Why is Facebook bad for business?

How the Facebook algorithm will work in 2021 and how you can make it work for you

Good morning everyone ... except Brian, who just asked on the company-wide Slack channel: “Hey, folks, why are our organic Facebook numbers so bad?” In short, dear Brian: It's the Facebook algorithm to blame. Read on and you'll find out why that is.

But let's look at some statistics first.

At the end of 2020, the organic reach is still declining. The average reach for an organic Facebook post has fallen to 5.2%. (As a reminder: at the end of 2019 it was 5.5% and in the previous year it was 7.7%.)

At the same time, the average engagement rate for an organic Facebook post in 2020 was 0.25%. If you have more than 100,000 followers, this number drops to 0.08%.

These numbers should reassure us all a little (except for Brian, who should rather apologize for his rude tone). Organic branded content on Facebook has a tough time because of the algorithm.

But despite everything, a Facebook marketing strategy needs organic as well as paid content. So it's high time to get down to business and find out what this complex, mysterious galactic brain actually wants from us social media managers.

Fortunately, Facebook has just released a lot of new information about the algorithm, so we can keep you updated on the details.

Download this free guide and learn how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four easy steps.

What is the Facebook algorithm?

The Facebook algorithm decides which posts users of the network see each time they view their Facebook feed — and in which order these posts appear. For its part, Facebook would like to remind us that it is the one Algorithm does not exist, but "several layers of machine learning models and rankings" that are designed to predict which posts are "most valuable and meaningful for a person in the long term".

In other words, instead of presenting every available Facebook post in chronological order, the Facebook algorithm examines each individual post, rates it and then arranges it in descending order of the expected interest for each individual user. This process happens every time a Facebook user — and there are 2.7 billion of them — updates their news feed.

While we don't know in detail how the Facebook algorithm decides what to show (and what not) to users, we do know that, as with all social media recommendation algorithms, one of its goals is to get users to know Keep scrolling to see more ads.

What does this mean for brands? When it comes to increasing organic reach, the Facebook algorithm will reward you for posting content that your users interact with.

A brief history of the Facebook algorithm

The Facebook algorithm is not static, but is constantly being optimized by technicians.

To make his forecasts, he uses thousands of data points alias Ranking signals. Over the years, such ranking signals have been added, removed, and their meaning adjusted - depending on what Facebook believes its users want to see.

Here are a few of the more important changes:

2003–2009

Let's start at the beginning: We all know that Facebook saw the light of day in 2004 after Mark Zuckerberg was abandoned by his girlfriend because of his arrogance (if you look at the movie The social network Believe).

However, factual reports on Facebook's history confirm the following:

  • The Facebook news feed premiered in 2006.
  • The "Like" button appeared for the first time in 2007.
  • And in 2009, Facebook introduced a sort order that moved the posts with the most “likes” to the top of the feed.

2015

Let's jump forward — to 2015, when Facebook was so concerned about the user experience that it downgraded pages that posted excessive promotional content (organic posts with identical content to ads).

In the same year, Facebook gave its users the opportunity to influence the algorithm directly: With the “Favorites” function, anyone could specify that they wanted to see the posts from certain pages higher up in their feed.

2016

In 2016, Facebook added a “time spent” ranking signal. This means that the value of a post was also measured by how much time users spent with it - even if they didn't “Like” or share it.

Live video was also prioritized as it was viewed three times longer on average than regular video.

2017

This year, Facebook began to prioritize emotional reactions by giving reactions (e.g. hearts or the angry face) more weight than the classic likes.

Another ranking signal has been added for videos: the “ThruPlay” rate. Videos that were viewed by users (almost) to the end were shown to more people in the news feed.

2018

In January 2018, Zuckerberg announced that the Facebook algorithm would "prefer posts that trigger conversations and meaningful interactions". (Apparently this was in response to allegations that Facebook was having a negative impact on the overall structure of society - you must have heard that). The changes should make the time users spend on Facebook more valuable to them and others. In doing so, the social media platform also took on some responsibility for its influence on the mental health and general well-being of its users.

Brands had legitimate concerns about this change. Posts from friends, family and Facebook groups were now ranked higher than organic content from companies and organizations. In order to assert themselves, brands now had to earn as much high-quality engagement as possible (such as comments, reactions, replies to comments — and also sharing posts with friends via Messenger).

2019

Updates for 2019 included prioritizing “high quality original video” that would be viewed for more than a minute, but especially videos that would capture user attention for more than three minutes.

Facebook also began to add value to posts and content from “close friends” —that is, the users with whom you interacted the most, whether by tagging each other on photos or by direct messages in Messenger.

