ongratulations to everyone on reaching a new decade, which means, of course, another set of updates to the Facebook algorithm.
As of late 2019, average reach for Facebook posts was down by 2.2%, meaning that brands could reasonably expect their posts to be seen by about 5.5% of their Page’s followers. Big brands with massive follower counts can expect even lower averages.
It’s true that the Facebook algorithm isn’t the only factor that affects reach—there are others at play, like Facebook’s continued growth—but it’s definitely one of the most important factors. Which means marketers who don’t stay up to date may have a tougher time getting their content in front of their audience’s eyeballs.
In case you need a quick refresher, the Facebook algorithm is how Facebook decides which posts users see, and in what order, every time they check their newsfeeds.
Since 2018, the algorithm has been evolving at a rapid clip, as Facebook strives to make the time people spend on it more valuable and meaningful.
But in 2020, Facebook’s focus is on making its platform more transparent for users, and giving people more direct control over what they see. For instance, Facebook has conducted multiple surveys to gather data and opinions straight from users. And there’s now a button to click if you want to know why a post is showing up in your feed.
So what does that mean for brands who don’t want to shell out dollars to turn every single post into a Facebook ad?
Don’t worry, there’s hope. We’ve collected 9 strategic tips for working with the Facebook algorithm in 2020, and making it work for you.
A brief history of the Facebook algorithm
2004 – 2009:
Facebook was born in 2004, but its newsfeed didn’t show up until 2006. The Like button premiered in 2007, but it’s probably safe to say that Facebook didn’t have what we think of as “the algorithm” until 2009, when the platform debuted a new sorting order for newsfeeds based on each post’s popularity. (Goodbye, reverse-chronological order).
2009 – 2019:
A decade of further tinkering behind the curtain created the experience that billions of users now take for granted: personalized feeds created by galaxy-brain software that analyzes tens of thousands of data points in order to maximize the amount of time people spent on the platform. Because more screen time = more ads seen = more money for Facebook’s shareholders.
For instance, in 2015, Facebook introduced the “See First” feature to let users choose which Pages they’d like to see at the top of their feeds. They also started downranking Pages that posted a high volume of overly promotional organic content. (i.e., organic posts with content identical to ads.)
In 2016, Facebook began prioritizing posts from friends and family, as well as “informative” and “entertaining” content. It also started measuring a post’s value based on the amount of time users spent with it, even if they didn’t like or share it. Live video was also prioritized, as it was earning 3x as much watch time, compared to regular video.
In 2017, some big changes included weighing reactions (i.e., hearts or the angry face) more than likes. They also started weighing videos by completion rate.
However, in January 2018, responding in part to widespread criticism, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook newsfeed changes that prioritize “posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions.” The change was meant to increase the quality, rather than the quantity, of the time that people spend on Facebook, as well as take more responsibility for how the platform affects its users’ well-being.
In the short term, brands had valid concerns about the fact that their organic content would no longer be prioritized as highly as posts from friends, family, and groups. The algorithm was now set to prioritize posts that earned a lot of high-value engagement (eg., comments, reactions, comment replies—and if a post was shared over Messenger to a friend, that counted too). In other words: to get the reach to earn engagement, brands had to be earning engagement already.
A year later, in March 2019, at least one study found that while engagement had increased 50% year over year, the algorithm changes also increased divisiveness and outrage as it tended to promote posts that got people worked up. (Fox News, whose reporting evokes strong opinions from many, became the top publisher on Facebook by engagement.)
Simultaneously, the algorithm ended up rewarding fringe content (a.k.a. fake news) from unreliable sources that knew how to game the system.
The Facebook algorithm will probably always remain a work-in-progress. So let’s take a look at what matters to brands who want to optimize their organic reach today.
How the Facebook algorithm works in 2020
The algorithm currently ranks the posts each user sees in the order that they’re likely to enjoy them, based on a variety of factors, a.k.a ranking signals.
As of 2020, Facebook has stated that its focus is on helping users understand the algorithm, and take control of those ranking signals to give it better feedback.
Ranking signals are data points about a user’s past behaviour, and the behaviour of everyone else on the platform, too. For instance: are people sharing this post with their friends? How often do you like posts from your boss? From your mom? Do you often watch live video? What’s your favourite Group? How many posts are, theoretically, available for you to look at, right now? How new are they?
