Facebook’s News Feed Links Status Updates to Pages Even If Users Don’t

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By Josh Constine Comments

Facebook is now showing a special type of news feed story that links to a Page when multiple friends post updates that mention the Page’s name, even if they don’t explicitly tag it. The story reads “[Friend’s name] and [x] other friends posted about [Page name]”, with the Page’s name linked.

The “Posted About” news feed story shows that Facebook is using natural language processing on status updates to perform named entity recognition. It will help users determine topics that are trending amongst their friends, and help the Pages representing these topics gain more fans.

Facebook previously tested the same type of aggregated news feed story in late 2010, with the stories reading that multiple friends had “mentioned” a Page without tagging it. Other types of aggregated news feed stories the site has tested include those showing that multiple friends had published a link to the same website, written on the same friend’s wall, or checked into the same Place. However, none of these require named entity recognition.

Page names are recognized from within simple text status updates as well as the headlines of posted links. Users can explicitly tag Pages they Like in their status updates using the @ operator, but some users don’t know about this feature, purposefully opt not to tag Pages, or don’t Like the Pages they would tag. Aggregated Posted About stories let Facebook link these updates to the mentioned Pages without actually changing a user’s original update, and thread Likes and comments for each original post.

Posted About news feed stories and other aggregated stories surface popular content and actions from a user’s social graph, providing personalized trending topics. This contrasts with Twitter’s less personalized trending topics feature, which displays the most frequently mentioned words or phrases from the worldwide Twitter user base, or specific cities or countries.

These Posted About stories are highly relevant and fun to read because they present different opinions on a specific topic. You might see a post of a friend talking about how they appreciate a new feature in iTunes aggregated with another friend’s post recommending a new album to buy on iTunes.

However, Facebook has confirmed with us that its natural language processing doesn’t detect sentiment, how a Page’s name is being used, or whether the mentioned Page was actually the focus of the update. As such, the Posted About stories may highlight Pages that aren’t actually what a user was discussing, or that are being talked about negatively. Brands might be weary of having bitter or defamatory posts linked to their official presence.

For these reasons, some users may not enjoy the presence of Posted About stories. They may feel that Facebook is invading their privacy by “reading” their posts, even though the processing is done by computers, not humans. Others may not necessarily want to promote a Page they mention, especially if their update criticizes it, and may feel that they are being used by Facebook as a marketing tool. This could make particularly sensitive users less likely to mention Page names, or make them post less frequently in general, especially since there is no way to opt out of being included in these types of posts.

Growth Opportunity for Pages

Page admins should be excited about the resumed trial of Posted About news feed stories, as they will likely drive growth of Pages. Each mention of a Page aggregated by the story represents a social recommendation, indicating the Page is important to the viewer’s network. They can then follow these implicit recommendations by clicking through the link to the Page and Liking it.

Getting users to tag Pages in updates is a core free growth channel for Pages, and now Facebook is relieving users from having to remember to tag a Page or going through the chore of adding the tag. The Posted About stories should increase the total presence of links to Pages in the news feed, augmenting paid Page marketing through ads with organic growth. The story stype will give businesses an added incentive to get users talking about them on Facebook, and especially help commonly discussed Pages to grow.

Posted About aggregated news feed stories could make the news feed more relevant, and there’s also plenty more potential for natural language processing to improve Facebook. One day you might be able to see aggregated stories about multiple friends that are happy or that are discussing world news , no matter what words they use to describe the emotion or topic.