At the same time, Facebook faced severe criticism on two fronts. The first allegation was the role of the algorithm in spreading dangerous misinformation. Critics believed that the 2018 algorithm changes led to more indignation and division, political polarization, the promotion of fake news and borderline content. The second allegation related to the techniques and a lot of personal user data with which Facebook fed its algorithm.

2020

Facebook announced that it wanted to help its users understand the algorithm and to help them take control of their personal data. This should give the algorithm better feedback. Nevertheless, people are increasingly concerned about their privacy and seem unwilling to reveal more about themselves in order to get “more relevant advertisements” in front of them.

Now when you hide a Facebook ad it asks you the reason and one option is “it knows too much” pic.twitter.com/TIK0KqTs5a

- David Teicher and 142 others (@Aerocles) January 24, 2021

On news from the fake news front there was the Facebook announcement in 2020 that the network's algorithm would now evaluate the credibility and quality of news articles in order to promote informed news instead of misinformation.

What does this mean for us in the here and now?

This is how the Facebook algorithm will work in 2021

In January 2021, Facebook published new details about its algorithm.

You can read the exact technical explanation here. The simple version is like this:

How does the Facebook algorithm work?

  1. First, Facebook takes every post that is available in the user's network (in the so-called "inventory") and evaluates it according to previously defined ranking signals such as type of post, timeliness, etc.
  2. Next, posts that the user is unlikely to interact with based on previous behavior are discarded. Content that users do not want to see is also downgraded (e.g. clickbait, fake news or content for which a user has already indicated that he does not like it).
  3. After that, the platform runs a “more powerful neural network” over the remaining posts to rate them in a more personalized way. (For example: Mona has a 20 percent chance of watching tutorial videos from her chess group, but a 95 percent chance of reacting with a heart to a photo of her sister's new puppy.) The posts are now arranged in order of their value .
  4. Last but not least, the algorithm compiles a nice cross-section of media types and sources so that the user receives an interesting variety of posts to scroll through.

What does all of this tell us about what factors bring a post to the top of the feed? That depends on whose feed we're talking about.

According to Facebook, the social media network uses thousands of ranking signals - from the speed of a user's Internet connection to whether they prefer to interact with likes or comments.

Nevertheless, over the years, Facebook has repeatedly named the same four ranking signals as the most important when it comes to deciding how high up the newsfeed a post appears.

4 Facebook algorithm ranking signals that you should be aware of

  • Relationship: Is the post from a person, company, news source or public figure with whom the user interacts frequently (through messages, tags, comments, likes, etc.)?
  • Content type: What kind of media is used in the mail — and what kind of media (video, photo, link, etc.) does the user interact with the most?
  • Popularity: How do people react to the post who have already seen it (especially your friends)? Share it, comment on it, ignore it, show the angry face?
  • Topicality: How up-to-date is the post? The newer, the higher the ranking.

Most of these signals, of course, require Facebook to track the behavior of its users. This is where the discussion of privacy versus personalization comes into play (once again).

In addition, in 2021, Facebook is striving to offer users more transparency about their personal information. For example, the tool is supposed to have access to your information to help answer the question of why people are seeing ads for moon boots. (Maybe you gave the moon as your location ...?)

It remains to be seen how the discussion of privacy versus personalization will develop. At Hootsuite we are optimistic. After all, no good marketer wants to be pushy or annoying. And even if the vast majority of Facebook users choose to return to the pre-targeting time, both organic and paid content on Facebook still needs to be compelling, informative, entertaining, and inspiring.

So, up to this point, let's take a look at how brands can use the algorithm to optimize their organic reach.

Download this free guide and learn how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four easy steps.

Download the free guide

11 tips for using the Facebook algorithm

Answer your target audience

One thing is for sure, your branded content will never really compete with your sister's new pup — but it's still very important to give priority to building connections with every user in your target audience.

Why? Because the algorithm favors posts from pages that a user has already interacted with. That means you need to improve your answering policy, whether on Messenger or in the comments.

If someone has taken the time to communicate with your brand, this is an opportunity not to be missed. Make these users feel like you're listening to them, make them smile or encourage them to take a screenshot of your post and send it to their group chat with the smile-with-tear emoji.

Professional tip: Whether you're a sole proprietorship or working with a team of community managers, Hootsuite Inbox makes it easy for you to manage those conversations on a large scale.

Motivate your target group to interact with each other

This tip comes from Facebook itself. Apparently, the algorithm applies an “action-promoting logic” to posts that have led to lively conversations among friends of a user in order to show the user the post in question again.

It means that the most interesting conversation openings get more reachby getting a second chance.

