Written by: Amelie Johnson
Facebook is one of the most powerful social medias with billons of users. Content wise, it is not possible to absorb everything and therefore Facebook sort out the information in the News Feed. For brands, it is hard to reach out to customers on Facebook; instead there is a high risk of becoming invincible. The barrier for brands to be visible in the News Feed increased last year when Facebook decided to change its algorithm.
Fig. 1: Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (adapted from Fortune, 2015)
Why brands need to be active on Facebook
Social medias are influential and powerful; customers use it as a way to share news and stories with each other. It is an easy way to reach out to many people just through a ‘click’. Brands do no longer have any option than being active and visible online to reach its customers (Yuki, 2015). As a marketing tool, the use of social media has been increasing throughout the years. Both practitioners and researchers struggle with finding an effective way to manage social medias (Kim, Sung, Lee, Choi, & Sung, 2016). With more than 1.55 billion of monthly active users, Facebook is the leading online social network in a global context (Statista, n.d.). It is also considered as a significant platform since users use it as a portal for searching and finding important information (Buell Hirsch, 2015). The average amount of time users spend on Facebook is estimated to be 21 minutes per day. Therefore, Facebook is a simple way for brands to communicate with its customers and reach out to new potential ones (Kim et al., 2016).
Brands posts on Facebook stimulate the interactions and maintain relations with customers. A successful post is determined whether customers adopt it through liking, commenting or sharing it. Such factors create added value to a post and contribute with dissemination of information to other Facebook users. Studies even show that brands that include images or videos in a Facebook post increase the engagement level to obtain likes and comments (Sabate, Berbegal-Mirabent, Cañabate, & Lebherz, 2014). Even though Facebook is actively used, to receive likes or comments has become harder. A study conducted in the USA shows that merely seven per cent of the total activity on Facebook consists of customers who share branded content (Yuki, 2015). An assumption is that brands’ posts specifically struggle with reaching out to customers on Facebook. One may think that one has full control over the content that appears in the News Feed. However, according to Buell Hirsch (2015) the content presented depends on the user’s Facebook friends and what Facebook’s algorithm thinks the user wants to read.
The purpose of this blog post is to describe how Facebook’s algorithm controls customers’ News Feed and its affect on brands’ posts.
How Facebook decide the content in the News Feed
At any given time when a user signs in on Facebook there are in total 1500 pieces of information available. Since it is not possible to absorb that amount of information, Facebook sort it out with the help of algorithms (Frary, 2015). Less than a year ago, Facebook announced some new updates for the News Feed algorithm. The meaning with the updates was to improve and optimize the experience of the News Feed (Eulenstein, 2015). The updates were questioned and some wondered if Facebook optimizing of News Feed was in favour of what users want to see, or what Facebook wants to show. For brands available on Facebook, this means a decline in post reach to customers (Eulenstein, 2015; Ingram, 2015). Loyal customers that frequently interact with brands are the ones who will get brands content presented in the News Feed. This change does not affect large brands with loyal customers that frequently share and like brands’ posts; it is rather a problem for smaller brands that want to grow (Baker, 2015). An experiment was conducted to test the Facebook’s algorithm; in this experiment, the researcher liked everything that came up in the News Feed for 48 hours. The result was a News Feed filled with many different kinds of Facebook posts, which extremely differed between one another (Frary, 2015). To make sense of this, the next section will describe how algorithm manages the content within the News Feed.
“Now you see it – Now you don’t” (Ingram, 2015)
The function of the algorithm
Facebook’s algorithm is called EdgeRank (Bucher, 2012) but to simplify the description of it, the author will continues to write “Facebook’s algorithm” throughout this blog post. Algorithms are described as complex and artificially intelligent filters (Frary, 2015). When a Facebook user likes, shares or comments on a post that appears in the News Feed, the algorithm creates a link between the user and the post’s content (Bucher, 2012). Based on this, the algorithm then decides what should be shown in the user’s News Feed (Frary, 2015). There exists a rank system in the Facebook’s algorithm that determines the popularity of posts, which then affect posts visibility in the News Feed. The higher rank of a post, the more users it reaches (Bucher, 2012). Facebook’s algorithm consists of three key components:
- Affinity – It is the relationship and interaction that exist between the content creator and the other users.
- Weight – The popularity of the post or if it is considered important to Facebook, every post is therefore weighted differently depending on importance/popularity.
