Logging in to your Facebook profile, the first thing you see is the News Feed. Created in 2006, Facebook’s News Feed provides a brief overview of the activities occurring within a user’s network. Status updates, new photos, links, comments and new friend connections are all listed in the News Feed, but only a select few are actually displayed for the user to see. That is, not all of the network’s activities are posted in the News Feed. Facebook uses an algorithm to rank each post in terms of relevance to the user in order to determine which posts are displayed in the News Feed. This algorithm, originally called EdgeRank, has recently been updated to a more complicated model that incorporates machine learning and takes as many as 100,000 individual weights into account when determining which posts make it to the News Feed. The implication for businesses seeking to reach an audience through Facebook? If your posts are not relevant and engaging , your posts are not viewable.
What is/was EdgeRank Anyways?
From 2006 to 2012, EdgeRank was Facebook’s algorithm used to determine which posts a user would see on his/her News Feed. Before we look at how EdgeRank determined which posts made it to the News Feed, we need to ask ourselves why, as a business or personal page, it is important to be viewable within the News Feed…
Considering that 40% of all time spent on Facebook takes place in the News Feed, it is no wonder why so many businesses – from the mom and pops to the corporate giants – are willing to pay top dollar to be seen there.
How EdgeRank Works
EdgeRank was designed to fix a common complaint amongst Facebook users – their News Feeds were too cluttered with spam, mindless memes and unwanted promotional garbage from advertisers and business. EdgeRank’s goal was to sift through the vast pool of posts in a user’s network to provide them with the most relevant and wanted content. EdgeRank did so by considering three factors: affinity, weight and time decay.
- Affinity: There are certain people and pages within your Facebook network that you interact with more frequently than others. The affinity portion of EdgeRank assigned a score based upon previous engagement and interaction between the user and and the post-creator. Therefore, posts made by individuals or businesses that you interact with more frequently have a greater chance of showing up higher in your News Feed.
- Weight: Different post types (text updates, links, photos, videos, etc.) carry different weights within EdgeRank because users are more likely to engage with certain post types than others. For example, photos receive 39% more engagement than any other post type (no wonder why Facebook was willing to shell out $1 billion in cash for a then revenue-less Instagram). Heavier weights are also assigned based off how many likes or comments a post has (comments carry greater weight than likes). Therefore, photos and videos with plenty of positive comments and likes are more likely to be at the top of your News Feed than a text status update with no likes or comments.
- Time Decay: This one is simple, given two posts of the same type and with the same affinity and amount of comments/likes, the most recent post will carry a heavier weight than the one made farther in the past. (the importance of time decay has been greatly reduced thanks to Facebook’s new Story Bumping. Continue reading to find out more)
These next three pictures, courtesy of PostRocket, illustrate how EdgeRank would work in determining where Batman’s posts would show up in the News Feeds of three different characters of Gotham.
EdgeRank is Not Dead, but It Has Evolved
Like I stated at the beginning of this post, EdgeRank has recently been updated to a more complicated model that considers as many as 100,000 individual weights when determining which posts make it to the News Feed. Here is a list of a few, important factors that have been added to the algorithm to provide users with even more relevant and wanted News Feed content, courtesy of Marketing Land.
- Relationship Settings: Facebook users have the option of designating defined relationship parameters to individuals in their network. Facebook takes these settings into account when determining where posts will fall on a user’s News Feed. For example, posts from an individual you’ve designated as a “close friend” will have a better chance of showing up in the News Feed compared to a post by an “acquaintance.” Here’s how you can set these relationship settings, from the Huffington Post.
- Post Types: Like in EdgeRank, different post types carry different weights. Along with the information Facebook tracks on how the general community engages with different post types, Facebook also tracks how you interact with different post types and will take that information into account when it delivers your News Feed.
- Hiding Post/Spam Reporting: Facebook users can “hide” posts, temporarily removing them from the News Feed. They can also flag posts as spam. If you chose to hide a post from a particular page or person, Facebook will remember that and assign a lower weight to future posts from that person or page.
- Ad Interaction: While Facebook has a completely different set of algorithms that determine which paid ads are displayed on your News Feed (click here to have the Electronic Frontier Foundation explain more), the ways in which a user interacts with ads on the News Feed can play a role in where future ads will show up in the News Feed. Basically, if you frequently engage with News Feed ads, you will frequently see more News Feed ads and they will appear higher in your News Feed.
- Device and Technical Considerations: This one is kind of crazy. Facebook knows the kind of device you are using to access the site (desktop, laptop, mobile, tablet, etc) and it will present slightly different News Feeds for different device types. Facebook also knows your internet connection speed and can present you with slightly different News Feeds for slower or faster internet connections. For example, if you are accessing Facebook through a mobile phone connected to 3G , you are more likely to see a higher proportion of link and text updates than photos and videos.
- Story Bumping: This recent update to Facebook’s algorithm made it so that if a story is relevant to the user (i.e. it comes from a user or page they interact with often, or have interacted with recently), it will be bumped to the top of their timeline, regardless of its time decay. Relevance to the user is really the most important aspect of your content.
- Last Actor: Released alongside Story Bumping, Last Actor is an algorithm that takes note of the last 50 Facebook interactions you’ve had (likes, comments, etc.) and gives content from those same users or Pages more prevalence in your feed.
So… Why is Mark Cuban So Pissed?
For Mark Cuban, internet entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Facebook’s recent changes to its News Feed algorithm were not welcomed. Cuban’s biggest critique is that Facebook exists as a alternative boredom platform where users go to kill time and see what is going on with their friends and their friend’s cats. If Facebook is the boredom platform Cuban says it is, then it does not make sense for the service (Facebook) to filter out posts and rank them according to relevance. Cuban argues that the user should take care of the filtering process themselves to personally determine what is relevant to them. While I mostly disagree with Cuban’s critisicm of Facebook’s News Feed algorithms, he does have a good point when he says,
“While defining engagement by clicks, likes, shares, unlikes and reporting works for Google’s search engine, I don’t believe it works for a social network. People go to Google Search with every intention of leaving it. They want to ‘engage, click and leave.’ On the exact opposite side of the spectrum, people go to FB with the expectation that it is very likely they will stay on FB for an extended period of time.”
Pay Up or Shut Up, Cuban
Here is the main reason behind Cuban’s argument – he is a businessman. Most businessmen will agree that they like to save money. For businesses, Facebook’s new algorithms are doing everything except saving money. Now, companies seeking a decent reach through Facebook have almost no choice but to pay for sponsored ads. To get the level of reach they were used to before Facebook monetized the News Feed platform – businesses are often spending around $2-3 thousand a day on Facebook ads.
Is this really so terrible? I think not. Let’s consider this: there are over 1 billion people on Facebook and there are over 15 million business and brand Pages. If Facebook had no system in place of filtering and organizing the heaps of posts made by people and businesses alike, the News Feed would be a sloppy, cluttered place. I personally enjoy the fact that Facebook presents me with a News Feed arranged in a way that is relevant (at least in Facebook’s eyes) to me. That way, I don’t need to furiously scroll through all the baby photos, wedding photos, dog photos, cat memes and Zynga game invites from high school acquaintances that I would go out of my way to avoid in public just to get to the few posts from my close friends and family that I actually care about.
Here’s the bottom line for businesses that are aggravated with Facebook – create engaging, interesting, actionable and relevant content and you can potentially realize a huge reach simply through unpaid social shares. You might have to fork over some change to the social media giant, but you’re a smart businessperson and you know that advertising can be expensive. So pay up, or shut up.