You get the idea. The algorithm weighs a lot of factors before it decides to show you that puma cub video.
Facebook mentions three major categories of ranking signals:
- Who a user typically interacts with
- The type of media in the post (eg., video, link, photo, etc.)
- The popularity of the post
In March 2019, Facebook introduced a new tool to build more transparency and user control into the newsfeed. The “Why am I seeing this post?” button does exactly as it says: it helps people understand why the algorithm has surfaced that post.
It also lets people tell the algorithm directly what’s important—or not so important, or downright irritating—to them. Meaning they can tell Facebook that they want fewer posts from a particular person, or to see more from a particular Page.
Next, in May 2019, Facebook began directly asking users questions, via survey, to get more context on what content matters to them. The surveys asked users:
- Who their close friends are;
- What posts (links, photos and videos) they find valuable;
- How important a specific Facebook Group that they’ve joined is to them;
- How interested they are in seeing content from specific Pages that they follow.
Facebook used all these answers to update the algorithm with the patterns they extrapolated. For instance, the Pages and Groups that people identified as most meaningful were often the ones that they’d followed for a long time, the ones they engaged with often, and the ones that had a lot of posts and activity.
9 tips for working with the Facebook algorithm
With all this background, what can brands do to make sure their Facebook strategy is aligned with the Facebook algorithm’s priorities?
1. Start conversations that get people talking to each other
According to Facebook, one of the algorithm’s key ranking signals is whether a user has previously engaged with your Page. And while no one is going to interact with your brand Page like they would with their friends’ pages, those likes and shares go a long way towards increasing your reach on future posts.
That means you have to put in the elbow-grease before the algorithm can start to recognize and reward your Page’s value.
And by elbow-grease we do not mean shoddy, obvious engagement-bait. (The algorithm can tell, and it will down-rank your post and maybe also your Page.)
At the end of the day the best way to earn more engagement is to be genuine. Or maybe try curious, funny, interesting, or inspiring. Regardless, we have plenty more simple tips for increasing your Facebook engagement over here.
And always remember that you don’t need to seek out controversy to get engagement. Tapping into a strong emotion (cats; baby cats; baby cats uncomfortable; baby cats in danger) will do the trick, too.
2. Post when your audience is online
Recency is another ranking signal that matters as the algorithm selects which posts to show people. Newer is better. Now is best.
But when is your audience online? Well, according to our data:
- B2B brand posts perform best between 9am and 2pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
- B2C brand posts perform best at noon on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
Take a look at your Facebook Page Insights to test and benchmark the best time for your audience, specifically.
3. Never post content that will get you down-ranked
We know you would never do this anyway. But still, just FYI, here are a few categories of content that Facebook has explicitly stated will get your Page down-ranked immediately:
- Links to sites that use scraped or stolen content with no added value
- Borderline content (a.k.a offensive but not prohibited content)
- Misinformation and fake news
- Misleading health information or dangerous “cures”
- “Deepfake videos” or manipulated videos flagged as false by third-party fact-checkers
4. Post-high-quality videos longer than 3 minutes
In May 2019, Facebook announced that the newsfeed will increasingly surface quality, original videos. The algorithm is increasing the influence of these three ranking factors:
- Loyalty and intent: videos that people search for and return to;
- Video length and view duration: videos that people watch past the 1-minute mark, and that are longer than 3 minutes;
- Originality: videos that aren’t repurposed from other sources and that have plenty of added value.
If you’re a video creator on Facebook, keep those guidelines in mind so that you’re giving the algorithm exactly the kind of video it wants. (And don’t forget tip #1: baby cats in danger.)
Pro Tip: If you’re a wiz at the video, make sure you’re using Facebook live video, which averages six times more engagement than regular video.
5. Post often and consistently
According to Facebook, Pages that post often are more likely to be meaningful to their audience. Therefore, posting frequency is a ranking signal that can affect how high up in the newsfeed your posts are placed.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: a social media content calendar goes a long way towards achieving the kind of consistent quality that will keep your audience engaged and attentive.
Hootsuite’s planning tool takes care of all of that, if you’re inclined to give it a try.