How Facebook Works (or so they tell us)

A lot of people ask me how Facebook ‘works’, how they get their message out to their fans and followers and the truth is – it can be very confusing, even for professional marketers.  Unfortunately, Facebook itself doesn’t make it any easier to understand, and some recent changes make it even more complicated.  I thought I’d talk a little bit about those changes today.

Recently, Facebook launched a new ‘feature’ called ‘promoted posts’ wherein, you can now pay to have your posts appear at the top of the News Feed.  At the same time, they changed the way their algorithms work for ‘normal’ (or unpaid) posts.

If you use Facebook, you’re familiar with the News Feed; this is where posts from the people you follow, the pages you like, are supposed to show up.  You may have noticed with your own News Feed, that certain posts show up from certain users while others you have to dig for.  Which posts appear are what the algorithm figures out, and it’s all based on the actions you take when visiting Facebook.

Your reaction to the people you follow and the things they post, along with other people’s reactions to those same posts, and what type of story the post is, all contribute to whether or not that post appears in your News Feed.  Let me give you an example: Someone you know posts a political ad.  You live in a swing state and, therefore, are sick to death of the media bombardment and you click to ‘hide’ the post.

You have just told Facebook that you don’t want to see political leaning posts, and you also told them that you might not always want to see posts from the person who put the political post into your Feed in the first place.  Continue to hide posts from the same user, and the likelihood of seeing posts from that user in the future goes down exponentially along with the types of posts you are hiding.  If other people click to hide the posts, or even to report them as Spam, Facebook remembers that too.  In September, they expanded their algorithm to take into consideration the possibility someone, somewhere, might complain about/report a post, adding yet another level of complexity to the whole thing.  So now, if they get a lot of complaints about political ads, and someone you know posts a political ad, the algorithm might decide not to put it at the top of the News Feed because people might complain.

Fun, right?

Many people and companies have complained about the new algorithm because they saw a decline in exposure.  In other words, the new algorithm stopped their posts from reaching their audience (others said the opposite happened, and they were suddenly reaching people they weren’t able to reach before).  Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, complained, accused Facebook of trying to extort companies and brands into paying for the promoted posts, and announced he’s reducing his team’s exposure to Facebook and moving its social media focus to other networks.  Like MySpace.


What does this mean to you and how can you get your message to show up in your fans and followers News Feeds?

Well, for one, you could pay for the privilege (promoted posts).  Heck, Facebook has to make money for all those folks who bought shares a few months back, right?

Second, and you may not like this, but, you could play the long game, the organic game:

  1. Encourage not only followers, but likes.  The combination of someone following you, and liking the posts you share, will help drive the algorithm to show your posts to those people.
  2. Also encourage people to share your posts.  Again, this will tell Facebook that what you’re doing, people are digging, and raise your potential exposure and placement within the News Feed.
  3. Post good, quality content.  Put up things people will care about, things your audience will care about, and it will pay off for you.
  4. Be social.  Don’t just spam people with your stuff, like theirs too, share posts from other people, companies and brands similar to your own.  Reinforce your message while doing so.