Unless your name is Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook algorithm changes can sometimes seem like a mystery. In fact, few things have inspired more cold sweats and headaches for social media marketers than the words “algorithm change.” And in recent years, there sure has been a lot of it. You might remember that in 2018, Facebook made significant changes to its algorithm. The most important one was how posts are prioritized and ordered in the News Feed. In January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced that users should “expect to see more from friends, family, and groups” and less from “businesses, brands, and media.” The ongoing battle against biased and fake news also brought about algorithm updates demoting “borderline content” that is sensationalist, intentionally provocative, or nearly violating Facebook’s content policies. Many of these algorithm updates led to a notable decline in the organic reach and engagement for Pages, understandably causing some stir in the marketing community. So, what changes do marketers have to adapt to this year, and how exactly does the algorithm work? Here at Falcon.io, we’ve done our research. Here’s a rundown on the algorithm changes and seven key pieces of advice on coping with the current News Feed, so your organic reach doesn’t plummet.
The fall of organic reach
Let’s face it: organic reach on Facebook is at an all-time low. Algorithm changes can explain some of the declines, but a large part is also due simply to increased competition on the platform. Back in 2014, the organic reach rate for brand Pages was already down to 6% (and as low as 2% for brands with over 500,000 followers). From January to June 2017, the average number of engagements with branded content on Facebook fell more than 20%. Another study from 2019 concluded that organic reach is only around 6.4% of the Page’s total likes. While organic reach continues to decline in 2019 and beyond, ad prices on Facebook have increased and paid reach on Facebook remains a viable option with high ROI for social media marketers. The overall trend we’re seeing is an accelerating shift in social media marketing from organic to paid social campaigns.
What’s up with the News Feed?
As mentioned earlier, significant changes to the News Feed algorithm came in 2018, when Facebook decided to boost posts from friends and family and “posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people.” We know what you’re thinking. What counts as a “meaningful interaction”? While Facebook hasn’t announced any publicly visible metrics for marketers to measure this, their Marketing Partners team provided a few examples in a recent FAQ. Here’s a list of interactions the updated News Feed algorithm would mark as meaningful:
- Multiple people replying to each other’s comments on a video they watched or an article they read in News Feed.
- A page responding to a person’s comment on their post.
- People commenting on or interacting with a page’s live video.
- People responding to page posts shared through Messenger.
- Any interactions that people have with a page post that has been reshared by a user.
At first, this update actually led to an increase of posts sharing controversial topics to generate engagement and gain priority in the News Feed. A later update addressed the issue by improving the AI’s ability to remove content that violates Facebook’s policies and demote content sensational, misleading, or controversial. So, to make sure your posts don’t lose engagement, make sure that your posts have a lot of engagement (but only the right kind of engagement!). It sounds like a catch-22, right? But things aren’t as bad as they sound. If you can maximize the number of “meaningful interactions” with your content, you’re likely to still see some results in your organic reach. Let’s look at some of the older and recent updates to the Facebook algorithm and how the Facebook newsfeed works to show relevant content to 2.8 billion odd users every day in 2021.
Facebook Algorithm Changes Timeline
2019 Video ranking A series of algorithm updates changed how videos are ranked in the News Feed, Facebook Watch, and “More Videos” recommended videos, with the aim of bringing people more relevant content. Key factors affecting rankings are loyalty and intent, meaning that videos that people seek, and return to, will be given more priority. Introducing surveys One of the bigger updates of 2019 was the introduction of surveys in the News Feed, allowing users to indicate what kind of content they wanted to see more of. The surveys showed how interested users were in seeing a specific piece of content or hearing from groups they’ve joined. The algorithm used this information to predict what kind of content and pages users were likely to care about. While we didn’t know exactly how Facebook makes these predictions, some confirmed factors were how long the user had followed the page or group, how often they engaged with content, and how actively content was posted. New comments experience In June 2019, personalized experiences were also rolled out to the comment section. The update changed how comments on public pages and on posts by individuals with significant followings are displayed. The ones that had a lot of engagement or engagement from the original poster would be shown first. In addition, Facebook used surveys and signals, like engagement bait, to determine which comments to show first. Recognizing spammy and biased content The same month, Facebook also released another update to the algorithm improving its ability to recognize and demote posts with exaggerated and misleading health claims, as well as posts that sell products advertised as “miracle cures.” 2020 Personalized Advertising Let’s be honest, we’ve all been stalked by ads on social media based on what’s sitting on our Amazon cart! The year 2020 was all about personalized advertising. Facebook wanted to offer users interesting and personalized experiences on the platform. So, from the post you like to the page you follow, Facebook used this information to customize your news feed, including the ads you see. Facebook also gave businesses the option to share information about actions users take on their websites and apps in order to show relevant content. To be clear about how their apps work and give users control over their experience, Facebook released many tools in the past years that show users how their information is used and ways to manage it smartly. For example, prompts like “Why am I seeing this ad” allow you to see the reasons why you are getting a certain ad and what actions you can take to personalize this. More tools like Manage Activity and Privacy Checkup are also present to easily customize your overall Facebook experience based on what’s right for you. Well, folks. That’s pretty much how the algorithm scene looked like in 2020. Whether you like it or not, personalization still plays a significant role in what you see and how you interact on Facebook. If not for personalization, your News Feed would like Rachel’s English truffle from Friends, a random, tasteless mess. So, let’s see how personalization continues to play a major role in 2021 and beyond. 2021 Say hello to Machine Learning Now, come on. It’s no piece of cake to cater to the interests of 2.8 billion people every single day without flooding their newsfeed with content they don’t find as relevant or interesting. So, how does Facebook tackle this ginormous challenge, day in and day out? Enter, Machine Learning (ML). Earlier this year, Facebook announced complete details on how ML helps power Facebook’s News Feed ranking algorithm. Here’s a dial-downed version of what it means:
- Facebook takes inventory of every possible post available in a user’s network in order to predict what type of content people would want to see in their feeds,
- The system then scores each of these posts based on the signals a user gives to them (likes, shares, comments, tags, and so on) to predict how valuable a user would find these posts.
