One of the biggest areas of confusion I witness throughout photography communities surrounds Facebook and the way its algorithm works. At least three times a week, I read assertions that Facebook “is just trying to get you to pay.” Well, yes and no.
First, remember that Facebook is, for all intents and purposes, free. In other words, YOU are the product that keeps it in business. For years, businesses have used it as an almost-free way to promote and grow their own businesses. Secondly, has Facebook had 1.1 billion active daily users. When you take into account that the average American has 350 Facebook “friends” (that number in the age group of 18-24 jumps to 649!), and “likes” close to 80 pages (not to mention groups!), there is a LOT of content to prioritize.
In 2015, Facebook took even more steps to help its users filter and find the content they actually care about. In the early part of the year, they started penalizing sites that were overly-promoting clickbait and spammy posts. Later, they introduced a “Notifications” options so fans could opt-in to receiving notifications any time their favorite pages posted specific types of content. Ultimately? User behavior is what determines the News Feed results.
Affinity – Weight – Time
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to keep it simple. Facebook’s algorithm has always been centered around user behavior, and there are three cornerstone components to that behavior – affinity, weight, and time.
Affinity is the relationship between the user and other users, pages, groups, events, and so forth. For example, if my sister (whom I interact with often on Facebook) and three of my best friends (whom I also interact with often on Facebook), all like a Page, the affinity score between me and that Page is higher than if I was the only person in my circle who likes the Page.
Weight is factored in two ways. The first is the “weight” given to the type of post. Video is Facebook’s priority right now, so the weight given to videos posted on Facebook is higher than other types of posts, like a photo album or a link share. Actions on Facebook – likes, shares, comments, invites – are also weighted. A “share” is worth more than a “comment”, and a “comment” is worth more than a “like.” I’ve said this a million times before, and I’ll say it again – Someone “liking” a post on Facebook is like you glancing at a magazine cover while standing in line at the grocery store. Pretty much worthless – you didn’t pick it up, you didn’t flip through and see ads, you didn’t buy a copy, and you probably won’t think about it again once you look away.
Time decay is another factor. If a post garners a lot of social interaction up front, but stops after an hour, the post isn’t going to keep resurfacing to your fans. If that same post continues to garner likes over a few hours, and then perhaps a whole day? Then it’s going to continue to resurface for a longer period of time.
I’ve over-simplified those components, but even understanding those basics – nay, accepting those basics, is crucial to understanding why or why not your content performs well.
Some other factors include how long you spend looking at a post in your feed. This is relatively new to the Facebook algorithm, but it really does impact what is shown next. Before, when clickbait was running even more rampant, a user would have to click-through to a site (and therefore off of Facebook) to get the whole scoop. But with this new addition, if a fan sees your post in the News Feed, and stops to read the whole post right then and there, they’re more likely to have another post surface in their feed the next time they go to Facebook.
Another important piece of the algorithm to understand is its sophistication. If you want to see continual organic engagement with your Page, you have to consistently post engaging and interesting content. You can’t post one great thing and expect it to be your silver bullet. It has to be an ongoing, strategic effort on your part.
Facebook Does Not Penalize Non-advertisers
One thing that doesn’t affect your organic performance on Facebook, however, is whether or not you pay. I’ve been advertising on Facebook since 2006. Never in that time has my organic performance on – literally – dozens of the accounts I’ve managed, been impacted by paid results. That isn’t to say that there is no organic effect (there is, and I discuss that elsewhere), but businesses which choose to only use Facebook for organic marketing are in no way penalized by the social network for not purchasing ads.
With 1.01 billion daily users who share as many as 30 things per day, figuring out how to keep Facebook a personal experience is not an easy task. When it comes to organic Facebook marketing, consistency is your best friend. Be thoughtful in what you post. Think about your best clients – to what do they respond most? What posts drove the most interaction? What patterns are you seeing in the Insights? The answers to those questions are where you should start.