How the Facebook algorithm works and ways your brand can outsmart it

9 Nov

Is the Facebook algorithm leaving you confused and frustrated?

You’re not alone. With the algorithm constantly going through updates, brands have a lot of anxiety about how these changes impact their organic reach.

And marketers on Facebook have a right to be concerned, considering Facebook remains the most popular social media platform for consumers and brands. According to the 2022 Sprout Social Index, 71% of consumers and 65% of marketers plan on using Facebook the most over the next 12 months.

Fortunately, beating the Facebook algorithm could be as simple as understanding how it works. That’s exactly what we aim to address in this guide. Let’s find out how the Facebook algorithm works and how you can use it to boost your Facebook marketing strategy.

What is the Facebook algorithm

The Facebook algorithm is a set of rules that decides what posts people see in their Feeds. Essentially, it decides which content is most relevant to show to each user based on several factors. Each user’s Feed will look very different since it’s personalized just for them.

The Facebook algorithm has gone through many updates and improvements over the years. One of the most recent updates focused on assessing the credibility of news articles. The goal of this update was to curb misinformation by promoting reliable and high-quality news sources.

How the Facebook algorithm works

While the earliest algorithm prioritized posts that got the most Likes, the algorithm we see today is a lot more sophisticated. Specifically, it considers four factors to decide which posts to show to which user.

1.     Inventory

First, Facebook takes inventory of all the content that could show up on your Feed. This includes posts coming from people you’re friends with. It also includes content from the Pages you follow and the groups you’ve joined.

2.     Signals

The algorithm then assesses the relevance of each piece of content based on thousands of signals. This includes signals such as who posted it and how often you interact with them. It also looks at when they published the post and what time it is for you.

Facebook also considers signals such as the type of content and how you’ve interacted with similar posts. In other words, it tries to assess relevance by understanding the nature of the content and your behavior.

3.     Predictions

Next, it uses the signals above to make predictions about what you want to see. The algorithm will analyze past behavior to try and understand how likely you are to engage with a piece of content.

Let’s say you regularly interact with a certain friend’s post. The Facebook algorithm will take that as a sign that you like seeing content coming from that friend.

Similarly, let’s say you regularly watch and engage with videos from a Page about eco-friendly living. It will understand that you like to watch videos from that Page and you’re interested in this topic.

4.     Relevancy scoring

Finally, the algorithm will score each content depending on how relevant it is to you. The higher the score is, the more likely it is to show up in your Feed.

Facebook algorithm update timeline

Fast forward to the present day and the Facebook algorithm is still evolving. Below is a quick snapshot of some of the changes Facebook has made recently.

March 2019 – “Why am I seeing this post?” update

Facebook started giving context to why users are seeing certain organic posts and Facebook ads. Users could now see a list of reasons why they fit the target audience for a certain Facebook ad. So brands needed to fine-tune their audience targeting to reach the most relevant users.

The "why you're seeing this ad" listing reasons why the user is seeing an ad from The New Yorker

April 2019 – The ongoing fight against misinformation

Facebook’s fight against “fake news” and misleading content is well-documented. In April 2019, Facebook elaborated on its manual efforts to fact-check content to fight misinformation. This involved the use of a metric called “Click-Gap.” This analyzes the clicks and links on the platform and compares them with other parts of the internet. Using this metric, it started to limit the reach of posts that only seem to be popular on Facebook.

This may not seem to impact brands directly but does highlight the importance of trust and transparency on the platform. Anything that comes across as needlessly controversial or spammy could quickly earn you a strike, so to speak.

May 2019 – More personalized experiences

Personalization and relevant content remain a top priority of the Facebook algorithm. In May 2019, Facebook announced the widespread use of surveys. This helped to gather feedback from users to ensure they were seeing relevant content.

The update evolved Facebook’s algorithm to become more of what we see today. It began to prioritize relevancy when deciding what posts to show to users. Combined with the surveys and the relevancy signals, this helped to better connect users with the posts, Pages and people they cared about.

May 2019 – Increased focus on video originality and quality

Around the same time, Facebook also developed updates to promote original and high-quality videos. It began to reduce the distribution of videos that used engagement baiting. Videos that employed manufactured sharing tactics also had limited reach.