- Posts that are most unlikely to engage the user are then discarded based on past behavior. These are the posts that a user would have indicated not to like and see less of as they present misinformation or clickbait content.
- After narrowing down the relevant posts with a final score, the system then ranks the ones that a user might take action more often on than the others.
- And finally, Facebook arrives at a sweet spot of presenting the most proper content in as many varieties and sources as possible.
Now, repeat that process for the remaining 2.8 billion odd people, and there you have the answer to how Facebook personalizes your news feed.
What do these changes mean for marketers?
What do these changes mean for marketers?
It’s true that, to some extent, people will be seeing more content from their friends and family and less from brands and public pages. But (here comes the good news): they will also be seeing content from pages and groups they care about. Going forward, marketers will have to abandon quick-fix tactics that might have worked before (clickbait titles, engagement baiting posts, etc.) and focus on creating unique, valuable content that resonates with the target audience. To sum up: brands, publishers, and media companies are all in the same boat. Organic reach for Pages will keep declining, but there are ways you can make sure your brand still has a strong presence on Facebook. Here are our seven pieces of advice for brands to cope with the Facebook algorithm changes: 1. Focus on strong emotions Think about the content that prompts you to really engage. Is it the content that entertains, inspires, or amazes you? With all that extra weight being placed on interactions and comments, you will really need to stimulate your followers’ opinions and feelings. As Facebook announced in their Marketing Partners FAQ, multiple people replying to each other’s comments on an article or video is a prime example of a “meaningful interaction.” If you can post content that gets people discussing or debating in the comments, you’ll not only have great engagement stats, but you’ll also get priority in the updated News Feed. But what emotions should you focus on to prompt meaningful discussions among your fans? This research published in Harvard Business Review found that six emotions were extremely common in highly shared content on social media. These were:
If you focus your organic posts on stimulating at least one of these six emotions, you’re likely to see a boost in shares and comments. Your brand can still be prioritized in the new Facebook News Feed as long as you share content that amazes your audience and gets them talking – just make sure to stay clear of controversial topics, clickbait titles, and engagement baiting. 2. Don’t resort to engagement bait With the new Facebook algorithm change, you may be tempted to do whatever you can to boost engagement and keep your Page’s content prioritized. If you go too far, however, you’ll end up hurting because of it. As mentioned earlier, Facebook’s algorithm is equipped to fight engagement baiting. In short, this a reduction in the News Feed rank of posts deemed to manipulate users into engaging with them. How does Facebook define engagement bait? In the post, they described it as “spammy posts on Facebook that goad [users] into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions.” They offered the example of a Page prompting followers to “LIKE this if you’re an Aries!”, “tag a friend who…” or “like for X, love for X, etc.” To explain further, here are the five types of engagement bait Facebook will downgrade your posts for:
- “Vote baiting” asks followers to “vote” on one of several options by reacting to or commenting on a post in a certain way.
- “React baiting” prompts users to give specific reactions to a post.
- “Share baiting” offers hidden value to users that share a post.
- “Tag baiting” calls on users to tag friends with characteristics defined by a post.
- “Comment baiting” pushes users to sound off in the comments with a particular word or phrase.
