November 23rd, 2016
Originally established as a tool for college kids to connect online, Facebook has rapidly become one of the most important ways people connect with each other and with brands. More than that, it has changed the way people consume news. Facebook is a news source for 63% of American adults, and more than one billion people now log onto Facebook every single day.
So it’s no surprise that any time the behemoth social media company changes its algorithm to decide what content people receive in their newsfeeds, it makes a lot of waves.
How does the Facebook newsfeed work? How does its algorithm determine what is informative? Are there ways brands can ensure their content makes it into newsfeeds?
The answers to these questions keep changing as Facebook tweaks its algorithm (sometimes with significant hiccups), but regardless of the changes, brands will always win with good, informative content. Here’s why.
Facebook has made a concerted effort to be a bigger player in the news landscape, and this has come at the expense of news publishers. Where news outlets once had control over distribution, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have taken over.
Today, it is not enough for the New York Times or the Washington Post to publish an article and distribute it in newspapers or on their websites. For an article to gain traction and get notice, it must be distributed through social channels. Some media critics believe that Facebook’s newsfeed has more influence over Americans than any media company in history. To be news, an article has to get to Facebook’s newsfeed.
To get an even stronger foothold in the world of news, Facebook has introduced Instant Articles. Publishers use Facebook Instant Articles as an alternative to posting content on their own sites or platforms. The articles incorporate multimedia, and are optimized to look better on Facebook mobile than any article written on another platform and posted on Facebook does.
Facebook’s newsfeed makes it easy and appealing for users to browse current events, yet the platform’s foray into news hasn’t been met with open arms. While Facebook’s Trending Topics aimed to impartially show users topics that were popular on Facebook, it was plagued by accusations that it repressed conservative news. When Facebook laid-off the team of professional journalists who reviewed the Trending topics, replacing it with an automated system, a bogus news story made it to the top of the Trending topics.
This example, more than any other, demonstrates how imperfect Facebook is. But some media critics and journalists criticize Facebook for something more serious. They argue social media has been detrimental to our understanding of what truth is.
This year, an editor at the Guardian laid out the case for how technology has disrupted the truth. The article reads:
Algorithms such as the one that powers Facebook’s news feed are designed to give us more of what they think we want – which means that the version of the world we encounter every day in our own personal stream has been invisibly curated to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. When Eli Pariser, the co-founder of Upworthy, coined the term “filter bubble” in 2011, he was talking about how the personalised web – and in particular Google’s personalised search function, which means that no two people’s Google searches are the same – means that we are less likely to be exposed to information that challenges us or broadens our worldview, and less likely to encounter facts that disprove false information that others have shared.
Pariser’s plea, at the time, was that those running social media platforms should ensure that “their algorithms prioritise countervailing views and news that’s important, not just the stuff that’s most popular or most self-validating”. But in less than five years, thanks to the incredible power of a few social platforms, the filter bubble that Pariser described has become much more extreme.
Despite criticism over how Facebook feeds us news, and which stories it feeds us, the reality is that people do turn to Facebook to get their news. Not only do 63% of Facebook users see the platform as a source of news; they also frequently engage with news on the site. Around 32% of users said they post about government and politics, and 28% said they comment on posts regarding these topics. While we debate whether Facebook is a reliable source, 31% of users turn to their newsfeed to follow breaking news.
Mark Zuckerberg maintains Facebook is a tech company, not a media company, but its influence in the world of news and media is inescapable. Any company producing content it wants people to see must understand the algorithm that determines whether Facebook puts that content in users’ newsfeeds.
Facebook’s algorithm aims to ensure the content featured on people’s newsfeeds is informative. Recently, it tweaked the algorithm to make it even better at showing more “personally” informative stories.
Facebook is trying to make sure that each user sees content that is relevant and interesting to them individually. If your Aunt Barbara loves current events and hates recipes, Facebook wants her to see more current events and fewer recipes.
How does Facebook’s algorithm determine what is informative? Namely, by asking people. The company surveys tens of thousands of people daily to get feedback on content, and combines that information with 100,000 other signals to give each post a relevancy score.
As Facebook stated in August: “[We also take] into account things like your relationship with the person or publisher that posted, or what you choose to click on, comment on or share — to best predict stories that you might personally find informative. Informative stories are therefore different for each person and will likely change over time.”
Posts from Facebook friends are considered more relevant than those from public figures and publishers. Spam and clickbait also get low relevancy scores and are less likely to end up in newsfeeds.
Facebook’s focus on personally informative content is great news for brands interested in strong, useful content. All the rules of content marketing still apply, and if you treat content development like a newsroom, you will be poised for success.
When considering topics for your brand’s content, ask yourself:
If the answers to these questions are yes, your content will be better positioned to succeed after the latest algorithm change.
Your audience wants to see your brand’s content. Ditch the clickbait and deliver informative content so you go to the top of Facebook newsfeeds.
Author Bio: Ilana Plumer is Senior Director of Marketing Executives at Main Path Marketing. Ilana has had a passion for marketing since the beginning, getting both her B.S. and M.B.A with an emphasis in marketing. With over 10 years of marketing experience, Ilana loves to build holistic digital marketing campaigns for her clients. When she’s not at work, you can find her chasing after (or being chased by) her two little girls and enjoying all San Diego has to offer.
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