EdgeRank is one of the most important algorithms in marketing. Despite this, very few people have heard of it and fewer still can claim that they fully understand it.

EdgeRank is the name of the algorithm which Facebook uses to determine what appears in their users’ news feeds. The news feed is Facebook’s ‘Killer App’. There is a plethora of information available to Facebook users, and the newsfeed is the order in which it appears.

It determines which of your connections is the most important to you and thus appears most frequently, and which kinds of content should appear higher than others. For anyone seeking to market a product or service on Facebook it’s essential you understand how this algorithm works.

Understanding the rules of the algorithm and changing your tactics to reflect the system can make the difference between a business changing campaign and an embarrassing failure. Yet despite this huge importance very little has been written about the algorithm.

Unlike many of the algorithms that are changing marketing, Edgerank is actually not that sophisticated, but don’t let its relative simplicity make you underestimate the influence knowledge of the subject will have on your tactical choices.

Let’s start off with the name. Other than because it sounds cool, why is the News Feed algo known as EdgeRank? This is because every piece of content is known as an “edge”.

So, a status update is an edge; liking a status update, that’s an edge; uploading a photo, that’s an edge, too; or a change in relationship status? That’s also an edge. Basically, every interaction you have with Facebook that creates a piece of content is known as an Edge.

So, the newsfeed isn’t really a feed of news, instead it’s a chart of the most ‘important’ Edges which are determined by the EdgeRank Algorithm. What are the elements that make this algorithm? A combination of three factors: Affinity, Edge weight and Recency. 

The EdgeRank formula is based on these three elements. While this does make the algo seem simple, there’s actually a huge amount of complexity behind these three factors.

Affinity

Affinity is a score based on the proximity or how “friendly” you are with someone. You’ve probably seen this in action. Spy on an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, snoop on their profile and suddenly they’re in your news feed all the time.

Comment on someone’s photos and you’ll find them appearing in your feed more often.  This is affinity in action. You’ve sent a proactive signal that you have a ‘close-ness’ to that individual or organisation. The algorithm acknowledges this and begins to order the results in your newsfeed accordingly.

Some people aren’t wholly supportive of Affinity having such a significant role in EdgeRank. The concern is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. the more often someone appears in your news feed, the more likely you are to increase you affinity, which in turn increases the likelihood of them appearing in your feed in the future and so on.

But given how people tend to cluster around only a small number of their connections it seems to work well for most people on Facebook.

One of the most important things you need to realise about affinity as a marketer is that affinity is one-way. This means you visiting a forgotten friends profile doesn’t increase the likelihood of you appearing in their newsfeed.

I’m sure for nosey people that is great news. It is less likely to be considered good news for company profiles. For example, if you visit a profile of someone following you, it will have no impact on your Edges appearing in their feed. However you commenting on a photo of theirs which then triggers them to comment back would lead to them having a greater affinity to you. 

Edge Weight

Edge Weight is a basic formula which decides that certain pieces of content are more likely to appear in news feeds than others. Photos are more important than someone “liking” a business profile, etc.

There’s no definitive sequence of Edge Weight, but there are certain objects which acquire more EdgeRank than others. This can imply that they tend to have a higher Edge Weight than other types of content. 

The three types of content which are widely understood to have the highest Edge Weight are Videos, Photos, and Links. Knowing that these are have the heaviest weighting should alter the way you communicate using Facebook. You should try and incorporate objects with high weight scores into any announcements that you want to reach as many of your followers as possible.

It’s also worth noting that each person’s Edge Weight is different, i.e. someone who likes browsing photographs is more likely to have them in their feed than someone who isn’t as keen on them. It’s not possible to understand which types of objects each of your followers favour, but this should at least deter you from the temptation of adding photos to every status update. 

On the one hand, this will seem like a sensible strategy. It will have a high EdgeWeight. On the other hand, for the people who don’t often click on photos you might have more success with a link, a video or an old fashioned text status update.

