In case you missed it, Facebook made some huge international headlines late last month – and not in a good way.
Basically, the social network revealed that it had manipulated the news feeds of 690,000 users as part of an experiment. They wanted to see if showing people happy stories in their news feeds made them post happier things in response, and if showing them sad stories made them post sad things, etc.
Thing is, they didn’t ask anyone’s permission to do that – so ultimately, they purposely manipulated people’s emotions and turned them into their own little lab rats without them ever knowing.
The worst part, though, is that this isn’t surprising to most of us. Sure, it’s SUPER creepy and weird that Facebook would intentionally screw with people’s emotions just to see what would happen – but this network already decides what people do and do not see on a daily basis.
That’s why today, we’re gonna talk a little about Facebook algorithms. What’s the deal with Facebook algorithms? How does the site choose whether the things you post ever get seen by your followers?
Facebook’s algorithm games have been going on a long, long time.
Think about Twitter for a sec, okay? On Twitter, there are people you follow. When any of those people post anything, you see it show up in your feed. Period.
But on Facebook, it isn’t that simple, right? Facebook CHOOSES what to show you in your feed, so you might follow certain people or pages but almost never see their updates.
Why does Facebook operate this way?
Well, the social network’s official policy has always been that it wants to be a destination for great content – that they want to create the ultimate user experience by adjusting what you see according to user behavior.
But c’mon. We all know better than THAT.
Facebook’s algorithms aren’t JUST about creating a better user experience – they’re about making money.
Just look at the Great Organic Reach Massacre of Late 2013. Facebook implemented big changes to how many people see the things that pages post – suddenly, updates that were once seen by thousands of users were being seen by only hundreds. (Or worse.)
Of course, kicking a few bucks in Facebook’s direction will grease the wheels a little, just going to show that this is simply how Facebook works now – you wanna get seen, you gotta pay. (More or less.)
Not every brand on Facebook can spend a ton of money to get their updates seen, though. Especially because part of Facebook’s appeal used to be that it was a free, level playing field!
Businesses today need to find new ways to improve their organic reach – but how?
Facebook’s algorithm secrets are more heavily guarded than Fort Knox, but there are certain givens that you can keep in mind when planning out how to improve your reach:
1. It’s not just WHAT you post, but WHEN.
Facebook absolutely factors in post type when determining organic reach – essentially, the size of your post’s organic audience depends partially on whether it’s a text update, a link, an image, etc. (Social Media Marketer members know that a few months ago, I reported how link updates seemed to garner a smaller organic reach than standard text updates with links in them.)
But that’s not all that matters. For example, if you look at your Facebook Insights, you may be tempted to just schedule all of your updates for the times when most of your followers are online. Makes sense in theory – the more people online, the more people see what you post, right?
Wrong. Depending on how many OTHER users (including businesses) are active at that same time, your post may be facing too much competition. Much more valuable is posting at the times when you get the best engagement. THAT data is available from Facebook Insights, too – you can see when you’re getting the most clicks, shares, and comments.
When you schedule your posts for THOSE times, you’re likelier to get the kind of response you’re looking for. (Even better if you tailor the types of posts you share based on the time. For example, ask questions at the times when you usually get the most comments.)
And why does it matter so much to get engagement if your organic reach isn’t necessarily that amazing out of the gate? Well…
2. You need engagement to get seen.
Obviously, getting shares on Facebook increases the size of your audience – but that’s not the only way to do it.
Things like getting a bunch of “likes” on a Facebook post aren’t just a matter of vanity – they can actually improve your organic reach.
See, when Facebook detects that a post is performing well – lots of likes and comments – it shows it to more people, because it thinks that it’s somehow valuable.
(It will also take advantage of that momentum to try to get you to sink some money into the post and make it go even further, hence notifications like the one below.)
Should you? Well, that’s entirely up to you. Point is, though, it’s a good idea for you to post things that encourage engagement with your page, and to post them at the times you’ve seen are the best for that sort of thing.
Of course, that comes with one big caveat:
3. Some posts are bigger gambles than others.
Like I said, even if you don’t know the exact intricacies of Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms, you can experiment and see for yourself how certain types of posts typically get smaller organic reach than others.
In the case of visuals, this can mean taking a big gamble. Statistics frequently show that visual posts, like images or links with previews, score more interactions than text-only posts. And that’s great – IF you can get the interactions. These are also the types of posts that generally start out with a smaller organic reach, so you’re working with a smaller group of users who may/may not engage with your post – and if they don’t engage, then the post’s audience isn’t gonna get much bigger.
Does that mean you should be putting money behind every photo or link that you post? Heck no! But it DOES mean that you need to pay attention to those analytics and make sure to share big-gamble updates at the times when your engagement is at a high.
Basically, there are no guarantees on Facebook anymore.
(Unless you’re willing and able to spring for paid reach.)
In the end, then, there are only two things you can really do to get the best organic reach possible:
Tailor your updates based on your analytics, and post often.
If you’re like me and you’ve been active on Facebook for a while, then the idea of posting more frequently may seem counterintuitive. Back in the day, you didn’t NEED to post that often, because every update had a bigger audience!
Anymore, though, each update is getting seen by only a tiny sliver of your fans – so you want to hit as many different slivers as possible.
THIS is why I preach social media automation all the time – because if you have to update your Facebook page four or five times a day, you don’t want to have to stop what you’re doing four or five times a day to do it manually.
It’s also the reason you should keep track of your old updates so you can reuse them for a fresh audience later on. If only 10% of your fans see a status update that you post, why not post it again later on? Odds are, most of the people who see it the second time didn’t see it the first time!
Of course, that doesn’t mean that every time you post an update, it’s going to get seen by an entirely new group of people – but the overlap is going to be negligibly minimal, so don’t let that stop you.
What you should do now is take a good, hard look at what you’re posting and when, then compare it to your Facebook Insights. Are you posting according to when your fans are online, or according to when they engage with you? What types of posts are getting the best reach? The worst? The answers may be different from person to person, so don’t rely on someone else’s statistics – do your research now, so you can quit wasting time and updates later!