Facebook News Feed Placement Is All About Relevancy

By Justin Lafferty 

Facebook’s algorithm, which decides what users see and when, has become a hot topic in recent months as the company tweaks it to ensure that users see the content with which they’d be most likely to engage. During a meeting Friday with selected members of the media, Facebook representatives explained that there’s no malicious intent with the changes in its algorithm. Based on how users have engaged with posts in the past, Facebook wants users to see what kinds of stories they’d be most willing to like, comment on, and share.

When a Facebook user checks his or her news feed, they’ll see certain types of stories:

  • Relationship stories, which are direct posts from people they know.
  • Page stories, which are stories from pages they have liked.
  • Other stories, such as ads, sponsored stories, and open graph actions.

For relationship stories, Facebook studies the user’s past history to determine the likelihood that they will positively engage by leaving a comment or liking, or negatively engage by hiding or complaining to Facebook. For instance, if you have interacted with a certain group of friends and liked statuses about a certain topic, you are more likely to see those stories in the future. On the flip side, if you’ve hidden posts from certain users or pages, those posts will be dropped down or not shown in the future.

Two other factors that determine whether or not a post appears in a user’s news feed: other users’ reactions and the type of story. If a user interacts with photos more than videos, links, or text, that user will start to see more photos. If many fans or a user’s friends are commenting en masse, those kinds of posts are more likely to appear in the user’s news feed again in the future.

Will Cathcart, Facebook’s product manager of news feed, explained this, using Star Wars characters:

Users come to Facebook every day, and we have lots of stuff that’s happening on Facebook, but people don’t have enough time to check everything out … How does Yoda react to the publisher over time? Does he like, comment, share? … The algorithm is trying to pick that information up and personalize it for each user.

Cathcart also noted that this changes based on whether or not a user accesses Facebook from desktop or mobile, but only slightly. Again, the unifying question is, “Will the user engage with this post?”

In practice, the fact that you’re on your phone means that some posts might be more likely to be relevant for you … Our goal in both is to give you what’s relevant.

In September, Facebook made changes to the algorithm to make sure that the posts coming from pages are the ones with which users would be more likely to engage. Many, many page administrators cried foul, feeling that this was an intentional tactic by Facebook to decrease reach. Cathcart said that Facebook tweaks the algorithm regularly, roughly every week.

Facebook’s Matt Idema, the company’s product marketing director of ads, said that the changes have actually affected pages both positively and negatively. The Facebook reps noted that engagement has gone up since September, as posts that were not as likely to gain engagement dropped lower and posts where people loved to comment, like, and share rose to the top.

Idema said that since the changes went into place, complaints about posts have fallen, while engagement has risen. Cathcart noted that these changes affected everyone differently, but median reach largely stayed the same:

A large number of people went up, and a large number of people went down. We didn’t tag specific pages. The algorithm change affected everyone in the system, but in a different way.

Cathcart said that while there are no specific numbers to show how successful pages feed has been, he pointed to games feed as an example. Although a vast majority of users still prefer to see the main news feed over the specific feed pages, those who visit the games or pages feeds are much more likely to engage with posts there.

Facebook does want to work with pages to help them find more success through the social network, Idema said:

What we try to do is give pages the tools they need to understand what’s resonating, and we’ll do more and more of that by giving them post types that resonate with certain types of interactions with people … If you really want a message to go to people who you think might be more interested in this type of content than this kind, we’ll give you the ability to do that.

Idema also talked about how promoted posts work for pages, noting that many small businesses have used them as an effective way to market to users:

One of the things that we hear consistently from them is that our ad products could be simplified and easier to use. Promoted posts were a simple way to create an ad that would run in news feed … Since late May and early June, it’s received significant adoption among small businesses. Many of these are new advertisers on the Facebook platform. A significant amount use them over and over.

Readers: Does this help your understanding of Facebook’s news feed?