It’s also worth noting potential political elements to EdgeWeight. At any point in time there will be certain features which strategically Facebook will want to push. Is it that far-fetched to assume that given Facebook’s desire to own Foursquare style logins in they might turn up the weight of Facebook Places Check-Ins?

You should recognise what Facebook are trying to promote, as it’s likely to influence the EdgeRank algo.

So, clearly variety is important, but understanding the relative weights of different types of object will help you increase the potential audiences of any message you’re trying to get across on Facebook.

Recency

The final element of the EdgeRank is related to recency, which is actually known as time decay. For example, regardless of how much the EdgeRank is based on Affinity and Weight, if it’s old news it becomes less likely to appear. This is different to Twitter which relies only on chronological order;

Facebook is still very reliant on the temporal nature of content, which is again pretty self-evident. Put simply, recency is that something newer is more likely to appear than something older.

The implication of this being that you should create objects and edges at the points in time when your audience are most likely to be using Facebook. This decreases the time decay and therefore increases the chance of your content reaching their news feed.

There is also another potential consequence of understanding the time decay factor. When appearing in the news feed you have exceeded the EdgeRank of other items. You might then increase the exposure by creating content when other people are less likely to be creating content, therefore reducing the competition for spots in the news feed.

Things you can do to increase your EdgeRank

Now if you’re a regular user of Facebook, many of these ideas behind EdgeRank are obvious, but with a good appreciation and understanding of how EdgeRank works you will begin to make more intelligent decisions in your Facebook marketing campaign.

The creativity of big campaigns is important. However, from my experience of Facebook Marketing, while it’s these huge efforts that always draw the attention and become the focus of case studies, it’s actually those lower profile campaigns which are built on constant interaction with their fans that really deliver the most value. 

Whether you’re managing a campaign to make a big splash or a constant drip, there are plenty of takeaways from understanding more about more about how Edgerank works. 

For example if you have an important launch coming up and you really want that content to appear in as many of your fans’ news feeds as possible, what can you do to increase the likelihood of it appearing?

First of all, you want to do all you can to increase the affinity between your followers and you ahead of the announcement. Perhaps you could start a debate on one of your status updates which lots of your followers contribute to.

Not only will the number of comments increase the likelihood of that particular item appearing in the newsfeed , but also anyone who has made a contribution will have increased their affinity to you. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for the contribution! Buddy Media has found that using questioning words like Where, When, Why and Would have a dramatic influence on likes and comments, and as these likes and comments increase affinity, this has a positive influence on the reach of any future messages.

So, in the run up to your important announcement, plan a series of updates which have the purpose of trying to increase the affinity between your profile and your followers.  Tease the update, ask questions, say something divisive, etc. You need a plan to increase the affinity of as many of your followers as possible.  

This should be an on-going plan as affinity is something that will decrease over time, and generally speaking, you want as many of your updates to appear in front of as many of the right people as possible.

We also know that in general, photos tend to appear in news feeds more frequently than normal status update. Well then, perhaps you ought to accompany the release with a series of photographs. Videos and Links also have a higher than average weighting so should also be part of your posting plans.

So, media and assets need to be part of your Facebook strategy. You need to develop a content and asset strategy and a schedule for them. This can be comprehensive or flexible but thinking about what you can do to create updates with higher weight will enable you to interact with a bigger audience. Also, the fact that this type of content is also far more likely to be shared is an added bonus.

If you also know that the more recent your update is, the more likely it is to appear in news feeds, that should have an impact on when your announcement is made to ensure it coincides with your followers logging into their accounts. Explore when you get the most interaction on your posts and try and coincide future updates.

One of the biggest problem I have with most Facebook marketing campaigns is that they look to the number of likes a Facebook Page has the main measure of success.

Although it is very easy to measure, EdgeRank educates us that just because someone ‘Likes’ an account doesn’t mean it will appear in the followers news feed.

This means if you want your messages and conversations to reach your potential customers, you will find a smaller but more engaged audience may lead to more appearances in the feed than a larger but less engaged audience.

UPDATE: If you want to find out more about the secrets of Edgerank and live in the Manchester area then do come along to our next Digital Shorts event, on 18 May