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Last night Facebook revealed changes to the algorithm it uses to determine which stories appear in a user's news feed.
This was an interesting development for a number of reasons. Here are my five takeaways and learnings for brands
1. Facebook admitting that news feed algorithms exist
This announcement represents a major shift in the way Facebook communicates about the news feed algorithm (commonly known as Edgerank):
We’ve heard from our users and Page owners that we need to do a better job of communicating these updates. Starting today, we’re going to try and change that. News feed FYI blog posts, beginning with this one, will highlight major updates to News Feed and explain the thinking behind them.
Not only did it admit that an algorithm exists, but it gave a number of important insights, including:
- Every time someone visits their news feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see.
- Only 300 of these stories will show up due to the news feed algorithm.
2. No major changes
While there were a few new updates announced, there are no signs of wholesale changes to how news feed operates and how posts are ranked. There is also no impact on paid mechanisms and products.
Facebook also gave the clearest detail yet about the factors that determine post ranking:
- How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like an actor or journalist) who posted.
- The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world at large and from your friends in particular.
- How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past.
- Whether or not you and other people across Facebook are hiding or reporting a given post.
Key learning for brands: Again, good news here for brands as most of what works (or doesn't work) at the moment will remain. The changes that have been made largely build upon existing ranking factors.
3. Story bumping
Story bumping is a new signal that Facebook has added to counteract a very specific problem with post decay:
Today we are announcing an update to the news feed ranking algorithm. Now organic stories that people did not scroll down far enough to see can reappear near the top of news feed if the stories are still getting lots of likes and comments.
When users load up Facebook in the morning, a finite number of stories are shown on screen. They can scroll to view additional stories, but inevitably users leave some unread before clicking elsewhere. Story bumping ensures that when the user logs in to Facebook later in the day, some of these unread stories are brought to the top of their news feed alongside whatever has been posted since they last accessed the social network.
According to Facebook, this change in testing has seen a 5% increase in the number of likes, comments and shares on stories users saw from friends and an 8% increase in likes, comments and shares on stories from Pages.
Further stats from Facebook revealed that, previously, users read on average 57% of the stories in their news feeds, but didn't scroll far enough to see the other 43%. In testing, with story bumping, the number of stories read increased to 70%.
Key learning for brands: Sustaining engagement after a story has been posted will be key here. Encouraging comments through effective community management will increase the amount of discussion around a story and optimise it for story bumping.
4. Last actor
Last actor is a signal that takes into account the last 50 interactions that a user has. People and Pages that are within the last 50 interactions will receive a small bump in ranking value.
Key learning for brands: One-off engagement is therefore not enough to maximise awareness. Brands need to be encouraging users to interact on a regular basis.
5. Last actor chronological
This is an update that Facebook revealed last night but that isn't active yet. It's a move by Facebook to grab some of Twitter's real-time success and follows quick on the announcement of hashtags on Facebook.
This update seeks to determine the stories by a specific user that are about a real-time event. It then displays these posts in chronological order at the top of the news feed (like Twitter) but leaves the rest of the feed as it is.
Key learning for brands: This update hasn't rolled out yet so it's one to watch, but there is a clear sign here that Facebook is getting serious about real-time.