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How to leverage Facebook's news feed algorithm

How to leverage Facebook's news feed algorithm Scott Meldrum

It's been almost a year since Facebook announced EdgeRank, its algorithm for determining what stories make it into the news feeds of its users. Each time a user posts an item to the wall, the algorithm kicks in to route the item to a select group of the user's friends based on a number of criteria. EdgeRank was created to keep the exchange of information and content between friends as relevant as possible. Not every friend of the user posting the item will see the item. In fact, very few will ever see it.

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The EdgeRank formula works for the "Top News" news feed setting. The "Most Recent" setting delivers posts in chronological order from a completely customizable list of friends and pages. Since the large majority of users' default wall setting is "Top News," EdgeRank is there to do the customizing for you, based on how each item scores in the algorithm. The three main criteria for an item's algorithm score are:

  1. Affinity: How often you and your friends interact on the platform

  2. Weight: Each type of content is weighted differently, based on the past interactions of that type of content

  3. Time: How old the published item is

While the math and the rules behind the algorithm are a bit fuzzy, the premise is simple. Facebook doesn't want any user bombarded with useless, irrelevant content. EdgeRank doesn't just apply to user profiles. It's also used for pages. The algorithm determines which users will see the content from the pages they "like." Unofficial studies have put the percentage of messages that actually make it through at anywhere between 0.50 percent and 5 percent. If, in fact, the actual percentage of posts making it to fans is less than 10 percent, there are some real challenges ahead for brands that leverage Facebook to expand awareness and increase reach.

As I've pointed out in my previous articles, one of the primary benefits of Facebook is the ability to expand the reach of your brand by interacting with your fans. Many different types of fan interaction create a news feed story that is then published to fans' friends. The average Facebook user has 130 friends. This viral distribution engine can be very powerful when leveraged correctly. While the algorithm makes it difficult, you can increase the likelihood of your content getting through by following simple best practices.

Bring them back
The unofficial percentage of fans who visit a Facebook page once and never return is astronomically high at more than 90 percent. Some brands spend upwards of $50,000 or more creating highly interactive environments on Facebook, only to lose them after the first visit. In many cases, the brand's primary foci are on the design of the page, the initial push of traffic, and fan conversion. There is little focus on returning visits and ongoing engagement via the news feed.

Immersive pages are terrific, but it's critical to bring the fan back regularly to interact with them. If your page offers a great experience with multiple custom tabs and content to interact with, you have a real advantage. Use it.

Your status updates should include links to content on the page itself. External clicks do weight in the score but not as much as clicks to pages within the platform. When a fan interacts with your page, EdgeRank assumes that they are interested in hearing what you have to say and will deliver your posts more frequently. The more the fan clicks to your page, the more consistently you will reach them through the news feed.

Get them talking
A status update to your fans should always be an invitation to a conversation. By now, it's common practice to frame your status updates as questions so as to invite comment. Everyone loves to give their opinion, and inviting your fans to do so can drive up the EdgeRank score. Even when you are delivering a link to content -- both on or off the platform -- invite your fans to comment or "like" it. When a fan comments on or "likes" one of your posts, the likelihood of your next message showing up in their news feed is much greater.

Now, it's important to point out that begging for "likes" can grow tired after a while. It's unseemly, and most savvy Facebook users can see right through the ploy. That said, the "like" button is a simple way for your fans to express themselves, and you should be exploring creative ways for them to use it. Often, you can use the "like" button as a voting mechanism. Any post that requests a short-form response -- either positive or negative -- can make use of the button.

Whether you are seeking a "like" or a comment or both, every single time you engage your fans by way of their news feeds, you should be giving them an opportunity to be heard. This is the basic premise behind good communication, be it digital or otherwise, and it's one of the cornerstone principles of EdgeRank.

Ask for their contributions
Some of the most successful Facebook pages were created by users and not the brands behind them. We've all heard the story about how the Coca-Cola Facebook page got its start. It reminds us that some of the most innovative content ideas come from outside of the company. Inviting fans to contribute content, such as photos, stories, or videos, brings up your EdgeRank score since they can only do that by visiting your page. It also makes for a more dynamic experience for the rest of the fans. Most importantly, it allows potential customers to experience what real customers have to say about your brand. If you say it, it's a promise. If your customers say it, it's a promise delivered. 

Something as simple as inviting fans to leave a message on your wall can accomplish multiple goals. It serves as a form of fan interaction, a fan visit, and a possible testimonial that will drive new customer and fan acquisition. Regardless of the type of content your fans contribute, giving them the power to shape their experience with your brand will build the kind of connection that Facebook had in mind when it created EdgeRank. The more your fans contribute, the stronger the connection. The stronger the connection with your fans, the more frequently you will be seen in their news feeds.

Give them consistency
Everyone likes to know what they can expect. Establishing a consistent flow of status updates, content, and links gives your fans a clear indication of how much space you will occupy in their Facebook experience. This lowers the guard a bit and gives you an entry point into forming a more lasting connection with your fans. It also gives you the ability to track what works and what does not work over time.

If you are posting at varied days and times, try narrowing it to set days during a one- or two-hour window. Keep an eye out for spikes, both high and low, in interaction to find out what days and times are best to post. It's ideal to post at least once a day; however, it's more important to stay relevant. Posting too much can kill your EdgeRank score quicker than anything, so it's critical to try to establish a baseline to identify the optimal frequency. As you start to optimize, you will not see an immediate uptick in reach. Keep in mind that there is a time element to optimization. The algorithm is based on real time and historic interaction. It will take time for the new levels of interaction to trump the old. This is why consistency is so important.

The only way to crack the EdgeRank code is to experiment and optimize. Every user is different. The algorithm's formula is user-specific. A high EdgeRank score for the same post to Fan A does not affect the score for Fan B. You will have to test and optimize constantly to establish an ideal methodology for posting. Even then, you will have to perform ongoing optimization as the fan base and content changes over time.

Use Post Insights and Page Insights to measure your effectiveness on a daily basis. You can tell how many raw impressions each post created and what the overall interaction rate, or "feedback  percent," was by looking at the Post Insights beneath each post. Track these numbers daily and drive toward better performance over a 30-day period. Page Insights will tell you just about everything you need to know about your fan base and how they interact with your page.

Note: Two weeks ago, Facebook made some changes to Post Insights that were riddled with bugs and, subsequently, reverted back to the old reporting method. Be sure to keep an eye out for a return to the new standard.
It's a lot of work managing an effective Facebook marketing channel. A good Facebook strategy is comprised of CRM, branding, direct marketing, and customer acquisition tactics. While the value of a fan varies from page to page and brand to brand, fans are worth nothing if your daily communications aren't getting through to them. EdgeRank can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. By implementing the strategies above, you will start to see a rise in several key performance indicators that will strengthen the value of your fans to your brand and the value of your brand to your fans.

Scott Meldrum is chief pollin8or at Pollin8.

On Twitter? Follow Scott at @ScottMeldrum. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

As a veteran of Interactive Marketing and Social Media, Scott Meldrum provides digital strategy, creative and media solutions for leading brands. Leveraging 20 years of interactive experience, he has delivered award-wining digital advertising and...

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to leave comments.


2011, February 09

Lots of my comments are all guesses, some hit & some miss-nothing consistent. These tips will help me run a more effective page for my audience & the traffic it mills in.

Commenter: Mark Ryan

2011, February 09

This is great information. I wonder what steps an organization can take increase affinity with its members. Definitely points how critical it is to focus on relevancy in content for FB.