February 7, 2011

Demystifying how Facebook’s news feeds work

EdgeRank-Checker
New tool: The EdgeRank Checker app shows how well your Facebook Page is performing.

 

It’s the heart & soul of Facebook — and few people understand it

This is part 1 of a 4-part series on using Facebook strategically. Also see:
• Part 2: 15 ways to increase your Facebook stature
• Part 3: Cheat sheet: Key principles of social media marketing on Facebook
• Part 4: 15 ways to increase your brand’s impact on Facebook

JD LasicaOver the years, Facebook has become a central part of our online social presence — for businesses, nonprofits, organizations and our personal brands.

So why do so many people know so little about how the heart and soul of Facebook actually works? I’m referring to the Facebook News Feed, featured in a Chevy Cruze commercial in the second quarter of yesterday’s Super Bowl.

In this series, we’ll offer tips on how to use Facebook much more effectively as a business professional by taking charge of your News Feed. We’ll dissect Facebook’s secret sauce, called EdgeRank, to help you build authority with the right touch, tools and tactics. And we’ll give you tips on how to expand your brand’s reach and influence on Facebook.

How Facebook’s news feeds work

Facebook is far more than a social network: It’s also a personalized news network powered by a highly dynamic engine that’s personalized, relevant and timely. The crown jewel of this dynamic landscape is the News Feed. The News Feed consists of the content continually fed into the center column of your home page from people and Pages you follow on Facebook. You’ll see status updates, photos, photo tags, videos, friend requests, event RSVPs and group memberships.

Top-News

Facebook’s news feeds have evolved significantly since the first one was introduced in 2006. With close to 600 million members, Facebook handles billions of individualized feeds — an impressive feat of engineering, if you to stop to think about it. Some members may not realize it, but the news stream you typically see on your page displays only a small portion of the updates posted by your Facebook friends.

A few weeks ago Facebook tweaked the Most Recent feed. Now you have the option to display photos, Page updates & posts on Friend Lists.

Your News Feed comes in two flavors:

Top News contains what Facebook calls “the most interesting content that your friends are posting.” This filtered feed is the default view on Facebook (until you change it), and Facebook said in late 2010 that more than 95 percent of its nearly 600 million members using the Web interface see the site through this prism. (This figure doesn’t count members using mobile apps and third-party apps.)

Most Recent shows you “all the actions your friends are making in real-time,” Facebook says (though that’s not literally true, as we’ll see below). On Dec. 22, with little fanfare, Facebook updated the Most Recent feed, giving you more filter options, including just photos, just updates from Pages, and posts from the Friend Lists you create. Pretty cool! Behold:

Most-Recent

If you’d prefer to see Most Recent as your default, you can scroll down to the very bottom of your Top News or Most Recent page, click Edit Options, and select: Show posts from: All of your friends and pages. (See this Help page for more details.)

Edit-Options

You can also choose to hide certain kinds of applications — if you hate quizzes, you can banish quiz apps from your feed — or you can hide posts from selected individuals or Pages. This can come in handy if you have a garrulous buddy you don’t want to defriend or a brand that you’ve changed your mind about. Roll over the X at the right of any post and you’ll see options, which are different for Pages and friends:

Hide user on Facebook

A few things to note about the Most Recent feed:

• If you use the Facebook for iPhone or Facebook for Android app, this is the feed you see — the Live Feed gusher, not the filtered Top News feed.

• Does your Most Recent feed contain absolutely all of your friends’ updates? Well, it probably contains 98 percent of them. At the Daily Beast, Tom Weber conducted an experiment and found that updates, links, photos and videos posted by a Facebook newcomer did not appear in some of his friends’ Most Recent feeds. And others have noticed that the Most Recent feed doesn’t contain a few of the updates you see in the unfiltered Live Feed on your mobile device or a third-party app using an API like TweetDeck or Hootsuite. Try it — it’s an interesting experiment!

