Why no one can hear you on Facebook
January 26th, 2012 by Matthew Stradiotto
You may be wondering why your brand’s Facebook posts are not generating the user engagement you expected they would (those valuable likes, comments, and shares), and if so you’re not alone.
It’s 2012, the year the Facebook Page turns five, and the year that Facebook’s active user count lumbers ever closer to the staggering one billion person mark. It’s also a year in which there exists more noise, more clutter, and more plain old content in our news feeds than… well ever before.
Our Facebook news feeds are under attack. Not only do most users have more Facebook friends than ever before, most users have ‘liked’ more Facebook pages than ever before. And there are a lot of pages to like, according to Socialbakers almost 1.5 million and counting. All of that page content is taking a toll on what the users of our brand pages actually see, and don’t see.
2012 also marks the arrival of many new Facebook Open Graph Applications, and with them a barrage of ‘frictionless’ sharing which promises to double, or even triple the content in an already overloaded news ticker. These new apps are more than the standard Facebook social plug-in. The ‘sharing’ which these new open graph applications generate (the pumping of friend’s content in the direction of your news feed) is frictionless because you are often not even aware that it is happening. The sharing is easy, and fast, and thus there will be a lot more of it.
In fact there are more reasons than ever to blame for your brand content not reaching its intended target. The culprits are clutter, competition, compression – and this new reality is concerning from a brand perspective. Our story-telling climate has given birth to the News Feed Battle Royale, and your brand is inside the cage whether you like it or not. You’re fighting a filter game, a contest where filters (some you determine and some you don’t) decide which content gets through. The euphemism for playing this game is News Feed Optimization (NFO), and trial and error is the strategy of choice.
Why do 90% of your brand page users visit your page, like it, and never return? Arguably, many of these users may never have visited your brand page in the first place. They may have simply liked your page remotely (from within a friend’s post, via a sponsored story, or via your website or someone else’s). And where do they disappear to? Mostly, they’re back looking at their own news feed. And that’s where you need to be.
The News Feed Algorithm (aka EdgeRank)
It’s time for a reminder of how the Facebook machine determines which content will have prominence inside a user’s news feed. Each time you publish content to your brand’s page an important determination is made inside fractions of a second by a proprietary algorithm Facebook has previously named EdgeRank. This active news feed filter derives its name from matrix-speak, the terminology for interconnected things. On Facebook, the things interconnecting are your piece of content (an OBJECT in Facebook parlance) and the people you hope will see and interact with it (the USERS who like your page). Objects have EDGES, and those edges form the connection points between a given object and its intended user. An edge’s prominence is impacted by interactivity, such as when a user interacts with the object via Facebook actions such as likes, tags, comments, or shares. It’s these ‘edges’ that Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm ranks or filters. And here’s a reminder of what that algorithm looks like:
The EdgeRank of your brand object, that status update or photo you just published, equals the sum of that object’s:
AFFINITY score (u) + WEIGHT score (w) + TIME DECAY score (d)
The affinity score is a determination of the relationship or affinity which exists right now between the intended user and the object’s creator, your brand. This is considered the ‘wild card’ in the EdgeRank algorithm because of the fact that it is forever shifting. Affinity is based on the historical relationship between user and creator, or how ‘close’ these two are. An edge’s affinity score rises with interactions (Facebook actions taken by the user). A higher number of interactions, such as likes or comments, between user and object translate to higher affinity. Are you interesting to the user? Is your content interesting to the user? Has the user interacted with you or your content recently? Has it been a long time since you’ve connected? Each of these determines affinity.
The weight of an object is a more objective measure. Facebook has decided that different objects should have different weights. Some objects are ‘heavier’ than others. Currently, the object with the most weight is a video object. The second heaviest is a photo, the third a link/URL, and the object with the lowest weight score is the lowly status update (“I feel great today, how about you?”). Facebook actions also determine the weight of an object’s edge. From heaviest to lightest, actions are ranked as follows: share, comment, like, click. If you want to increase the weight score of your object, and land it more prominently in your user’s news feeds, you should make it a video… and you should make it one that is more likely to encourage sharing. Videos that are shared are the MOST likely objects to have weight and therefore prominence inside user’s newsfeeds.
An object’s decay score is relatively the easiest for the news feed algorithm to determine. The older an object from the date and time it was created, the lower the decay score of its edges. As time passes objects decay and lose prominence. This is a nod to the importance of speed and brevity in your content management regime. Foreseeably, the more often you post the better chance you have of getting past the filter, and reaching more news feeds, all other variables being equal.
So what’s a Facebook marketer to do?
Recent data suggests that fewer than 17% of your brand page’s users actually see your page’s content in their news feeds. If you don’t optimize each post to tackle the news feed filter you can’t realize engagement, and by extension you can’t achieve the reach and virality your posts need to generate a marketing return.
A Social Brand wins the news feed battle with great content. If you don’t establish Affinity with your users, you can’t expect to reach their news feeds. A good relationship is based on the sharing of value. Share objects that have weight with the people you think will engage with them, and do it often.
How to be heard on Facebook
- It takes time. Remember that you are building a relationship with your users, one based on Affinity, and that does not happen over night. Social Brands are built on Facebook over the long term, not just in this quarter.
- Go for the share. Design everything you post with the objective to spark sharing. If your brand posts can generate even a few early shares they gain valuable weight. That weight adds prominence and increases visibility.
- Pay attention to what’s working. Remember that post that had your users talking? That post had value. Spend the time to understand what went right, and repeat!
- Timing is (almost) everything. A lot has been said about post timing on Facebook. There are tangible rewards for the brand that seeks to understand when its users are in front of their news feeds. Have you considered Saturdays?
- Use dollars and cents. It’s true that you can soon buy your way onto the news feed. Facebook Featured Stories are new type of sponsored brand stories that will appear within a user’s news feed. It’s the latest in ad unit innovation from Facebook and it will allow you to pay to improve the ranking of your brand object.
- Get a checkup. EdgeRank Checker is an online service that can score your content and compare it to industry averages. And the recently released Fathom Analytics tool scores your brand page’s health within your product category on a Relationship Quality Index (a proprietary index which incorporates data points on emotion, momentum, and engagement).