March 2021 – Users get more control over their Feed

Facebook launched the “Favorites” tool to give users more control over what they see. This would allow them to add up to 30 friends and Pages to their Favorites. Posts from your Favorites will show up more prominently in your Feed.

The Favorites window with followed pages that users can add to their favorites

Additionally, you can also choose the “Favorites” filter from the Feed Filter Bar. This will show you only the posts coming from people and Pages you’ve favorited.

3 tips for beating the Facebook algorithm

These ongoing changes all point to how the Facebook algorithm forces brands to adapt.

But it doesn’t have to be so daunting if you can identify the pattern behind these changes and arm yourself with the right Facebook tools. From what we can see so far, Facebook seems to be prioritizing quality and authenticity above all else. As such, brands mainly need to focus on creating quality content that drives real interactions.

Here are a few best practices to help you adapt and get ahead of the Facebook algorithm.

1.     Time your posts to perfection

Timing is one of the key signals that influence the algorithm. Moreover, it also looks at how much engagement a post receives. As such, it’s important to send out your posts at just the right time. This would mean timing your posts to go out when people are most likely to engage with them.

According to data from Sprout, the best times to post on Facebook are between Monday and Friday at 3 a.m. In particular, 10 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays are also great.

Facebook global engagement report displaying the time slots that drove the most engagements

But keep in mind that these times may not necessarily be ideal for everyone. The best thing you can do is use Sprout’s Social Media Publishing suite to analyze optimal send times for your brand. You can then use the scheduling tool to automatically send out your posts at the perfect time.

Sprout publishing tool with the optimal send time window open

2.     Focus on creating original videos

Beating the Facebook algorithm involves creating content that the algorithm loves. This would mean more high-quality and original videos.

Ideally, you should share videos that you made and recorded yourself. But this doesn’t necessarily call for big-budget commercials. Short clips from a longer YouTube video would do just fine. Similarly, short videos that you shot on your phone would also do the trick.

The main focus should be on the originality and the quality of the content itself. In other words, the video should benefit your audience in some way. It can be informative, educational or entertaining depending on what your brand does.

The Milwaukee Country Zoo regularly shares short clips of its animals. These are entertaining to the audience, often garnering hundreds of thousands of views. The following video, for instance, had 11k shares.

Annual smash and squash

It’s the elephant’s annual smash and squash!

Posted by Milwaukee County Zoo on Wednesday, October 26, 2022

You can use Sprout’s Facebook Analytics tool to see which videos resonate with your audience. This tool gives you a breakdown of engagements for each post to see which ones your audience interacted with the most. You can then get a sense of what types of videos they want to see from you.

3.     Rope in employees and brand advocates

The key to overcoming the Facebook algorithm has been under your nose since the day you started marketing on the platform. Yet so many brands overlook it—your employees.

Employee advocacy has never been more relevant than it is today. Facebook is prioritizing content from friends and family over businesses. As such, it’s the perfect time to start your employee advocacy program or rev it up if you already have one.

Your Facebook Page’s reach is already somewhat limited by the number of fans/followers you have. And when you tack on these new changes to the algorithm, the number of people that see your content is going to drop even more.

Encouraging your team to share your content with their networks on Facebook instantly amplifies your reach. The challenge is getting employees to share your content. Oftentimes, just sending an email asking people to share an article from your company isn’t enough. It requires too much time and effort on their end to go to Facebook, type up a message and share it. Plus, some employees will just flat-out forget to share and never check the email again.

Sprout makes it easy for your employees to quickly find and share relevant brand content. The Employee Advocacy platform lets you keep all your shareable content in one place. Your employees can then easily share these approved posts. You can even include pre-approved message ideas to give them an example.

Sprout's employee advocacy platform with a share story window

Time to beat the algorithm

The constant changes to the Facebook algorithm can put brands at a disadvantage. Having a strong Facebook marketing strategy will help you stay on top of these updates and ensure that you’re always two steps ahead.

Additionally, start using a powerful social media management platform to execute your strategy. This could help with scheduling, management and analytics. Sign up for a free 30-day trial with Sprout Social to see how it can help you beat the Facebook algorithm.

The post How the Facebook algorithm works and ways your brand can outsmart it appeared first on Sprout Social.

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