There’s been a huge amount of chatter online about Facebook changes that nonprofits and companies say have harmed their engagement efforts on the social network – and an equal amount of information refuting that claim. I have been wanting to write a post clarifying matters, but after spending a month reading countless articles on both sides of the argument, I wasn’t sure what to believe. So I reached out to a Facebook expert, John Haydon, who provided these excellent, understandable and level-headed responses to my questions. I hope his responses prove as helpful to you as they did to me.
Learn more about John here.
Katya: Could you explain in plain English how Facebook updates work and what supporters see?
John: When a page publishes an update (photos, videos, text only updates, links), some of the people who have liked that page will see that update in their newsfeed. Whether a specific person sees that update or not is determined by an algorithm Facebook calls “Edgerank”.
In other words, liking a page does not guarantee that a user will see updates from that Page in their newsfeed. This is actually a good thing, because if you and I saw every update from everyone we ever friended (including people who were jerks to us in high school), no one would ever use Facebook.
Katya: What is organic reach and what is the Edgerank algorithm?
John: Organic reach is simply seeing content in your newsfeed directly from a page that you’ve liked. This is different from viral reach which is seeing content from a page because a friend has liked, commented on, or shared that piece of content.
Edgerank is Facebook’s algorithm that determines what is published is each user’s newsfeed. The goal of this algorithm is to publish only the most interesting and relevant content for each specific user.
To determine if any given Page post shows up in the news feed, Facebook looks at four main factors:
1. If you interacted with a Page’s posts before: If you Like every post by a Page that Facebook shows you, it will show you more from that Page.
2. Other people’s reactions: If everyone else on Facebook who is shown a post ignores it or complains, it’s less likely to show you that post.
3. Your interaction with previous posts of the same type: If you always Like photos, there’s a better chance you’ll see a photo posted by a Page.
4. If that specific post has received complaints by other users who have seen it, or the Page who posted it has received lots of complaints in the past, you’ll be less likely to see that post.
Katya: Many nonprofits are reporting that the reach of their content is down after recent updates to Facebook’s Edgerank. Could you explain the changes and if you’re seeing nonprofits seeing drops in engagement?
John: Facebook does periodically adjust their algorithm to account for various different phenomenon in the newsfeed. For example in September, Facebook adjusted it to include complaints on posts.
I’ve seen pages that have a drop in reach, and I’ve also seen pages have no change at all in their reach. So it’s really case-by-case, and not a global phenomenon.
The pages that have seen the most dramatic loss in reach were pages who weren’t publishing content that was interesting or relevant to begin with.
Katya: So do you have to pay to play to have success on Facebook these days? Should you do promoted posts and if so, how?
John: No, you do not have to pay to play to have success on Facebook these days. But you do have to publish awesome content. Again, Edgerank is nothing new for Facebook Pages. Updates from Pages have never reached all of their fans. But Pages with awesome content reach more of their fans, and some even go further than that, George Tekai’s Page.
In terms of using promoted posts, they are certainly an option to reach more fans. But promoting posts alone will not create success. As you know, you have to do many things right to be truly effective.
As Alison points out in her experiment on using Promoted Posts, you have to have a goal, and you have to measure what works for your organization. They also learned that Promoted Posts did increase engagement and net revenue on posts they promoted.
Here’s a super-simple way to think about promoted posts:
With promoted posts, all you’re paying for is an increase in reach. There is no guarantee that you’ll get more comments, likes and shares, even though that’s what you want for long-term success (the more comments, likes and shares you get on a post, the more you’re leveraging true word of mouth).
So the key to investing your ad dollars wisely, is to ONLY promote posts that are already getting a lot of likes, comments and shares. You do this by ranking your most recent posts by virality within Facebook Insights (the analytics tool every Facebook Page has)
There are two benefits to promoting high virality posts:
1. You will get more likes, comments and shares from the promotion.
2. You’ll increase organic reach for your Page updates.
Let me explain this with an example:
Let’s say you have a post that 20 people have talked about (liked, commented on, shared) among 200 people total who saw that update (reach). If you pay for this update to reach an additional 2000 people, it’s reasonable to expect that the update will receive approximately 200 likes, comments and shares, when adjusted for affinity.
What do I mean by “adjusted for affinity”? Many people who see this promoted post have a lower affinity for your Page than people who are see this post organically. This is why they’re not seeing your posts in the first place. When you promote a post, you have to remember that you’re promoting it to fans who haven’t talked about your posts much before (low affinity), and that they’re not as likely to talk about your post as someone who sees it organically (high affinity). In the few pages I’ve analyzed (10 pages), this adjustment seems to be about 20%. So using this adjustment with our example, the total number of likes, comments and shares would be around 160.
People who hate math should just know one thing: If you promote posts that are already getting a higher number of likes, comments and shares, your promotion will yield much more value than if you promoted posts that have a low number of likes, comments and shares. Another way to say this is this: If you promote posts that are not interesting, you are throwing money out the window.
Katya: Thanks, John. This is very helpful advice!
John: For more, here’s a video on getting the most out of promoted posts and a blog post on extending your Facebook reach.