Facebook updates News Feed algorithm

How content is ranked and displayed in the Facebook News Feed has remained a mystery until only recently. On August 6th Facebook expressed their future intentions to become more transparent on this subject, stating in their first of many blog posts to come (News Feed FYI) “. . . we need to do a better job of communicating these updates”. In addition to exposing their current News Feed algorithm, they have indicated several updates are about to take place on the social network.

Lars Backstrom, the Engineering Manager at Facebook’s News Feed and responsible for the blog post, has revealed that on average, each time a user visits their News Feed there are a possible 1,500 posts to be seen. However, once the updates to the algorithm have been put in place only 20% of these posts will actually land in the user’s feed. This filtering process is a result of Facebook’s goal of the News Feed to ‘deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them’.

So, how do we ensure the content we post falls into that 20%?

Before we investigate this question further, let’s look at how the Facebook algorithm (previously known as EdgeRank), has been working up till now.

EdgeRank has consisted of three variables:

  • Affinity
  • Weight
  • Time Decay.

Affinity is the score measured by the relationship between the viewer and the content creator (i.e. the closer the relationship, the higher the score). An important aspect to note on this element is that your interaction with another user will increase the chance of their posts appearing on your News Feed – this doesn’t mean that your posts will appear on their News Feed!

Weight refers to how different types of posts carry different weights. The weight with the highest score basically gets pushed to the top. In order they rank: photos / videos, links, and lastly plain text updates. However, engagement from other users also influences the posts’ weight – a plain text update with many comments weighs more than a photo with none.

Time decay, as the name suggests, means that a post continually decreases in value as time progresses – ensuring that the News Feed remains fresh.
This may be a lot to take in, and you may view the fact that Facebook has now updated its ranking system as a time of panic; but it’s not! The changes that have been made are pretty much building on these three factors – so what has / hasn’t been working for you will remain the same (for now!). But that’s not to say this information isn’t worth knowing. Facebook recently performed a test on the new updates with the results indicating that the fraction of stories read increased by 13%.

Story bumping
The updated News Feed will not only be showing the most recent posts but also older ones which the user may have missed. In essence, if you didn’t scroll down far enough there is a chance that those posts you didn’t see will reappear at the top of your News Feed when you next return. The image below issued by Facebook shows how these missed stories may reappear.

Facebook stated that this change resulted in a 5% increase in likes, comments and shares with friends’ posts and an 8% increase in interaction with posts from a Brand.

Last actor
This feature will keep track of a user’s last 50 interactions (things that they’ve liked, commented on, and shared) which will help rank the users’ feed, so that more posts from people they have interacted with will be ranked higher. Note: this factor will change because Facebook continually tracks those last 50 on a rolling basis.

Last actor chronological
This final feature is not currently present in the algorithm, but is under development and Facebook are looking to release this update in the near future. So, if a user were to engage in a flurry of activity (liking, commenting and sharing multiple posts), their activity would be presented on their friends / fans News Feeds in chronological order.

3 Things to take away from this

1. With story bumping your content has more opportunities to re-emerge to your fans.

2. Post relevant and interesting content to engage your fans. Typically this should take the form of a photo – research has shown photos to generate over twice the amount of interaction than a plain text post. The focus of your content really needs to be aimed at engaging people to interact with your posts, in order for your posts to appear on their News Feeds regularly (one-off engagement is not enough).

3. Find a balance for your Facebook posting timetable. Post too often and it may spam your fans News Feeds with a mixture of your old and new posts. Post infrequently and you will miss out on regular engagement from your fans resulting in none of your posts being seen!

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