Understanding Why Facebook Does What it Does
Facebook launched the News Feed in 2006, and it’s been constantly evolving since then. Back in the days, one had to manually search for friends’ profiles to see what they’d been up to. But with the introduction of the News Feed, the homepage showed status and photo updates all in one place.
Facebook introduced the Like feature. This helped evolve the Facebook algorithm to highlight posts which appealed to its users.
The popular social channel brought in a new process for post sorting—reverse chronological sorting was replaced with popular post sorting. All thanks to the Like feature. The more engaging a post was, the higher it appeared on the News Feed. Though not a lot of users were happy about this change.
Facebook got ambitious with its algorithm. They created a more complicated sorting algorithm that combined both types of sorting into one feed! This algorithm allowed everyone to see most relevant post at all times. Users had difficulty adjusting to the change. A News Ticker was also added to the right sidebar which showed the activity of friends.
Later on, in 2013, it announced yet another update to the News Feed. This update includes 2 key changes to its ranking algorithm.
- Posts not viewed by users got a second chance to be seen.
- The algorithm gave importance to the top 50 interactions of a user to determine what will be shown in their News Feed.
Pretty complicated, huh? Wait till you learn what followed.
An effort was made to control click bait. This took into account the user behavior when returning to Facebook after clicking a link and the number of people who interacted with the link.
A year later, the algorithm gauged the amount of time spent on stories outside the News Feed to determine whether or not to show those stories on your friends’ News Feed. Mid of 2015, Facebook introduced the See First feature. This allowed users to choose which friends’ updates they wanted to see first. This gave users some control on managing their News Feed. A few weeks later, it expanded the preferences on the See First feature which allowed users to decide whether or not they wanted to see updates from friends, if so, in what priority.
While Facebook continuously works on improving user experience, 2016 it began prioritizing live videos in News Feed. In the same year, it made another attempt at reducing click bait by gauging the amount of time spent on shared links. In fact, it also penalized Pages that posted too often. (Marketers, take note! As a tip, use a good social media management tool to schedule posts for optimal times without getting penalized.)
2017 has seen a lot of tweaks being made to Facebook’s algorithm. This has included:
- Prioritizing videos by the amount of time they’ve played. The longer the video is played the more the video is pushed to the feed.
- Playing videos with sound on (mobile only) so that the user can scroll down to the last of their News Feed while listening to the video.
- Weighing share and comments, heavier in the algorithm over likes and pushing out videos that have higher engagement.
- Allowing users to subscribe to topics of interest.
With the latest call to kill low-quality sites even if they came from Facebook Ads. Phew!
Sorting Your Facebook Timeline
Facebook wants to show its user’s content that matters the most to them. As a user, you have significant control over what you see first, and there are many ways to set your preferences.
Top Stories is Facebook’s default setting. With a lot of serious gauging and guesswork, Facebook uses the Top Stories sorting to show you what it thinks will interest you.
For most, this option doesn’t seem to work quite well because there is a greater chance at missing posts that could not be predicted by Facebook’s algorithm. What’s worse is, if you miss seeing a post there’s no way you could interact with it. With no interaction, there is less probability of being shown similar posts. Additionally, the stories are in no particular chronological order. A 5-day old post might be followed by a 5-second old post.
Facebook for its part acknowledges that it doesn’t get the sorting always right and allows you to control what you see in your News Feed.
The next best sorting option is Most Recent. This option shows stories in a reverse chronological order. But here’s the thing, if one of your friends likes or comments on an older post, it will show up at the top. Since Facebook, still curates stories in Most Recent, you may not see all the updates from friends and pages you follow.
To switch to this sorting preference, click ‘News Feed’ in the left column and select ‘Most Recent.’ It’s that simple! Sometimes, when you log out the sorting preference may be reset to default. All you’ll need to do is switch back to ‘Most Recent.’
You can narrow your preference some more by using the Edit Preferences option below Most Recent.
Who to See First
The “Who to see first” option lets you choose which friends and page updates you’re notified about after the posts are published. These posts will show at the top of your News Feed with no algorithmic gimmicks at play! Once you select this option, you have the option to choose whose posts you want to see first. Once you have made a selection, click ‘Done,’ and start scrolling through your News Feed.
Unfollow People to Hide Their Posts
This works the other way around. It allows you to choose whose posts you don’t want to see in your News Feed. The popup is similar to the Prioritize who to see first popup. Once you click ‘Done’ you won’t see posts from people or pages you unfollowed.
Reconnect with People you’ve Unfollowed
This option lets you quickly switch back to following stories from people whom you’ve unfollowed. The popup has a similar selection as the previous options. Hit ‘Done’ to see unfollowed stories resurface in your News Feed.
Discover Pages that Match your Interests
Expand your preferences beyond stories from friends and pages with Discover Pages that Match your Interests. Clicking this option opens a popup with a few suggestions. Stories from Pages you like will begin to show up in your News Feed.
By liking any of the pages you’ll be shown a text-over-image button to see ‘See Similar Pages’. Click it to view of similar pages which you can like and follow. These stories will be featured in your News Feed.
One More Option!
There’s another way to handle Facebook’s Timeline sorting. You can do this right from within a post, friends’ profile, or a page. The options available are pretty straight forward.
What’s in it for me?
It’s important to understand that Facebook’s algorithm evolves predominantly based on user behavior and feedback. If a user hides an ad, they’re essentially telling Facebook they’re not interested in seeing this ad or similar ones in the future.
The only way to cut through Facebook’s algorithm and to reach potential viewer is to create visually compelling content and send it out at the right time.
A Final Note
Though Facebook’s algorithm is complex, the consumers of its content are human beings who are simple and want to be fascinated by what you have to say.