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How Facebook's news feed algorithm works and prioritizes content

Facebook is one of the most valuable social platforms for driving revenue for content publishers – but how does its algorithm determine when your content will (or won't) be shown to your ideal customers?

How Facebook's news feed algorithm works and prioritizes content Blog Feature

Liz Moorehead

Editor-in-Chief, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

July 14th, 2021 min read

Why this story matters to you (the short version)

  • As we talked about last week, Facebook has been ranked as the most "valuable" social platform for revenue by publishers. 
  • If you're leveraging inbound marketing or They Ask, You Answer to drive traffic, leads, and sales for your company, that makes you a publisher. And having the right social media strategy in place will help you amplify your content, get in front of your ideal buyers and establish yourself as the No. 1 teacher in your space.
  • That means it's important for you to understand how and why your Facebook posts show up or, quite frankly, don't show up organically in the news feeds of your would-be customers and clients. 
  • Although it's high-level, Facebook's new guidance on how their news feed algorithm works (in terms of how it chooses what content gets surfaced) sheds light on how factors such as signals, inventory, and more influence what content gets shown to your potential leads.

What is the Facebook news feed algorithm?

In their words, here is "why" behind the news feed algorithm:

"Our goal is to make sure you see the posts that are most valuable to you at the top of your Feed every time you open the Facebook app.

"And because most people have more content in their News Feed than they could possibly browse in one session, we use an algorithm to determine the order of all of the posts you can see."

What factors influence what content is shown?

In their overview video of the algorithm, Facebook didn't get too detailed into how it works. However, they did identify the four factors they use to decide what social content actually gets served to your ideal customers and leads organically in their news feeds:

  1. Inventory: First and foremost, the algorithm looks at all the content that could potentially be served to your ideal customers in their news feeds – what pages they follow, the friends they're connected with, groups and content they have engaged with in the past, etc. This amount of content will always exceed what can actually be shown to an individual, of course. But this is the starting point.
  2. Signals: So, Facebook's algorithm has this big pile of content that needs to be prioritized, in terms of what can be shown. The way it decides what's the most relevant to your ideal buyers is first by looking at something called "signals." Signals include how you've interacted with pages and people in the past. (For example, if you interact and engage with specific groups a lot, they'll show more. If you don't watch a ton of video content in general and seem to prefer more written posts, you'll see fewer videos, and so on.)
  3. Predictions: OK, so now the news feed algorithm robot 🤖 has the big pile of content inventory in front of it, and it's evaluated historical data on how your ideal customers interact with the content types, people, and groups in their news feeds. Now, the algorithm makes predictions about how likely your ideal customer will interact with each post in their feed.
  4. Score: Last but not least, each post in the inventory is now scored and ranked taking into account those signals and predictions. The higher your post's relevance score, the better chance you have of your ideal customer's seeing your post at the top of your feed, without having to pay for Facebook ads

🔎 Related resources:

What does this mean for your social strategy?

Yes, there are a lot of best practices that govern a lot of our social media strategies – particularly on Facebook, as publishers. For example, consumers spend (on average) 80% more time on a website with video than one without. 

However, the key takeaway here is that the news feed experience for each of your potential leads is tailored to their individual behaviors. So, while video may be king for some, it is not king for all, meaning there will be gaps.

For instance, let's say you target content marketers like yours truly as potential customers. Guess what? While I live in video and multimedia every single day for my job, my Facebook news feed is clearly tailored to my off-hours behavior of:

  • Mostly participating in Facebook groups. Groups about movies, not work.
  • Interacting most with written posts.
  • Very rarely watching videos because my eyes and brain hurt. 
  • Aggressive consumption of memes related to The Godfather, Heat, Fast and Furious movies, F1 racing (especially petty dramas between the Red Bull and Mercedes-Benz teams), and my sweet cinnamon roll prince, Keanu Reeves.

That means your video content is less likely to be served organically to me in my Facebook news feed. However, other content marketers may like video and engage with it more, and your video content may get served more to them organically, as a result.

🍿 IMPACT+ on-demand: Most costly lies you believe about your website

Of course, it's impossible for you to fight this person-by-person battle in a way that makes sense for your social media strategy for your company without going completely bonkers.

Instead, here's what you should do with this information:

  • Keep in mind that, no matter what format your content is in – written, video, audio, smoke signals, carrier pigeons – if you focus on creating content that honestly and transparently answers the most pressing questions of your ideal consumers, you'll always improve your ability to spark engagement with your audience on Facebook. 
  • Go out of your way to understand the consumption habits of your target audience. Do they fall into the norms of preferring video like the vast majority of folks? Are they more on mobile or on desktop? Heck, do they even like Facebook at all? Remember, benchmark data will only take you so far, and you need to contextualize its relevance (or lack thereof) by examining the behaviors of your audience.
  • Lean on great social media management tools to execute your strategy. Publishing your social content natively into platforms can quickly turn into a massive time suck. Also, as you continue to scale and need more holistic data and insights about your social efforts, those tools will be invaluable.

Remember, your social strategy (on Facebook or otherwise) will only be as strong as the substance of the content you're creating. And if you lean into always striving to be the No. 1 teacher about what it is that you do or sell, you'll build trust faster than any of your competitors with ease.

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