Essentially, you can’t game the system by begging your fans for shares, tags, and likes. The only way to keep your organic reach solid is to create or share genuinely interesting, discussion-provoking content. While you should avoid any engagement bait, you need to make sure that you engage with your audience and answer every single post comment on time. This will signal to Facebook that you are investing in building meaningful relationships with your audience and thus boost your page’s performance. 3. Share quotes in your headlines Much like including opinions and emotions in your posts (and especially in your headlines), sharing quotes is practically guaranteed to increase engagement and meaningful interactions with your content. The thing is, this applies to all quotes. They could be famous quotes from historical figures or simply pull quotes from the interview or article you’re sharing. All that matters is that the quote sparks intrigue and gives your followers something to talk about. Try this as a split test the next time you advertise on Facebook. Use one ad with a standard headline and another with a pull quote from the content you’re advertising. Compare engagement rates on both ads — we think the results will speak for themselves. One particularly potent combo for sparking meaningful interactions is to post a video and include a key quote from it in the header or description. That way, you fuel your audience’s curiosity with the quote, then catch their attention with engaging video content. And speaking of video, it might just be your best bet for keeping your organic reach up. 4. Put video first Video is king on social media. Facebook’s News Feed algorithms also prioritize video, essentially giving your video content a free bump in your fans’ Feeds. And that bump is amplified by the fact that videos take up a large amount of real estate on users’ screens. Behaviorally, people tend to stop scrolling if they see movement in order to identify what it is. With that in mind, even GIFs or videos that are just a few seconds long can be incredibly attention-grabbing. Even if your brand doesn’t have the time or resources to produce high-end video campaigns, simply making use of animated content could help you maintain your posts’ ranks. Live videos, though, are the cream of the crop for engagement especially due to the pandemic times we all experience. They give a meaningful way for people to connect with each other as well as with their favorite brands. 5. Keep calm and keep advertising Many marketers forget one simple rule: you can’t build a business on organic reach alone. With that in mind, even if the latest Facebook algorithm change does lead to a downturn in your Page’s organic reach, there is no reason to lose your cool. You will almost always see a positive ROI from Facebook ads. Facebook ads have higher ROI and cheaper prices than TV advertising, Snapchat, YouTube, and a large array of other services. Even for small businesses, it’s still possible to see positive ROI from a solid Facebook ad campaign. Not only that, it’s a basic fact that advertising on Facebook is scalable. Organic reach is not. Therefore, you may need to rethink exactly what you’re using organic reach for. Organic posts are not for reaching out to vast hordes of potential customers or getting your brand message spread far and wide. Rather, they’re for building deeper relationships with the people who already know and love your brand and providing a communication channel directly between you and your fans. On a more pragmatic level, they are also a strong tactic for testing content before choosing to put spend behind it. Meanwhile, paid Facebook ads can precisely target your ideal potential customers in large numbers. You can scale them up almost indefinitely as long as you’re getting a positive ROI and reach exponentially wider audiences with almost no interference from News Feed’s ranking system. If you want significant reach on Facebook in 2021, it looks like paid posts are your best bet. If you do not see the results you hope for with your Facebook ads, check out our article on 5 typical Facebook ad mistakes, and learn from them! 6. Create authentic content in Stories Ephemeral content like Stories is exploding across social networks like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and even Twitter. 86.6% of users now post stories on Instagram, and 70% view stories daily. This type of content is here to stay, so why not make the best out of it for your brand? Stories allow you to create authentic yet engaging content. All you need is a relevant idea to catch your audience’s attention. The good news is that you can create stories on the go without the need for a significant investment in video production. The ephemeral content is not part of the Facebook News Feed, but it boosts your page’s results and gives excellent exposure for your brand. Check out more on the topic in the 2021 Digital Marketing Trends handbook , or take your time to explore it in our webinar. 7. Use your team superpowers on social Facebook is trying to activate human interactions and connections on social. That’s, after all, what we are searching for as users on Facebook, right? The social network prioritizes your friends’ posts in the News Feed rather than brands’ ones. Then, why not activate your employees’ superpowers on Facebook? Branded messages get 561% more reach on average when shared by employees instead of company pages. Your team can also help to spread the message across Facebook by commenting on the posts. For more inspiration on how to get your teammates engaged on Facebook, here’s How to Harness the Untapped Power of Employee Advocacy.
We’ve got this!
Аt the end of the day, the algorithm changes are a long-term investment. Facebook users now see an improved News Feed experience that prioritizes the kind of content that brought them to the platform in the first place. This will pay off by increasing user satisfaction. And while the updates may prove a short-term speedbump for brands that depend heavily on organic reach, there are many ways to adapt your content strategy accordingly. You can either focus more on Facebook ads, adjust your organic content to the new ranking system, or, ideally, do both.
If you want to manage all of your posts, organic or paid, more easily, consider a content calendar like Falcon’s. And to make sure you’re still hitting the reach and engagement benchmarks you’ve set, our Measure module offers a simple and comprehensive solution. For some more tips on how to increase your organic reach on Facebook, check out this handy guide. Finally, for more on the Facebook News Feed update, read this handy FAQ in our Help Center.