How Does The Facebook Algorithm Work?

What drives the content on your Facebook news feed? What types of content perform better? What can you do to improve your reach on Facebook? An expert explains.

Article Difficulty Level: Beginner.

When I’m consulting with or training a business on how to effectively use Facebook ads, one of the biggest issues I run into is that the person running the company’s social media presence usually has either a very low-level understanding of how the Facebook algorithm works, or they believe some popular misconceptions about it. In order to help educate the public and dispel some of these myths, I thought I’d take a stab at explaining what the Facebook algorithm is, how it works, and what that means for you.

You must understand how the Facebook algorithm works if you manage the social media presence for any business, including your own. Otherwise, your entire strategy is nothing more than a shot in the dark. If you’ve ever wondered why some people are able to post content that goes viral while your stuff remains motionless, that’s because those other people understand the Facebook algorithm and they are tailoring their content and strategy to take advantage of it. But first, what is the Facebook algorithm?

The content you see on Facebook is determined by an algorithm called Edgerank. Think of Edgerank as an artificially intelligent being. When Facebook first created it, it was a child – simple in thought and action. The posts on your news feed mostly appeared in chronological order. As time went on, engagement began to affect the content that you saw. Posts that got higher engagement reached more people. This change is what created the concept of viral content, and is what shapes almost everything we do online today.

As time went on, Edgerank grew up. It became more complex, capable of using a much wider range of factors to determine what content floated to the top. It developed a personality of sorts. Just like a teenager, the more unique it became, the easier it has become to predict it’s behavior. Right now, Edgerank is in the process of becoming an adult. It left home and was exposed to the world through the recent political scrutiny it has received. It’s been criticized by it’s elders that don’t understand how it thinks, and it is desperately trying to be “cool” in a world that wants to control its every move.

How does Edgerank work? Well, nobody really knows. But we know enough. When you’ve been using Facebook as a marketing tool as long as I have, you tend to see behind the curtain just by poking and prodding after a while. Just like you can observe a person’s behavior and come to conclusions about their personality and their thought processes, so can we guess at how Edgerank influences our world.

Facebook has explained Edgerank in general terms. Experts with far more experience and resources than I have done in-depth studies and reverse engineered enough so that we have a fairly good understanding of how the algorithm works and what it does. In simplest terms, it attempts to increase the reach of valuable content and decrease the reach of bad content. It defines “valuable” content as content that Facebook thinks people want to see more of, as determined by their past behavior. Facebook studies its users behavior in order to see what they like and don’t like, and Edgerank is adjusted to give preference to the type of content that users tend to prefer. So, if you want to succeed on Facebook, you need to understand what this content is and how to duplicate it.

Edgerank has changed recently. At any given point in time, this statement will be true – because it is always changing. However, it changed much more than normal this year (2018), so if you’ve studied it before, you need to go back and study it again. Reading this article is a good place to start.

Edgerank now has three main factors that it uses to determine what content you see. Each of these factors affects a single score that is assigned to every post that you might see, and that score is completely relative to you as an individual. Nobody else’s news feed will ever look exactly like yours, even if they have only the exact same friends as you and like only the pages that you like. The three factors that Edgerank uses to determine your unique score for every potential post in your news feed are:

  1. Affinity Score (Engagement/Relation)
  2. Edge Weight (Content Type)
  3. Time Decay. (Age)

Affinity Score measures two separate things. First, it measures how close the person generating the content (the “Edge”) is to you. This is why you see more posts from people that you are closest to, and less posts from the people on your friends list that you haven’t talked to in forever. We don’t know all of the ways that Facebook calculates this, but one of the biggest factors is how frequently you engage with that person.

Affinity Score also measures the engagement on that content (the “Edge”). As we all know, posts with more engagement reach more people. It weights each engagement separately too – comments are worth more than likes, shares are worth more than comments, etc. In addition, it also (supposedly) factors in the amount of time since that engagement occurred. If you’ve ever logged onto Facebook and most of the posts on your news feed are about stuff that happened three days ago, that is due to an error in this part of the algorithm.

Edge Weight is affected by the type of content that you are posting. I’ve used “Edge” to refer to pieces of content, but that content can be anything on your news feed – not just a post, but a “Trey Edwards liked this post” type of post that you will see often on Facebook. Each of those posts are considered “Edges.” Edge Weight is a measure of the weight of any given Edge type. So, for instance, when Facebook is rolling out a new feature, they will give it a boost in Edge Weight. Live video, for instance, gets a boost in reach inherently just because it is a type of content that Facebook wants to push. Right now, posts in Groups have the biggest Edge Weight bonus. This is why it is always smart to be one of the first people to use new features that Facebook rolls out.

Edge Weight is also altered on a per-user basis. In other words, your Edge Weight for a certain type of content (say, videos) may be different than someone else’s. If you tend to watch a lot of videos, then videos will receive a higher Edgerank score for you than other types of content.

Time Decay is pretty straightforward. It’s just a measure of how long it’s been since that Edge was created. The older a post is, the lower it’s Edgerank score will be.

All of these factors create a single score for every potential post in your news feed. Your news feed is then simply a list of all of those posts, sorted by highest Edgerank score to lowest. However, nobody actually knows what these scores are, or exactly what weight is given to each factor. Facebook keeps this a closely guarded secret. This is the algorithm that makes Facebook work the way it does, and it is what drives the site’s success. The better this algorithm becomes at predicting what content people want to see, the more time people will spend on the site.

Use this knowledge to your advantage. Study the experts. Go to pages that you know get a large amount of reach and engagement. See what kind of content they are posting and what they are saying and how they are saying it. All of these things are carefully tailored by social media experts in order to intentionally boost Edgerank scores and get content in front of as many people as possible. The only cost associated with this is the time you take to learn it.

There’s no silver bullet. I can’t tell you exactly what to do to succeed, because Edgerank is always changing. What is true today may not be true tomorrow. Today, live video and Groups are the best way to build reach and engagement. Tomorrow it may be something else. Stay on top of the trends and follow the experts. My blog is just getting started, but I’ve been doing Facebook for a long time, so you might start by following mine. I’d also suggest following Social Media Examiner, Mari Smith, Cat Howell, Ad Zombies, and Jon Loomer. All of these pages are no-nonsense, no-gimmick genuine experts. I’d also recommend joining the Facebook Ad Hacks group – a free-to-join group of about 70,000 Facebook marketers as of the date this article was published. It is run by Cat Howell, who I mentioned above. It can be a bit intense at times, but it is a great environment to learn in.

A word of caution – don’t get stuck in the weeds with the gimmicky marketers that run ads of themselves talking into a camera about how many thousands of dollars they make a day while driving fancy cars and living in a huge house… those are scams. Trust me. They rented that car and that house for the day so they could film that video. If they really made that much money with some secret formula no one had ever heard of before, the last thing they’d be doing is giving it out. Those are nothing more than modern-day snake oil salesmen. There is no secret sauce to making Facebook work for you. It takes a lot of study, hard work, and trial and error – just like everything else in life. Just don’t be afraid to try new things and take risks – sometimes you’ll be surprised at your results.

Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up in the comments section. 

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