September 19, 2014

Changes to Facebook's News Feed Once Again

Latest news from Facebook's newsroom is that the mysterious algorithm that determines what we see on our news feed is being adjusted once again to show more timely stories from friends and pages.

Unlike other social networking sites like Twitter and Instagram, Facebook's news feed algorithm has always been a mystery to casual users and business users. While Twitter and Instagram follow a purely time-based algorithm, you see what has been most recently posted, Facebook's vast database of users and the vast amount of information they share on the platform doesn't make it that simple for arguably the world's most popular social network.

However, the rise of more mobile friendly social networks like Twitter and Instagram (which Facebook actually owns) is now making Facebook adjust and adapt their algorithm. To quote Facebook:

"Our goal with News Feed is to show everyone the right content at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them. We’ve heard feedback that there are some instances where a post from a friend or a Page you are connected to is only interesting at a specific moment, for example when you are both watching the same sports game, or talking about the season premiere of a popular TV show. There are also times when a post that is a day or two old may not be relevant to you anymore. Our latest update to News Feed ranking looks at two new factors to determine if a story is more important in the moment than other types of updates."

Two changes to the algorithm are in store. First, Facebook will now show people stories about things that are trending as soon as they occur, so that users can immediately know what their friends or favorite Pages are saying. Second, the new algorithm will take into account the rate at which people are liking or commenting on a post.

I think the changes will improve the user experience as we will now see more relevant content on the news feed. It might not be a major change for casual end users as the changes will likely be subtle. The thing with Facebook's algorithm is that you don't really know what you are missing in the first place since the algorithm decides what news is relevant to you.

For pages, it only means that leveraging on timely events to get high engagement on posts can still be done but these posts are likely to disappear quickly from new feeds of followers. In the past, the post might linger for a while giving pages more exposure. As always, the challenge is to come up with content that engages users so that the content is able to live organically on the news feed.