Question of the Week: Getting an Edge on Facebook’s EdgeRank

by Susan Murphy

edgerank-do-facebookThis week’s question comes from Patti Zebchuck. Patti has a passion for marketing, photography and fitness and she’s wonderful at all of these things. She has a great  question about Facebook. Patti asks:

“The correlation between post interaction and impressions has been a little out of proportion at times – meaning less activity on a post should mean less impressions – but it doesn’t always. Any insight into EdgeRank and how it decides to share your content to users?”

So first, a step back.

EdgeRank is the name of the algorithm Facebook uses to decide what you see in your main activity stream.

EdgeRank is calculated using three main attributes:

Affinity: This is how often you interact with a piece of content (so if you share a lot of friends with someone and interact with their content a lot, you’ll see them more in your stream – same with Pages).

Weight: Different actions on Facebook are given different weights. For instance, Comments are worth more than Likes, and photos and videos have a higher weight than links. There are other subtleties to how Facebook factors in weight and types of content that particular users prefer, but essentially weight puts a priority on different types of content.

Time Decay: This is the shelf life of a piece of content. Old news gets pushed out of the feed, and what’s served up to you when you log in to Facebook is the stuff that has the highest rank at that particular moment in time.

Now, keep in mind, that these are best guesses – because Facebook doesn’t make their exact algorithm public, we can only estimate what’s actually happening based on how things seem to come up in our streams.

But essentially what EdgeRank does is calculate which content you interact with most based on a bunch of factors, and displays activity from those accounts in your stream more often, in an effort to make your Facebook experience as relevant as possible. You can somewhat affect this by adding people to your list as “Friends”, “Acquaintances” or another category, or by opting out of things you don’t want to see as often (hover over the right corner of any post and click the arrow that appears for those options). But ultimately, Facebook is the decider when it comes to what shows up in your stream – and the fun part is, they like to change the EdgeRank algorithm often!

So, EdgeRank is great at personalizing your experience on Facebook, but it can be a bit challenging if you’re managing a Facebook Page and trying to get your content in front of as many people as possible. You see, just because you have 400 “Likes” on your Facebook page, doesn’t mean that every time you post something to your page, 400 people are guaranteed to have it show up in your stream. On the contrary – when you post something, only about 8 to 10% of the people who like your page will have your content show up in their streams (this number varies if Facebook decides to play around with the algorithm).

What is frustrating to a lot of people like Patti is, there doesn’t always seem to be any rhyme or reason to how often your post will show up in peoples’ streams. You can see how many times your post showed up in peoples’ streams by looking in the lower left corner of the post:

 

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 7.19.21 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, sometimes this number does seem rather inconsistent, but keep in mind a couple of things. First of all, the number of people who “saw” the post is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually the number of people who had your post show up in their stream – there’s no guarantee that they saw it, or looked at it, or did anything with it. Second, the number increases based on the number of likes, comments and shares of the post. The number in the right bottom corner with the little square beside it indicates how many times the post got shared. If your post gets shared a few times, the “saw this post” number can increase quite a bit, and that’s based on how many friends the people who shared the post have (and some other mysterious calculations, I’m sure). And of course, if you pay to “boost the post”, then you’ll see the number go up even more. Cha-ching!

But let’s take a step back from the numbers themselves, because ultimately, they aren’t a true representation of engagement or eyeballs or anything else. Here’s what’s important:

You Want People to Notice You

Of course, if you’re taking the time to produce content to share on your Facebook Page, you want as many people as possible to notice it. But you also want people to do something more with your content – ideally, they will click through on the link and take the action you desire (purchase a product, make a donation, fill out a form, etc.). You’d also like it if people would share the post with their friends. It would be great if they left a comment, or even gave the post a “like”. That will help your content to spread around Facebook and help you to be in front of more people. How do you do that?

You create content that is relevant to your audience, compelling, exciting, and interesting. 

Numbers Aren’t Everything

Sure, the more people that take the desired action on the content you share, the more opportunity you have to grow. But keep this in mind too – sometimes, you only need one or two people to completely engage with you for a new door to open. If I’m working on sponsorship for an upcoming event, maybe I only need one person to see my content, be compelled by it, and become my title sponsor. If I’m looking to build a rapport with people, maybe posting a silly photo on a Friday afternoon will be enough to make an impression on them, that I’m friendly, cheerful, and worth a second look.

If you focus too much on whether a post has 209 views or 420 views, you’re forgetting what’s really important – creating a compelling experience for people that will be memorable, and building REAL relationships with people – something that can’t be measured by numbers.

Ultimately, you can’t game the system on Facebook – and believe me, people try. But the people who are most successful building their Facebook presence are the ones who first, know WHY they want to be on Facebook (it’s all about the goals!), and second, are able to create a compelling experience for their audience.

Hope that helps Patti, and thanks for a great question!

UPDATE:

Remember that part where I said that Facebook likes to change its algorithm often? Well, no sooner did I post this, and they did just that!

They’ve made a change to the newsfeed ranking algorithm with regards to the Time Decay attribute we talked about earlier. Now, even older posts that have been pushed way down your news feed will resurface at the top if they are popular (receiving a lot of likes, shares and comments). Facebook says this update will allow users to have a better chance of showing people stories they want to see, even if they are older. Of course, if a post has been promoted (i.e. paid for), then it will still take precedence in the news feed.

You can read the whole announcement here. 

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