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Gaining The Edge In Facebook: News Feed Optimization

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Synopsis — Facebook is the hottest social media locale on the Internet today, and because of that, online marketers need to take advantage of every available feature it offers in boosting the reputation of their business and encouraging engagement with their products and services. It is not enough to have a Facebook page and attract fans to that page — marketers must find ways to show up on a user’s news feed with content that is fresh, wanted, and popular to outperform their competition in this arena.

In her article, “Gaining The Edge In Facebook: News Feed Optimization,” Linda Bustos analyzes Facebook’s news feed algorithm and the three factors that we know play into it. Then she follow up with 13 tactics that you can use to maximize the impact of your presence on Facebook to increase engagement and boost ROI. Complete with some graphic examples of the principles she discusses, Linda’s baker’s dozen of tips will help ensure that you are doing all you can to maximize your investment of time and resources into this most important of social media resources.

The complete article follows …

Gaining The Edge In Facebook: News Feed Optimization

So you’ve got a Facebook page for your business, and a healthy number of fans. Awesome. But have you figured out what to do with it?

Social media marketing is here to stay and — for now, at least— Facebook is the hottest venue in which the game is played. Fans who “like” your Facebook page are essentially sharing their interest in your business with their friends, giving you ongoing permission to communicate with them through Facebook’s News Feed. You not only compete with other brands for attention, but with a Facebooker’s entire social graph. In fact, studies show that only 0.2% of shares (only 2 in 1,000) from an individual’s social graph are actually promoted to one’s News Feed.

The problem for marketers is getting noticed. Like search engines, Facebook has a secret sauce algorithm that determines what makes the feed and what’s just background noise. The result is Facebook’s equivalent of Search Engine Optimization — News Feed Optimization (NFO). — content and promotion strategies to appear in a user’s News Feed and to maximize attention, interest, engagement (with your page), and action (social sharing).

EdgeRank — Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm

Facebook users are familiar with their News Feed, which displays the top news by default, with an option to toggle to most recent items. Facebook believes it knows enough about a user to filter all the inputs shared by friends and pages in your network, relying on its EdgeRank formula to do so.

An “edge” refers to any form of content you share, including status updates, photos, likes, videos, or comments. EdgeRank is the product of an edge’s affinity score, weight, and time decay.

Affinity score is influenced by a Facebook user’s interactions with a friend or page, and is unilateral. George may click on Jim’s photos, like his shared content, and visit his profile regularly, all of which indicate an affinity for him. But if Jim does not interact with George’s profile or shares, he has a low affinity for George, regardless of George’s behavior. Similarly, for brand pages, affinity is one-directional and must be earned by posting interesting and engaging content.

Weight is relative and varies for different types of content. Facebook may assign higher weight to content produced by the user, rather than liked from an external site or updates posted. On the other hand, it may reward content that has attracted its own likes, comments, emails, and shares. We are not told how Facebook ranks content, but we assume it’s based on a mix of content type and popularity. What’s hot among your friends may also influence weight, as EdgeRank is calculated for each individual user.

Time decay is just what it sounds like. Today’s real-time culture values freshness, and shares decompose by the minute. However, an older edge that has gained traction and continues to attract comments and likes can outrank newer content.

That is about all Facebook divulges about the inner workings of the News Feed. While it’s vague, enough hints exist in the EdgeRank formula to strategically optimize News Feed shares.

A Baker’s Dozen — 13 NFO Tactics

While it is vital to maximize the impact of edges, don’t underestimate the importance of getting fan engagement early on in the process. Think “affinity score” — the only way to earn affinity is to get a fan to interact with your page. Fans are likely to forget about your page unless you show up in their News Feed, so an immediate interaction with your wall or other content should get the ball rolling.

1.  Make it obvious — Treat your Facebook “like” button or link to your Facebook page like any other call to action by making it easy to spot. If you’re inviting email subscribers to check you out on Facebook, use bullet points to explain why they should join your page. Can they take polls, enter contests, and get other exclusive content? Consider placing the call to action near the top of the page, rather than the bottom.

