For some marketers, Facebook’s constant tweaking of the News Feed algorithm — which determines what users see and don’t see in their feed — is a source of frustration. So if this is you, prepare yourself for further frustration.
I don’t think any of these updates are a big deal, but we’ll get to that later in this post. For now, let’s talk about what’s been updated and how that could impact you as a marketer.
Authenticity and Timeliness
Facebook is in an ongoing battle with inauthentic content. Whether it’s click bait or fake news, Facebook wants to limit how much of this content gets visibility in the news feed.
This update, in itself, is nothing new. But anyone who has been on their news feed will attest that while there may be less of this content than there once was, the difference isn’t all that noticeable. The sleazy publishers are still winning.
So this update provides Facebook with additional signals for detecting and dealing with inauthentic content. The target here is misleading, sensational and spammy content.
Here’s how Facebook will improve these signals:
1. Categorize pages that post spam or try to game the news feed.
These new signals will focus on spam as well as pages that ask for likes, comments and shares. Once again, this isn’t a new stand by Facebook. In April of 2014, they took aim at pages that ask for comments, likes and shares.
The focus is on authenticity. Facebook wants users to like, comment on or share a post because it’s of interest to them. It doesn’t mean that A call-to-action is a button or link on your ad that suggests the action you want your audience to take. Examples: "Learn More" or "Sign Up." are bad, but it’s how some pages have used it.
You see, some will say “like this post if X, comment if Y and share if Z.” That’s clearly not authentic, and it’s a way to game the news feed.
Facebook will now categorize pages that do this. It’s not clear, of course, how often or recently a page needs to violate this rule to fall under this category. If it’s something they did often a year ago, will they be categorized this way?
2. Train a model that tests whether posts from other pages are authentic.
Facebook then uses those posts that were categorized as gaming the system to train a model to detect other inauthentic posts. Another signal these models will use is if people are often hiding these posts.
As a result, Facebook will be able to quickly detect when pages are attempting to game the system and punish their content accordingly.
3. Updates to real-time signals.
Real-time has always been important to the news feed. If you’ve engaged with something recently, you’re more likely to see something from that source again. If a friend engages with something recently, you also may then see it.
With this update, Facebook is taking a look at engagement changes that occur in real-time. For example, you may not have shown any interest in a particular topic in the past. But maybe that topic is getting way more engagement than normal from your friends right now (trending content, for example), so you’ll be more likely to see it while it’s temporarily a hot topic.
With today’s update, we will now take into account how signals change in real time. So now if there is a lot of engagement from many people on Facebook about a topic, or if a post from a Page is getting a lot of engagement, we can understand in real-time that the topic or Page post might be temporarily more important to you, so we should show that content higher in your feed.
Facebook also provided a sports example. These are live events that are going on right now. So it’s more important that you see updates on this live event now while it’s happening, rather than tomorrow or a week from now.
Video Completion Rates
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, video is getting more focus within the algorithm these days. It naturally gets more engagement, which leads to more visibility. And live video is even more likely to reach your feed.
But this update applies to completion rate. In other words, Facebook looks at how much of a video people look at to help determine how interesting it is.
Facebook has looked at video completion rate in the past when ranking content. However, the problem was that this naturally favored short videos. You could accidentally watch 50% of a 10-second video, and Facebook would then rank it high. Meanwhile, you could watch two minutes of a 10-minute video, and it may not get as much reach.
With this update, Facebook is tweaking how they weight completion rate. Watching a percentage of a longer video will be more valuable than watching the same percentage of a short one.
The result of this change is that you may start seeing more long videos — assuming they are getting good engagement — than short videos in your news feed. Or the longer ones will at least start appearing higher.
Facebook’s History of News Feed Algorithm Changes
Facebook has been documenting these updates since August 6, 2013 with their News Feed FYI blog. Looking back, the tweaks largely follow a common theme: Authenticity.
In addition to the recent update mentioned above to help flag inauthentic content, here are a few other examples of when Facebook took this on:
- December 15, 2016: Addressing Hoaxes and Fake News
- August 4, 2016: Further Reducing Clickbait in Feed
- July 31, 2015: A Better Understanding of “Hide”
- January 20, 2015: Showing Fewer Hoaxes
- November 14, 2014: Reducing Overly Promotional Page Posts in News Feed
- August 25, 2014: Click-baiting
- April 10, 2014: Cleaning Up News Feed Spam
- August 23, 2013: Showing More High Quality Content
That’s eight updates, if you’re counting, and this only includes those updates that had authenticity, spam, and gaming the system as priorities to be addressed. Facebook really wants to limit that stuff.
What You Should Do
If you’ve been doing things the right way all along, you just shrug and smile. This only helps you. You don’t need to change anything.
I’ve long preached authenticity. I’ve long said that you should avoid attempts at gaming the system for short-term gain.
People often counter, “But if it works, why not?” Because Facebook catches up to you. You do not want to be on their bad side when they do.
Of particular importance is Facebook’s categorization of pages that spam and attempt to game the system. As mentioned above, it’s not clear how bad of an abuser you need to be to get this label. It’s not clear how badly you will be punished. It’s not clear when and if you’d be able to shake that label.
But that’s something I never need to worry about. And if you’ve been listening and following your gut, you don’t need to worry about it either.
Bottom line is that you always need an eye on the long-term. Those obsessed with short-term results at all costs have few breaths left.
It will be interesting to see if there are noticeable changes to the news feed as a result of these updates. As mentioned, it’s been a constant battle for Facebook to keep spammy, inauthentic content out of the feed — and it’s largely been a losing battle up to this point.
What do you think of these updates? Let me know in the comments below!