that isn’t necessarily an indication that Facebook users don’t want it in their News Feed. Not everything is likeable, or couth to comment on”
They wryly note that Facebook has realized people’s clicking habits may be an indicator of what they want to read, before adding — “Presumably, that is why my Facebook News Feed is now exclusively kitten videos and TechCrunch news.”
The points picked up on here include –
- Quality of time — The amount of time a user spends reading an article or watching a video is enhanced — for example, clicking on a mobile link to an Instant Article or opening published content in a browser window.
- Less spam and click-baits — Gives favor to high-quality posts and helps reduce
- Increased visibility of favorite posts and Pages — When users show that they are interested in a publisher, the new algorithm will “spread the word” on their content in the News Feed.
The Financial Publication Perspective
Amit Chowdhry’s take relates more to unique user experiences. He lists 3 updates –
- For people with smaller news feeds — There used to be a rule stopping multiple consecutive posts from a single source. This has been (or is being) relaxed.
- Prominence to posts by close friends — If your brother, sister or best friend post a picture, video or any other type of update, you want to see that first. Even if (does this really happen?) you haven’t been online for a day or two since they posted it.
- You will still see content from Pages that you like and interact with.
- Except where your friends ‘like’ pages that you have no interest in! — No, I don’t want to know about a local business that my friend in Australia likes. And it seems that Facebook now gets this!
Chowdhry reminds us that as far back as November 2014, the average newsfeed contained 1,500 stories, whereas the average user saw about 100 stories per day.
Knowing what we all do about the continuing explosion in content, it’s fair to guess that there are now a greater number of stories in the average feed. Equally fair to suggest that consumption growth hasn’t kept pace.
So if anyone is wondering why constant algorithm changes are required, bounce this around your brain for a while: the more content that is produced, the more that further tinkering will be needed.
The Publisher’s Perspective
Matthew Ingram clearly sets out the tone of his article with a very clear title — “What does Facebook’s latest algorithm change mean for publishers? As always, no one really knows.”
He opens with what he calls the “two immutable certainties when it comes to Facebook and the media world.”
- “Facebook will continually tweak the all-powerful ranking algorithm that determines what shows up in the news-feed.”
- “Those tweaks and changes will continue to have a massive impact on how (or whether) people ultimately see the content that media companies produce.”
He follows this with a direct quote, that perhaps didn’t come off as Facebook had intended –
“We will now predict how long you spend looking at an article in the Facebook mobile browser or an Instant Article after you have clicked through from News Feed. This update to ranking will take into account how likely you are to click on an article and then spend time reading it.”
Am I being pedantic by pointing out that you either measure how long a person spends looking at an article, or you predict in advance how long a person might spend on one, based upon past behavior with similar types of posts? Probably!
Facebook polled users in its Feed Quality Program, and concluded that –
- Not ‘liking’ doesn’t necessarily equate to not wanting to see or read– There are some stories that people may never click like on — such as sad personal or world news — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to read it.
It has also decided that time spent reading an article doesn’t in itself mean that it should be scored higher. That favors longer articles simply because it takes longer to read them.
The Mainstream Press Perspective
OK. Not the true mainstream, but certainly one of the more thought-provoking and original ones.
Naturally, it has concerns over political stories. So I’d urge anyone who writes political or national news stories to click on the article link. But author, Sam Thielman also delves into an aspect of the changes that affect all of us, and that, apart from a brief mention by Mosseri, nobody else has talked about — the editor panel responsible for trending news.
The article quotes leaked documents, which show that human intervention is at a higher level than we have previously suspected. For example, the guidelines for US trending news include –
- “You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1–3 top stories of the day.”
- “We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.”
In all likelihood, this will not affect your business or mine. But it will give you a better understanding of why you see what you see. If you’re interested in a sneak peek into an aspect of the inner workings of Facebook, and want to see the entire leaked document, click here.
The Social Media Perspective
Now this one is entertaining as well as informative! A new study of 10 ‘folk theories’ around the News Feed algorithm shows some interesting insights from actual users.
The 7 authors are from 3 US universities, and between them, they polled 40 users. They titled their paper, “First I “like” it, then I hide it: Folk Theories of Social Feeds.”.
The theories include:
- THE PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT THEORY.
- “The more interactions that you have with somebody, the more their stuff will show up on your News Feed.”
- “When I ‘like’ something, I usually hide it from my News Feed because I like it but I don’t necessarily want to know all about it all the time.”
- THE NARCISSUS THEORY.
- “Maybe if we’re from the same group,…. I see more from [them].”
- THE OC (original content) THEORY.
- Content gets distributed more widely “when you upload your own photo versus just sharing another photo from another Facebook page.””
Not one of the participants had an opinion on how they might modify their feeds to gain control of them. One made the following telling statement:
“If I understood how Facebook chose to do what they did, then I would know what I needed to do, but since I don’t know what that is, I don’t know. If they told me what to do, I would do it!”
And so would I. And so would you!
How to Move Forward as a Social Media Marketer
The general rule of thumb to live by is that Facebook is always changing — and that this is not about to stop!
But this doesn’t mean they are out to get their publishers. As the user experience improves, it helps us create better content that stands out from the rest.
There are several reasons for this:
- They learn more about why we share
- They learn more about what gets us and keeps us engaged
- They are starting to factor in things that were previously considered intangibles at the individual user level. This gives each person and company their own unique experience
- They gain more insights as to how some marketers try to game their way to the top of your feed
- Their algorithm is (and must remain) unique and protected to offer the best experience
Takeaways for Businesses
You’re not going to ever master the algorithm, so don’t waste your time trying. Facebook can be relied upon to keep making changes, so at best, you might be the world’s leading authority in this iteration — for however long it lasts.
Instead, think of Facebook as you do your blog. Provide valuable content that your audience — different on each platform — wants to spend time-consuming. If they stay with you for a while, and better yet, if they engage with you, you will appear high on the newsfeed.
The likelihood of near instant gratification when people comment on Facebook — whether likes of responses — encourages interaction. If only your blog could inspire that reaction from people!
And let’s break down the real bottom line. In an increasingly ADD world:
- Facebook real estate is at a premium.
- The real estate in your (and your target audience’s) brain is at a premium.
- The time you have to fill that space remains limited.
- We all HATE hard sells and click baits.
Suggestions for future Facebook changes?
I think these changes are on the right track. I even have a suggestion of my own, of something more that Facebook could do to catch clickbaiters –
Right now, they are looking at how quickly people click off of posts without any interaction, to help determine that an article doesn’t deliver what it promises.
But what about the clickbait posts that are broken down into many small pages, maybe with one image on each? It can take 2 or 3 clicks for readers to really they’ve been conned out of some time that they’ll never get back. But do these articles score points because of the ‘next page’ clicks? They shouldn’t!
How About You?
Do you have any questions or did you draw any conclusions that you’d like to share?
Is there anything you wish Facebook would change in their algorithm?
Please comment, below!
Lead Image attribution: Copyright: ‘http://www.123rf.com/profile_kentoh'> / 123RF Stock Photo
Takeaways Image: Copyright: ‘http://www.123rf.com/profile_chudtsankov' / 123RF Stock Photo