2.  Use iFrames — Facebook now allows you to use iFrames, letting you soup up your page with CSS from your website (great for branding and persuasive design) and include interactive features. This can up the cool factor and usefulness of your page, both of which influence conversions to like your page.

3.  Make creative use of tabs — If your Facebook page were a website, tabs would be the web pages. Tab labels should pique the interest of your fans and pre-fans, and be easy to scan to understand what fun/cool/useful stuff you’ve got.

For example, here are three different possible tab setups:

4. Choose a landing tab wisely — Your landing tab does not have to be your wall. In fact, I recommend you don’t make your wall your landing tab. While an active wall may persuade a new fan to join, you can’t control the way your wall appears at any given moment (spam, negative comments, uninteresting post at the top, etc). Instead, the landing tab should be an enticing page that can win an initial interaction. Common engagement starters are contest entries and quizzes, such as Roxy does here.

5.  Include calls to action on your landing tab — The goal of calls to action on the landing tab is to get an initial interaction within Facebook; therefore, one call to action should be to “like” the page and others should entice the new fan to interact with the page. Remember that It’s difficult to craft a clear call to action on your wall itself, where the choice of content that appears is beyond your complete control. Avoid calls to action on your landing tab that link out of Facebook. Marks and Spencer (below) has a clever example of a very conspicuous call to action.

6.  Be strategic (signal vs. noise) — Before posting an edge, always ask yourself, “why should anyone care?” It’s better to post less frequently but attract more interest per post. Brush up on headline writing, and use analytics to measure which content types, topics, and times of day attract the most engagement. With iFrames, you can even connect Facebook to most web analytics packages.

7.  Remember the time — Because of the volume of activity on Facebook, posts are quickly buried. You have a very short window of opportunity to gain traction with an edge (the time decay factor). Think carefully when planning frequency and timing of content. Consider time zones — if you always post at the same time of day, fans across the pond may never see your updates. Spread the love!

8.  Go for the share — Write posts that encourage sharing across the network. Viral content like videos or funny quotes are likely to get more shares than questions or simple announcements.

9.  Bait for response — Boost your comment count by asking questions, but avoid simple yes/no answers. Think about what people like to brag about, what their favorite “x” is, or for their opinions. Incentivize comments by awarding a prize for the best response (e.g., a caption contest for a photo).

10.  Shake it up — Photos and videos tend to stand out in a News Feed, so a mix of media and content types may get more attention.

11.  Analyze this — I mentioned analytics when talking about strategy, but it bears repeating. Measure what works and what doesn’t.

12.  Take the direct approach — Be careful using automated posting services like NetworkedBlogs or syncing updates through your Twitter feed. Facebook awards content composed within Facebook with more “weight” than automated updates. It’s worth the extra couple of seconds to create the share manually.

13.  Respond to comments — Not only does it show courtesy to answer questions raised in comments, it also boosts your comment count, which could increase your edge’s weight. You may also want to encourage employees to comment to get the ball rolling (or keep it going).

Conclusion

Getting your message seen by your Facebook fans is clearly a challenge, but knowledge of how Facebook determines which posts to show in a user’s News Feed can help you share content strategically. A user’s affinity with your page, your edge’s relative weighting factor, and the time of posting all affect the likelihood of your signal getting through. To be “liked,” your page must be attractive, contain interesting content, and be optimized (like any web page) with calls to action. You then must craft posts that attract attention, encourage interaction, and are likely to be shared. Finally, you must measure your efforts to learn what’s working and what’s not. That’s News Feed optimization — a whole new challenge!

About the Author

Linda Bustos is the author of the Get Elastic Ecommerce Blog. She is the director of ecommerce research for Elastic Path Software, working with some of the world's largest companies to help improve conversion rates and profitability on the web. In 2009, Linda was named one of the top 30 direct marketers under 30 by DMNews.

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