How Facebook’s Own Algorithms Are Killing Facebook

Edgerank completely fails to have the effect it was originally designed for

Facebook has become increasingly important for brands and companies. As a company you can do amazing things with Facebook. Building a community around your brand is not that hard as long as you follow some basic social media marketing principles and make your fans happy.

Rule no1 has always been: don’t just advertise, social media is social so don’t just shout out all your products every day, but add value to your readers. Give them insight in your operation, give them interesting tips on using your products or go back to the core of your business, your mission, and use Facebook to help with your mission.

The race for the attention

But as soon as people’s Timelines started to get flooded with messages, a problem surfaced: Facebook had to figure out how to get the most important messages in front of the readers. They came up with Edgerank.

EdgeRank was put in place to ensure users don’t get overwhelmed by content and to reduce spammy content in favor for interesting content.

Edgerank is a calculation that decides how important a message is to the reader, and thus how high in the Timeline this particular piece of content shows up. The Edgerank formula consists of three things:

  1. Affinity
    If you spend more time talking or interacting with certain friends or pages, your affinity with those people or pages will increase.
  2. Weight
    Weight is the level of interaction a piece of content gets (likes, comments and shares).
  3. Time Decay
    Over time, a posts relevance decays, making it less important and pushing it down the feed.

Ok, this all sounds quite logical. Someone you do not interact with, is less important for you than someone who’s post you are commenting on and like regularly. Right?

Wrong. I have plenty of people on Facebook who I really like, and who I have great, if irregular, real life connections with but I don’t always like their photos or posts. The problem is, that if you have no interaction with someone for a while, you will start to see less of their updates, meaning that you will have less opportunities to have an interaction, meaning that some people just degrade to never show up in your online life again.

A lot of people are angry about Facebook deciding who is important for you and who isn’t. Although this upsets a lot of people, this is not the reason for me to write this post. There is something else that is completely wrong with Edgerank:

The way Edgerank made brands and companies behave

Since the introduction of Edgerank, Facebook is no longer about adding value to your fans, or about helping your brand to carry out it’s mission. Neither is it about telling the story of your brand.

Facebook became science. Edgerank turned community management into mathematics.

And I understand, the Edgerank formula made sure that an average post a company posts on Facebook, is only seen by around 16 percent of the people that like their page - 84 percent of the audience is lost. This means that if you have 20,000 fans, your real audience is just 3,200 people and that is a significant difference.

The internet is full of strategies on how to increase the number of people that see your posts. Websites like Edgerankchecker help you understand the metrics of your posts and all the Facebook marketing blogs tell you what really works and what you should all do.

What works is posting content that gets a lot of interaction, the more likes your posts get, the higher the affinity and weight your next post automatticaly gets.

Edgerank holds in to consideration how your older posts scored. A lot of posts with a lot of interaction means you must be really interesting right?

Wrong again. What happens is that companies are now not adding any value but do what works.

This means, and we have all seen them in our timeline, posts that have nothing to do with adding value and in most cases have nothing to do with the brand, that ask people to like, comment, or share and preferably all of them.

And this is what the science and mathematics brought us to:

“Help us out here, what is the correct way?”

This single picture sums up everything that is wrong with Facebook marketing and edgerank.

There is only one company that might get away with asking this question: a toilet paper company. - And still I would argue that, because the picture is completely tasteless, dark and there wouldn’t be one toilet paper company that feels this is good brand representation. And by the way, why would anyone like a toilet paper company on Facebook in the first place?

But guess what, the example here was posted by a Modeling company and I have seen it being posted by a number of companies including a Social media marketing company stating that they are “providing your business with the tools you need to be successful with social marketing”. Well thanks a lot! Thanks to you, succes on Facebook now means getting as many likes and comments on your posts as possible.

“It doesn’t matter how you get them, get them, because it works!”

On every Facebook marketing conference I hear the social media gurus telling each other the same thing. “You have to do this, because it works! You increase engagement and you increase your Edgerank.”

Yes it is true. It is increasing your Edgerank, but we have lost sight of why we as a company were on Facebook in the first place. It is great to have your post with a question asking if people prefer sunshine or rain at the top of someones timeline, but it has nothing to do with your brand or your message.

It makes people who are not dumb enough to fall for this trick to stop liking your page, because of the spammy content you put on top of their timelines.

Wait, what? Wasn’t Edgerank put in place to prevent spammy content…?

Edgerank was put in place to:

“ensure users don’t get overwhelmed by content and to reduce spammy content in favor for interesting content.”

In my humble opinion I would like to state that Facebook has completely failed in doing so. Instead of interesting content, I have my timeline flooded with bollocks, riddles that are too easy to even try and stupid questions from brands that might do really well on increasing their Edgerank, but of which I have no clue what they actually do and what their vision for the world is.

Maybe even worse, most of these brands treat their fans like they are three-year olds:

Maybe it is about time we stopped with treating engagement as science and started again with engaging the fans of your brand with content that is in line with your company’s view. You don’t need to post 1.37 posts per day with at least one question and an image.

If you have a genuine brand, great products and people like your company genuinely, then perhaps these people will also like your company on Facebook, but only if doing so will make them happier and it adds value for them.

But perhaps I am wrong, and is answering questions with likes and shares something people are happy about, and perhaps answering riddles, like the Bacon question above, is making people feel smarter than others. But will these people really buy more of your products if they do?

It was a fun trick, it literally worked, but it doesn’t anymore. Interaction is important, but please let’s get back to the basis. Let people interact by choice and on your brand message, not on how you hang your toilet paper.

Relevance and adding value are the key words here.

Update: I wrote this post in june 2013 and Facebook did a lot over the past year to improve their algorithms. Some of the issues adressed here are (being) fixed now. Facebook declined the reach of meme-like images and increased reach for news and other published content. I do however believe that brands could do a lot better in their content strategy and should stop using engagement-bait type posts that have no connection with the brand.

Inspiration for this post came partly from the Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook, which collects the best of all corporate Facebook bollocks.

There is a lot of discussion about organic reach. Tech Crunch did a great write up about the filtered feed and how it is behaving nowadays.