The great Facebook mystery of Fall 2012 may be on the precipice of a solution. Beginning in late September, a number of advertising executives claimed that Facebook had changed its EdgeRank algorithm, which determines what content (friends’ status updates, photos, page posts, etc.) gets displayed in users' News Feeds. The great sin? Curtailed reach of brands’ page posts—though Robin Grant, global managing director of social agency We Are Social, surmised that the change would actually help brands.
In the wake of the outcry, Facebook ads engineer Philip Zagoris wrote in a blog post on the company’s agency-directed site Facebook Studio that Facebook does adjust EdgeRank to make sure the News Feed doesn’t turn lame. “It’s important to note that we constantly monitor signals from people in [the] News Feed, not only when they engage with a story or ad, but also when they hide a person’s story or a Page’s ad that they might not want to see or report a story as spam,” he wrote.
The latter reason—spam—may in fact be the culprit of the change. Facebook analytics firm PageLever dug through the daily spam complaints for more than 700 pages with at least 100,000 fans between August and October and found that spam reports did in fact spike during September. “Average spam complaints per unique post view increased by over 1,000 percent in early September due to a few pages suddenly generating a massive number of spam complaints,” said PageLever co-founder Jeff Widman. As PageLever's chart shows, the spam complaints began to ebb shortly after Facebook's EdgeRank change, which supposedly took place around Sept. 20.
“Historically, Facebook has worked very hard to preserve the user experience of their platform, so I suspect they just tweaked the EdgeRank algorithm to limit the reach of spammy posts. This is just my guess; I haven't talked with the team there,” Widman said.
The problem doesn’t appear to be pervasive. “I’ve heard from multiple customers that the average reach of their pages actually increased during this time period,” he said.
Facebook on Tuesday evening responded: "We did not introduce these changes to news feed to incentivize users or businesses to use promoted posts; rather we recently saw the need to reduce instances of negative feedback occurring in news feed, such as people hiding posts or reporting posts as spam. While we occasionally make these types of quality checks for news feed, the way news feed surfaces posts has not changed: show people relevant content. In fact, the median reach of Pages has remained the same [since the algorithm change in September], and as a result of the changes, spam complaints and stories hidden by users have fallen significantly."