The Evolution of Facebook’s News Feed

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By Vlad Vidaeff

In 2005, I happened to be one of the first batches of teenagers to try out what was at the time a strange new website: Facebook.  After graduating from high school, I was eagerly awaiting the start of college after the summer.  Going to school out of state, I didn’t know anyone else who was planning to attend the University of Michigan.  With Facebook gaining popularity among my age group, I thought it would be a fun way to get to know some of my classmates before I stepped foot on campus.  Ten years later, it’s remarkable to see how far Facebook has come.  Facebook is no longer exclusive to college students (I remember being quite ticked off when non-college students were allowed to join).  When the first version of the News Feed was introduced, I remember being upset with the added feature.  Facebook groups were created to protest the News Feed.  This blog will focus on the evolution of Facebook’s News Feed.  The technical aspect behind Facebook’s algorithm and what it means to marketers will also be analyzed.  Lastly, we will take a peak into what the future might hold.

The News Feed, initially controversial, has become a behemoth and the key to Facebook’s success.  Metaphorically speaking, the News Feed is the most valuable billboard in existence for brands, for celebrities, for publishers, and for common everyday users.  Almost one billion people around the globe check their Facebook daily.  The content you see on Facebook is largely dependent on Facebook’s algorithm.  While extremely complicated in nature, Facebook’s algorithm continues to evolve over time.  We could write a book on all the tweaks and alterations that have been made over the years but it’s important to highlight some of the major landmarks.  The algorithm was originally controlled by EdgeRank which was composed of affinity, weight, and time decay.  EdgeRank was scrapped in 2013 as other factors such as the type of content an user tends to interact with, relationship settings with other people on Facebook, hiding posts, etc. were added to the mix.

August 2013 saw an increased favoring of “high-quality content.”  December 2013 introduced an increased focus on current events, sports teams, shared interests, and other noteworthy news.  In January 2014, a downgrading of text-only updates occurred.  February 2014 announced the ability to expand your reach by tagging other pages.  In April 2014, an effort was made to reduce like-baiting and spammy posts.  Native video received a significant boost in June of 2014.  November 2014 put a nail in the coffin to organic reach and a sent a clear message that purchasing ads needs to be an essential part of a company’s social media strategy.  April 2015 saw more posts from friends, and less from pages.  Of course, there are many other revisions to Facebook’s algorithm that have been made during this time span.

Most recently, there are two major changes to note.  In July 2015, in a rare user-controlled adjustment, Facebook gave users the ability to choose the connections they want to see first on their News Feed.  Users can now designate up to 30 friends and/or Pages whose posts they don’t want to miss, essentially creating a ‘preferred list.’  In a previous blog, we took a look at Facebook’s upcoming introduction of emoji reactions.  During the testing phase that is going on at the moment, Facebook is treating ‘Love,’ ‘Haha,’ ‘Wow,’ ‘Yay,’ ‘Sad,’ and ‘Angry’ the same as a ‘Like’ in terms of content rankings in the News Feed.  However, it is likely that these reactions will be treated differently in Facebook’s algorithm as nuances are made for how to treat these additions.

What does all of this mean to marketers?  When representing a brand effectively and authentically on Facebook, crafting engaging content is the Holy Grail for social media marketers.  Keeping up-to-date on changes to Facebook’s algorithm can impact your strategy in regards to the tactics you use to reach your audience.  For example, now that we know that native video is treated more favorably than YouTube videos, your reach will often increase when you choose to add a native video rather than a YouTube link.  Combining creative and engaging content while simultaneously capitalizing on Facebook’s best practices leads to a highly effective social media strategy.

For a simple guide to how Facebook’s News Feed works, check out Facebook’s official page on the topic.  If you would like to adjust your News Feed preferences, click here.  For a quick and entertaining video titled Facebook News Feed 101, including what to expect next, click here.  At Facebook’s headquarters, close to 20 engineers and data scientists analyze endless streams of data to constantly tinker with Facebook’s algorithm.  In Knoxville, Tennessee, a group of 30 contract workers get paid to surf Facebook.  Their assessments, in addition to the ratings of about 700 other reviewers across the country, are provided to the 20 engineers and data scientists in California.  While this group of talented individuals may not be the Illuminati, they certainly yield great power and responsibility.


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