• I should also mention that an update by a Facebook Group — as opposed to a Facebook Page or personal Profile — does not appear in either anyone’s Most Recent or Top News feeds. Groups may contact their members via in-box messaging up to a maximum of 5,000 members, which Pages cannot do. But today it’s almost always better for a brand to create a Page, rather than a Group, to maximize visibility within the News Feed.

You may also want to check the settings found by clicking on the “Edit Options” button of your Most Recent feed at the top or bottom of the page.

Fine-tuning your Top News feed

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. We don’t recommend turning your Top News into a Most Recent firehose. The idea behind Top News is this: You want to see news from the Facebook members, brands or causes that matter most to you. And we agree: You want to be selective about who to devote your attention to, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of friends and follow scores of Pages. Your time is valuable, right?

So you need to teach Facebook’s Top News feed how to behave. And you want to set up lists for more targeted updates, which we’ll cover in part 2.

What makes it into your Top News stream? Facebook uses a formula called EdgeRank, which takes into account just three factors:

  • Affinity: The more often you engage with content by a person or Page over time, the higher your affinity will be for that content creator.
  • Weight: As posts are commented on, liked and shared by other Facebook users and their networks, their overall weight increases, even if you’re not connected with those users. A posting with 10 comments and 15 Likes carries a greater weight than one with no comments or Likes. Not all interactions are equal. A comment probably counts more than a Like does.
  • Timeliness: The more recent the post, the higher it ranks. As time goes by, its value decreases.

Top News will show you hours-old updates from some friends while ignoring newer posts from others. You probably wonder which of your friends see which of your posts. It comes down to this: A high EdgeRank leads to visibility while a low EdgeRank leads to obscurity.

New tool: The EdgeRank Checker app

Last week social media strategist Mari Smith wrote about a new tool that measures your Facebook Page’s EdgeRank score. If you have a Facebook Page, EdgeRank Checker — pictured at top — steps you through the process of determining how effective your Page is in reaching your followers. No download necessary.

Facebook-Insights

Here’s how it works. Just log in as an administrator, go to your Insights page and select the Page you want to check (image above). Choose a date range, click the Export button and be sure to tab over to select CSV (not Excel). Then upload the CSV file to EdgeRank Checker and it spits out your score in a few seconds. The resulting page will show what your score means. Facebook expert Chad Wittman, founder of social media management firm SBN, created the tool. There’s also a fan engagement checker at Fangager.com – enter your Page username to get a full summary (hat tip to Brian Solis).

The exact way EdgeRank works is part of Facebook’s secret sauce, but we’ll explore how to increase affinity and weight — that is, how to enhance your influence and visibility — in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

Thanks to Bryan Person of Liveworld for fact-checking and editing this series.

In this series

• Part 1: Demystifying how Facebook’s news feeds work (above)
• Part 2: 15 ways to increase your Facebook stature
• Part 3: Cheat sheet: Key principles of social media marketing on Facebook
• Part 4: 15 ways to increase your brand’s impact on Facebook
JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

  • Jan Kabili

    Apparently changing the news feed Edit Options to Show posts from: All of your friends and pages does not make Show Recent the default view. I've done that, but I'm still defaulted to Top News.

    • jdlasica

      Jan, have you tried doing that from the Edit Options link on the Most Recent feed page, rather than the Top News page?

  • http://twitter.com/practicalecomm @practicalecomm

    I never could get the Edge Rank measurement tool to work. It kept throwing up error messages. I followed the instructions to the tee.

    • jdlasica

      It worked on both my sites' Pages. Chad W. says a new version will be out in a few weeks that doesn't require inputting a CSV file. So keep a watch out.

  • Marla Hughes

    I like to see all the posts from all my friends. That way I don't forget to say something to someone occasionally at least. Just a quick Hi or 'like' for some, longer responses for others. If I don't like them (business or personal) anymore, I unfriend them period.

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