The algorithm rates content higher that users like to share and discuss with their friends. (But that doesn't mean the algorithm wants you to provoke strangers to Flame Wars.)

“In a lively community, members also talk to each other. It is all the more important to produce content that stimulates such discussions. Address topics that are relevant to your target group and highlight special voices from the community by fixing them on the post. "

Anna Turner, Social Media Strategist, White Fern Marketing

Look for love, not likes

For the past couple of years, the algorithm has ranked reaction buttons better than simple likes. So aim for emotional responses in your posts: love, compassion, laughter, sadness, anger.

If you're not sure what will resonate with your target audience, a social media sentiment analysis is a good place to start.

Post when your target audience is online

You've probably heard this a thousand times — but we have to emphasize it again because Facebook keeps emphasizing it too.

Being up-to-date is a decisive signal. The latest posts land at the top of the news feed.

Of course, all is not lost if a user misses a post (e.g. if he is just updating his newsfeed and quickly closes it because the boss suddenly walks by). There's still a chance he'll see the post the next time he logs in. The algorithm's "unread promotional logic" means that unseen mail will be "added to the eligible inventory for this session".

With all that said, the easiest way to do well in this discipline remains to plan your posts so that they go online at the best time for your Facebook audience.

Skip the algorithm by using Facebook Stories

The great thing about Facebook Stories: they are not part of the news feed. They float overhead (literally and figuratively) and are not controlled by the algorithm. According to Facebook, they also increase traffic: 58% of surveyed users said they looked for more information on a brand's website after viewing a story.

What Kind of Facebook Stories Should You Post? According to a study carried out by Facebook, users want the following from brand stories:

  • 52% want stories that are easy to understand
  • 50% want to see new products
  • 46% want tips or advice

Maintain your branded Facebook group

The advantage of a business Facebook group: it does require some care and support, but it opens up another channel for you to connect with your customers, fans and your community.

It's also a secondary channel for important content that your target audience should see. The Facebook algorithm prioritizes posts from groups that are important to users. A post that is amplified in a popular group of enthusiastic users and fans is therefore more likely to achieve more reach.

Go Live on Facebook

By 2020, we were all locked up at home — and live Facebook videos were 50% more watched in the US.

Because live videos receive six times more interactions than normal videos, the algorithm values ​​them very much. Brands need a little know-how for this type of media, but considering the fact that virtual events will probably be around for a while, live videos kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Become a favorite

Did you know that every Facebook user has 30 places available for their favorite pages and people? These 30 lucky people automatically receive a free ticket from the algorithm.

This is part of Facebook's drive to give users more control over what they see. Let your followers know they can prioritize your content on their own timelines if they choose to.

Professional tip: It really is a "huge request" - all of your sensitivity is required here. There should be a valid reason people prefer your content — whether it's because it's really entertaining, or because it's really important that people stay informed.

Create long-form videos that people will want to see

Viewing time and completion rate are important ranking signals for videos because they indicate that the viewer liked the video so much that they watched it to the end.

In short: the longer you maintain user interest, the higher the algorithm will rate your video contribution and the higher up in the Facebook news feed your video will appear.

Since 2019, Facebook has also been evaluating and prioritizing the following signals for videos:

  • Loyalty and Intent: Videos that users are looking for and coming back to;
  • Video Length and Display Time: Videos that users watch for more than a minute and that last for more than three minutes; and
  • Originality: Videos that are not second or third exploited from other sources and that offer high added value.

That brings us straight to the next point:

Don't post clickbait, misinformation, or any other nasty thing

Just leave it! Don't do any of these things or the algorithm will be annoyed with you — and we at Hootsuite are pretty disappointed in you, too.

  • Links to websites that bring content that has been taken over or stolen with no added value
  • borderline content (i.e. content that is not directly prohibited, but should be better)
  • False information and fake news
  • misleading health information and dangerous "remedies"
  • "Deepfake videos" or manipulated videos that have been flagged as fake by independent fact-checkers

Increase your reach through your best brand advocates

With the Facebook algorithm, your employees enjoy more credibility and authority than your brand's page. That's because they enjoy more credibility and authority with their own followers and friends as well.

They also know your brand inside out. What you say can therefore be much more meaningful than anything your copywriter thinks up. (I'm sorry, colleagues ...)

Here we introduce you to a tool that calculates the potential reach of your employees if they are empowered to share your branded content in their own social media circles.

Manage your Facebook presence along with your other social media channels with Hootsuite. Schedule posts, share videos, interact with your target audience, measure the impact of your activities - all from a single dashboard. Free test now.

Get started right away

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From Paige Cooper

Paige Cooper is a former librarian who now markets digital music and works as a writer. She lives in Montreal.