- Time decay – Concerns if the content was posted recently (Bucher, 2012).
Each post on Facebook is a multiplication of the components Affinity, Weight and Time decay, which is shown in Fig. 2 below. The result from this multiplication is the content appearing in the News Feed (Bucher, 2012; Frary, 2015). For instance, if a user A interacts with user B through commenting on B’s Facebook post, this increases user A and B’s Affinity. Thereafter, the algorithm will link this connection between the two users and therefore provide Facebook posts created by A and B in their News Feeds. Even though it is found that the three components are the key to what appears in the News Feed, there exist assumptions that other factors also impact (Bucher, 2012). Algorithms control of the News Feed is argued to be both positive and negative. However, Frary (2015) claims the algorithm becomes a form of gatekeeper that focuses on users connection with posts rather than content. Bucher (2012) adds that it exists a threat of invisibility rather than visibility on Facebook since there is a gap between what users want to see and what Facebook thinks users want to see. Therefore it is argued that Facebook with help of algorithm hides information from users (Bucher, 2012).
Fig. 2: The three components of Facebook algorithm (adapted from: WASM “We Are Social Media”, 2015)
Discussion of Facebook’s algorithm
Considering what previously has been discussed in this blog post, for brands the obstacle has increased when it comes to reaching customers on Facebook. The algorithm is built upon a ranking system where three key components decide the importance of the post and thereafter how visible it should be in the News Feed. Researchers have identified the following components: Affinity, Weight and Time Decay (Bucher, 2012). One can assume this means that brands for instance can focus on building a relation (Affinity) with customers on Facebook. This should then give brands’ posts greater chance to reach even more customers since users are linked. If one user has a strong link with a brand and around 15 other users on Facebook, a like/comment on a brand’s post will then both reach the user and its 15 other Facebook friends. However, since Facebook updated its algorithm last year for the News Feed (Eulenstein, 2015), building Affinity or focus on any of the other two components maybe is not enough anymore. It is stated that brands with loyal customers are the lucky ones who will be visible on Facebook; other smaller brands’ posts will instead disappear into ‘Facebook nothingness’. The algorithms’ control of the News Feed has created an obstacle for brands and through this, potential customers will not get brands’ posts. As Frary (2015) says, Facebook then becomes a gatekeeper that only show content decided by the algorithm. Although, it is stated that brands with loyal customers are not the ones who will face issues with the update (Baker, 2015), therefore building relations can be the optimal option to appear in the News Feed.
The experiment described by Frary (2015) where a researcher liked many various posts with different content that appeared in the News Feed; gives a hint of how the algorithm works. Based on the experiment, this means Facebook’s algorithm link users with post’s content that users like and comment on. From this, Facebook knows users’ interests and therefore are able to provide similar posts in the News Feed. Brands can take advantage of this, through creating knowledge of customers’ interests on Facebook; brands can provide posts with such content. This will increase brands’ visibility on the News Feeds since algorithm connects content with users. According to Eulenstein (2015) the new updates of Facebook’s algorithm was made to optimize the News Feed. The meaning with this can be that Facebook wants to provide relevant content for users, however, Ingram (2015) question the optimization and means that Facebook might be doing this for themselves rather than users. Through providing content of customers’ interest, brands posts can then be linked with customers News Feeds. For brands, it is crucial to make it to the News Feed to show their existence online, in order to be visible on Facebook; users must interact with them (Bucher, 2012).
It is vital for brands to be active on Facebook to communicate with customers; this creates and maintains their relation. However, Facebook’s algorithm has made it harder for brands to reach out. Facebook’s algorithm consists of a ranking system and a mix of several factors, where three main components have been identified: Affinity, Weight and Time Decay. A multiplication of the three components decides the popularity of a post and then affects the posts visibility on Facebook. A new update of the News Feed has made it harder for brands to reach out on Facebook; the idea with the update was to optimize to provide relevant content. The algorithm link a user with content of a post, an idea is that brands can take advantage of this through providing posts with content based on customers’ Facebook interests. Another idea is to build relations with customers on Facebook to create a link in-between, which will result in an increased visibility. Algorithms are described to be intelligent filters that control and organise the News Feed on Facebook. However, through having knowledge of the algorithms function, brands can take advantage of it to make it to the News Feed.
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