Writing for the Facebook algorithm.
*updated March 2018
There is a lot I'd love to tell you about writing for Facebook and I will...but in this article, I'm only going to cover off on one piece of the puzzle. It's an important piece - how understanding the Facebook algorithm can work for or against you in the quest to be seen.
Firstly, what is the Facebook algorithm?
Facebook is run by computer programs using formulas called algorithms. As you can imagine, the make up of these formulas is a secret. Some of these algorithms determine the reach of your posts - whose Facebook News Feed they go into, when and why etc. There are reportedly well over 100,000 measures that go into the news feed algorithm so it's important to do whatever you can to consistently create relevant and engaging social media content.
Despite the secrecy surrounding these algorithms, sometimes Facebook gives us hints as to how to work with them. One of the official tips from Facebook HQ is around the use of language and headlines in your post. Following are some guidelines and advice about how to write content that will work 'for', not 'against' you with the ranking and relevance algorithm - the one that determines which News Feeds you will show up in (very important).
Don’t use clickbait style headlines in your posts or on your website.
Facebook clearly stated in a media release in 2017 that
"we identify the individual stories, as well as the Pages and web domains that consistently post or share links with clickbait headlines and reduce the distribution of their posts in News Feed".
Facebook defines clickbait as "headlines that intentionally omit crucial information or exaggerate the details of a story to make it seem like a bigger deal than it really is".
You’re probably thinking that can’t be true when you see companies like Mashable consistently using clickbait and still getting enormous reach. The key here is to remember that you are not Mashable. They have millions of fans and their content is extremely popular. Popular content always rises to the top in Facebook.
*Don't consistently use Facebook engagement baiting
In a statement released at the end of 2017, Facebook announced that it was scaling up demotion of posts from Pages determined to be using engagement baiting. Further to that, in January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg stated clearly that Pages consistently using these techniques will be downgrade in the ranking and relevance.
The simple way to describe this is posts that attempt to get people to engage in an inauthentic way. The five ways identified by Facebook are “vote, react, share, tag or comment” (examples in the image below).
How this will affect contests is yet unclear. Also how it will affect genuine calls to action will be interesting. They did make a point of stating the following:
"Posts that ask people for help, advice, or recommendations, such as circulating a missing child report, raising money for a cause, or asking for travel tips, will not be adversely impacted by this update."
If you are a business trying to work within these new parameters, please keep this in mind. What Facebook is trying to do is flush out spammy content. Please take the time to read the News Feed values (below this post) and have a think about how your content fits.
Set realistic expectations for your content.
This is often the by product of the above clickbait style headlines. For example "you will learn to speak French fluently in two weeks" We all know that's impossible. Try instead "Finally a course that will get you speaking French much faster”.
Don’t use text heavy images.
This is officially a no-no. Facebook has told us this over and over again. Sometimes is ok but generally leave the text for the caption and work hard on finding an image or video that can tell the story without text running over it.
Ensure your website is optimised using good SEO.
If you’re consistently sending people from Facebook to your website, make sure they have a positive experience while they are there. If you have a high bounce rate (people who click through and leave quickly) then you’ll find posts that lead to your website will not do very well.
Understand the context of where you are posting.
Lastly, I want to leave you with an excerpt from Facebook's News Feed Values. I think it's a really good idea to read this. As a business, you may be just excited by the prospect of marketing to people for free and not stop and think about the context. Understanding the News Feed and what Facebook accepts and doesn't accept is very important. Reading this will help you write better posts.
If you’d like to know more or just don’t know where to start, please get in touch or leave a comment below.
FACEBOOK'S NEWS FEED VALUES
Our success is built on getting people the stories that matter to them most. If you could look through thousands of stories every day and choose the 10 that were most important to you, which would they be? The answer should be your News Feed. It is subjective, personal, and unique — and defines the spirit of what we hope to achieve.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY COME FIRST
Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That’s why if it’s from your friends, it’s in your feed, period — you just have to scroll down. To help make sure you don’t miss the friends and family posts you are likely to care about, we put those posts toward the top of your News Feed. We learn from you and adapt over time. For example, if you tend to like photos from your sister, we’ll start putting her posts closer to the top of your feed so you won’t miss what she posted while you were away.
Our research has also shown us that, after friends and family, people have two other strong expectations when they come to News Feed:
- Your feed should inform. People expect the stories in their feed to be meaningful to them — and we have learned over time that people value stories that they consider informative. Something that one person finds informative or interesting may be different from what another person finds informative or interesting — this could be a post about a current event, a story about your favourite celebrity, a piece of local news, or a recipe. We’re always working to better understand what is interesting and informative to you personally, so those stories appear higher up in your feed.
- Your feed should entertain. We’ve also found that people enjoy their feeds as a source of entertainment. For some people, that’s following a celebrity or athlete; for others it’s watching Live videos and sharing funny photos with their friends. We work hard to try to understand and predict what posts on Facebook you find entertaining to make sure you don’t miss out on those.
A PLATFORM FOR ALL IDEAS
We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about. We are in the business of connecting people and ideas — and matching people with the stories they find most meaningful. Our integrity depends on being inclusive of all perspectives and view points, and using ranking to connect people with the stories and sources they find the most meaningful and engaging.
We don’t favour specific kinds of sources — or ideas. Our aim is to deliver the types of stories we’ve gotten feedback that an individual person most wants to see. We do this not only because we believe it’s the right thing but also because it’s good for our business. When people see content they are interested in, they are more likely to spend time on News Feed and enjoy their experience.
It’s important to note that while we welcome a multitude of viewpoints, we also believe strongly that people should feel — and be — safe when they use Facebook, and we therefore have Community standards that define the behaviour that we think is out-of-bounds on the platform. We think it’s possible to be inclusive without making Facebook a place where people are subjected to attacks, hate, or other harmful behaviour.
The strength of our community depends on authentic communication. The feedback we’ve gotten tells us that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most. That’s why we work hard to understand what type of stories and posts people consider genuine — so we can show more of them in News Feed. And we work to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading, sensational and spammy, to make sure people see those less.