Making the Facebook newsfeed algorithm work for PR

Making the Facebook newsfeed algorithm work for PR

The Facebook newsfeed is one of the key algorithms in marketing, media and public relations. Practitioners should have a basic understanding how it works.

Image via Pexel with thanks

Image via Pexel with thanks

Facebook is the largest social media platform. We use it to stay in touch with friends and family. 

It’s also used by organisations to share content with their communities, and engage with their publics.

As far as Facebook is concerned you’re the product. Its goal is to engage you in the newsfeed for as long as possible each day.

Facebook monetises your attention in a number of ways to organisations. It sells advertising around the newsfeed, and sponsored content in the newsfeed.

Two billion people are active on Facebook. It’s an important platform or media for public engagement, and a top referring source of traffic for most organisations, alongside Google.

Facebook reports that each of its two billion users could be served as many as 1,500 pieces of content each day. There’s a massive amount of brand, media and user generated content on the platform.

The volume is reduced to around 300 posts per user per day by the newsfeed algorithm. It measures more than 1,000 variables to make decisions about content that you are likely to view.

This content is served to you organically when you open the platform, interspersed with paid content.

Paying to play

Paying to promote content is the easiest way for an organisation to ensure that its content appears in the newsfeed of its networks.

Facebook built its business model by encouraging organisations to build communities on the platform. In time it throttled the reach of organic content to the point where content posted within a community now typically reaches less than three percent.

Posts from brands and publishers are expected to reduce to zero following an update to the algorithm announced last week.

If you’re the owner of a brand page and you want greater reach within your community you need to pay.

“The most prominent impact will be on Facebook organic client page reach. Brands will prioritise audience engagement over website clicks,” said Rachel Winer, Director, Paid Media, Ketchum.

There’s a game to be played. Investing in paid promotion behind a piece of content is a good way to seed it within your community. In time your community will react, comment and share.

Groups are an opportunity for brands but need to be non-commercial. Can you build a community with social purpose around your location, event or organisation?

Facebook has built a very efficient machine. It’s possible to target paid promotion by demographic and behaviour. You can also recruit new followers on the same basis.

It’s possible to be incredibly granular about how you promote content or your community thank to Facebook’s ad planner. It enables you to build a campaign and determine the likely reach and return on investment of a campaign.

Decoding the newsfeed

Anyone that claims to have decoded the newsfeed algorithmic is exaggerating their skills at best.

We can take a view based on how the algorithm performs and what has worked in the past and information published by Facebook, but it’s a full time job to understand all the variables and keep on top of changes.

I recommend finding a trusted source that follows newsfeed algorithm changes or a friendly community manager who is familiar with the Facebook platform. It’s also worth investigating content in your own newsfeed to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Individual users have the complete control over their newsfeed. You can decide if you want to see content from a brand or publisher at the top.

Could you make your content so compelling that Facebook users opt in for it in their newsfeed? It’s a role that can be taken by media and public services.

Here’s a summary of some of the key performance indicators for the newsfeed. It’s generic but if you spot anything that I’ve missed please let me know.

Stories pushed up the newsfeed

There are three variables that the newsfeed interrogates: the source of a post, the type of content, and the level of engagement; namely reactions, shared and comments.

Affinity is a strong signal. You’ll be served content from people that you engage with regularly. Facebook takes the view that you’re most likely to enjoy and interact with this content.

It’s why my partner, daughters, and close friends are typically top of my newsfeed.

Crowdsourcing and word of mouth campaigns aim to make use of this mechanic and trigger us to share content with our network.

“Working with consumers to create conversation around and about your brand, or share your content, has always been the holy grail of social media marketing. It is simply more important than ever because being able to tap into consumer actions to promote your brand has now become a much higher imperative,” Jim Lin, Senior Vice President, Creative Director, Ketchum.

Events, recommendations, reviews and check-ins are all ranked highly within a network. Facebook is encouraging us to publish content in its bid to become a discovery platform.

Video performs well in the Facebook newsfeed. It’s prioritised over all other forms of content. Facebook wants to be a hub of entertainment and events.

Videos that users search for or return to the platform to watch are prioritised. Episodic and regular programming works well.

The level of engagement on a post is the strongest indicator that users will continue to interact. There’s an engagement hierarchy of reaction, comment and shares.

It’s why posts with an ongoing comment thread are bumped back up and into your newsfeed. Facebook wants to draw you into the discussion.

Stories pushed down the newsfeed

Negative signals of any form is pushed down and out of the newsfeed.

Posts that are click bait are marked as spam. This approach worked ten years ago but users are fed up of this genre.

This is why you see cause-related posts that ask you to cut and paste a message into your own feed.

Baiting that involves tags, comments, or reactions, are likewise marked down in the newsfeed.

Links to low value content are also pushed out. Facebook would prefer you to serve content on the platform but if you link out make sure the landing page is substantive, and loads quickly.


Facebook Ad Planner – This tool helps understand Facebook users by demographic and behaviour. Facebook enables you to use the same variables to promote content.

Summary: The Facebook newsfeed and public relations

#1 User first

Users have control over what they see and what they don’t, but very few tweak settings. Can you make your stories so valuable that people want to see them first?

#2 Social network

Social relationships and interactions (reactions, comments and shares) are the strongest signal for content in the newsfeed.

#3 Facebook zero

Posts from brand pages are set to be throttled back to zero. Organic posting is no longer an option. Paid promotion required.

#4 Video and events

Live video is still being prioritised over all other forms of content. Facebook continues to chase a position in the events business.

#5 Conversation

Meaningful engagement and discussion that keeps people coming back will bounce in the newsfeed and keep surfacing up top.

#6 Strong and under-utilised signals

Seeking recommendations, events, reviews and check-ins are strong signals. This an under-utilised place for brands to play.

#7 Groups versus pages

Groups are an opportunity for brands but need to be non-commercial. Can you build a community around your location, event or organisation?

#8 Social purpose

Therein lies a lesson. Brands that listen to users and create meaning content and conversation will rise up the newsfeed.

#9 Word of mouth

Optimise your marketing or public relations effort for word of mouth and social sharing.

#10 Signals

Any negative user signal such as mute or hide, will push content down the newsfeed.

Thanks to my Ketchum colleagues Jim Lin, Gur Tsabar, Amit Wadehra and Rachel Winer for helping making sense of Facebook’s recent algorithm changes.

You know where to find us if your organisation needs to evaluation its social media marketing programmes and in particular its use of Facebook.

How to write a communications or public relations plan

How to write a communications or public relations plan

GDPR for public relations: driving up standards

GDPR for public relations: driving up standards