If you have ever been a part of a Facebook marketing discussion recently, one topic that I am sure has come up is, “My posts are not reaching as many fans”. Whether you are a business or an agency, fewer likes, comments and shares are usually a sign that either your content is not engaging enough or that your audience does not find what you have to say worth their time.
That is both true and false. According to this News feed breakdown by Facebook, between the posts generated by a user’s friends and those generated by the pages they like, an average of 1500 posts are scheduled to show up in a person’s news feed on any given day. Obviously, no one has the time to go through all of those 1500 posts, which is why it falls upon the news feed mechanism to make sure that only relevant content is reaching their users at the right time. This mechanism basically attaches an arbitrary value to whatever you are publishing based on certain metrics of the content you are publishing.
The Facebook algorithm supposedly calculates over a 100,000 factors to determine whether your posts would be showing up in the news feed. According to a post published by Jeff Widman, back in 2007, a single post would be competing with 499 other stories for a single slot in the news feed. That number has gone up by over threefold in 2013, and it is only going to get more competitive as time goes on.
It was in the 2010 F8 Conference that Facebook officially announced the concept of the EdgeRank and how it works. However, Facebook no longer refers to this term, although there is definitely an algorithm that controls news feed content. It is in the nature of the algorithm to be unique to users and no one except Facebook knows how it works. However, they did give us a brief overview.
The exact formula used to calculating the algorithm looks like this
One of the factors measure the relationship between the publisher and the user. Suppose you are friends on Facebook with person A. You and person A have been friends for a really long time, and you chat every other day, check into locations together and have 50 mutual friends. Suffice to say, you would be getting more updates from person A in your news feed as opposed to from a person you just added and never interacted with on Facebook. Hence you and person A have a strong affinity score. The same concept applies for pages as well. The more engagement you have with your followers, the stronger your affinity score and the more people your page updates will reach.
Likes, comments, shares, check-ins; there are numerous ways for users to interact with your brand on Facebook, and each of these interactions is a social indicator of how connected a person might be with a brand/business. Again, this data is used by Facebook to determine whether to show a page’s content to a particular user or not. Each of the interactions has a weight of its own that is respective of the user in question.
For e.g. EdgeRank studies the behavior of a particular Facebook user, John. John engages with external links more than he engages with any other form of content. If Brand A publishes a picture based content with no link, that content will have low “edge”, and will be given a low weight factor.
As far as relevance is concerned, time is probably one of the most important factors. The time of publications is also factored in by the algorithm to determine whether the publication should be displayed on the news feed. This is why outdated updates rarely show up on your news feed unless a friend interacts with it in some way. Also, it may be that EdgeRank studies what kind of content a user likes to interact with at different times of the day, and may be more lenient to serving a specific kind of content at that specified time.
A Case Study
Pulling in all of the alleged 100,000 EdgeRank factors, it’s now time to paint a picture about how it affects a page’s organic reach. Though the information may be a tad bit outdated, it should give you an idea of the trend. According to the information published by EdgeRank Checker, here are some of the numbers for organic reach, which has been accumulated from almost a 1000 Facebook pages with over 50,000 posts. The following are the median values of the organic reach of each of the post:
Feb 2012 = 16%
Sep 2013 = 12.60%
Nov 2013 = 10.15%
Dec 2013 = 7.83%
Mar 2014 = 6.51%
Organic reach has been more than halved for post updates in March 2014 compared to those in February 2012. Although this is a median statistic, it does not span evenly across different industries. EdgeRankChecker also had the following numbers to share regarding organic reach of pages from different industries.
In my eyes, there are two things that these numbers suggest. Differences in the nature of the content generated by different industries leads to different levels of engagement. Music/Movies/News/Event based pages are very interest specific, which makes it easy for them to publish engaging content and thus get a higher organic reach.
The second observation is that pages with large number of fans do not seem to get as high an organic reach as compared with pages with a smaller number of fans. One rationale behind this can be that as the size of your audience increases, the competition for space on people’s news feeds also increases. Also, chances are that audience interest will be more dispersed as it increases in size; resulting in relatively fewer interactions and thus relatively less organic reach in the long run.
Are Local Businesses Out The Door?
If you are the owner of a small local business, the numbers above aren’t making you feel better. You may feel like going for Facebook ads and getting more Likes for your page, but that is not going to help your business, except maybe make you feel better about it. You would just be paying for the attention of the people who are not going to see your content organically, and you can only advertise for so long, right?
If you are a small business owner who needs to get word of your product out there, don’t just start advertising on Facebook. Spend 30 mins and try to understand who your customers are. Understand that interacting with them is the only sustainable way you will be able to market on Facebook. No one likes seeing pictures of your products all day long. Place yourself in your customer’s shoes, and imagine the kind of content you would look forward to seeing.
Dig into your Facebook insights, and compare your Page performance against that of your competitors’. SocialBakers is a great tool to help you do that. See what are the scopes of interaction and what your customers like to talk about. Most importantly, never be afraid to test out new things, and to step out of the norm. Investing resources/money into content that isn’t directly related to your product may be a bit scary at first, but is a sound strategy for connecting with your customers on Facebook and selling socially!
In the end, it all comes down to the bottom line – numbers. If you are investing resources on Facebook, you better be comfortable dealing with data, because that is the only way of making sure that your online efforts are translating into something meaningful. You can take the science out of the EdgeRank (for the lack of a better name) algorithm and understand that it is mainly a computer’s way of evaluating human relationships. Local brands have the upper hand here as long as they focus on building genuine relationships with customers and follow smart optimization strategies.