Mastering the Facebook Algorithm

In 2003, Facebook - then known as FaceMash - was created by Mark Zuckerberg for the purpose of ranking the attractiveness of his fellow Harvard students. Today it’s a social networking platform used by billions of people around the world, boasting a wide range of functions, making it unrecognisable from its original inception. And with its acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and Whatsapp in 2014, Facebook has become increasingly valuable to marketers.

Why use Facebook?

You may have heard that Facebook is dead… but as of 2022, it has 2 billion monthly users, and 200 million businesses are using Facebook as a marketing channel. And while a large number of businesses have seen their engagement levels on Facebook drastically drop in recent years, it has less to do with the number of active users and more with how the algorithm has evolved. In fact, Facebook’s algorithm has changed over 70 times since 2006, meaning that it’s easy to fall behind. However, when done correctly, Facebook can be a very powerful tool for reaching your audience.

Facebook is often considered a B2C-focussed platform… and while this may be true, it’s important for B2B marketers to remember that you’re still communicating with people - and, more often than not, those people will be active on Facebook. In fact, according to Facebook, senior decision makers are twice as likely to be daily active users, and spend 74% more time on the platform daily than the average user. So while LinkedIn may be the obvious B2B platform of choice, Facebook can also provide new opportunities to reach those coveted decision-maker audiences.


How does the Facebook algorithm work?

Facebook summed up their algorithm in their Transparency Center

“Our goal is to make sure that you see the content that is most valuable to you… to do this, we arrange all of the content that you could see on each of these surfaces with the aim of showing you the things that we think you may be most personally interested in at the top of each surface.”

So how does Facebook judge whether content is ‘valuable’? It’s important to note that the above statement is directed at individual users - meaning that what one person might find valuable, could be completely useless and irrelevant to another. So as with any good social strategy, tailoring your content to your audience will be key.

In short, the algorithm goes through a checklist broken down into four steps that helps it determine the order in which to display posts on users’ feeds.

Step 1: Inventory

‘Inventory’ here refers to the total set of posts a user could see when they open Facebook. This includes posts from friends and family, pages the user follows, groups they are a member of, ads, and recommended content from other pages.

At this stage, there is not much for you to do other than push your content out onto Facebook.

Step 2: Signals

Once the algorithm has taken stock of all available content, it then needs to decide in what order to prioritise it. This is done through ‘signals’ - these are all the different aspects of your post or your page that the algorithm takes into account. While, according to Facebook, the algorithm looks at hundreds of signals, below are the main ones you need to worry about:

  • Who posted it? As a user, you’re more likely to see content from sources you interact with - whether it’s your friends and family, a group you’re active in, or a page whose posts you comment on frequently. 

  • What type of content is it? This signal takes into consideration the format of content you’re most likely to engage with. For example, if you tend to watch a lot of videos, you’ll primarily see video content on your feed.

  • Are users engaging? Unsurprisingly, posts with high engagement levels are prioritised by the algorithm; this is doubly relevant if the engagement is coming from your Facebook friends.

  • When was it posted? Time of day is a significant ranking signal; ideally, Facebook will try to display posts that are posted when the user is online.

  • How fast is your internet? Believe it or not, this is also a ranking signal - primarily to prevent a negative user experience for users with slow internet speeds.

Aside from the above signals, you also want to keep an eye out for negative ranking signals. Meeting these will get your content de-prioritised by the algorithm, and may even get your content hidden and restrictions imposed on your page - including your ability to use Facebook Ads.

Negative signals include:

  • Misinformation and clickbait: Facebook has always been concerned about users promoting misinformation through its platform, and recent algorithm updates have cemented the importance of posting truthful information - particularly when it comes to news, healthcare, and finance.

  • Engagement bait: while not as severe as the above, Facebook will demote posts that are considered ‘engagement bait’. These are posts that contain phrases such as ‘like if you…’ or ‘share this post if you…’ - this is because Facebook does not consider this kind of engagement to be ‘meaningful’ (more on that later).

  • Threatening, violent, and/or hateful language: Facebook’s Community Guidelines state that any kind of hateful or abusive language can get posts hidden and pages suspended, particularly if it is a repeat offence.

Step 3: Predictions

After signals are accounted for, Facebook’s algorithm then makes personalised predictions about each post’s performance based on how relevant it will be to the user. This may sound very vague and nebulous, but it helps to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the post from a close connection, such as a friend, family member, or coworker?

  • Is it original content?

  • How likely is it that the user would comment on the post?

  • How likely is it that the post will foster ‘meaningful interactions’?

  • How likely is it that the user would find the post on their own, for example through Facebook’s Search function?

What are meaningful interactions?

In 2018, Facebook announced that they were adding ‘meaningful interactions’ to their list of ranking considerations. According to their Head of News Feed, the purpose of this update was to return to Facebook’s original purpose - to bring people closer together. To that end, posts that spark ‘meaningful interactions’ have since been prioritised by the algorithm. But what does this actually mean?

In short, any post that could encourage an interaction between Facebook friends is considered to fit this criteria. This may include posts asking for advice, opinions, or recommendations; news articles that encourage discussion; and videos that might be shared or commented on.

Following this update, Facebook warned that Pages would see their reach, video watch time, and engagement decrease. However, that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost - it just means that the content you post on your company page should focus on sparking those meaningful interactions. Not only will this positively signal Facebook’s algorithm, but it will also be genuinely engaging for your audience - win-win!


Step 4: Relevance

The final step in Facebook’s ranking algorithm is relevance. For each individual user, posts receive a relevance score - meaning that while your post may have a high relevance score for User A, it could have a very low score for User B. This score is calculated using a combination of signals and predictions, so getting steps 2 and 3 right is crucial in achieving a high relevance score for your target audience. The higher the relevance score, the higher up the News Feed the post will appear.

Tips and tricks

Make advocates your best friends

The biggest takeaway from Facebook’s recent algorithm changes is that it’s prioritising people over pages, both in terms of content (who is posting) and engagement (who is engaging). Which is great if you’re using Facebook as an individual… but if you’re running a company page, this puts you at an inherent disadvantage, no matter how good your page content is.

This is where advocates - team members, employees, or just loyal fans of your brand - can help foster those much-desired ‘meaningful interactions’ and significantly increase the reach of your page’s posts. Social advocacy tools can be very powerful here, particularly if you have a few team members that are very active on Facebook.


Use original (video) content

You may have noticed that original content is a positive signal for Facebook’s algorithm - but in this digital age, what exactly is ‘original content’? In short, Facebook only considers content that is created by the page owner to be original; video content is particularly targeted by the original content signal, most likely due to the large amount of reposted (or even stolen) video content shared on Facebook.

What about memes? Particularly if your audience skews younger, memes can be a great way to engage on Facebook. However, they can be a bit of a grey area in terms of originality, as Facebook does not consider ‘meme bars’ to count towards original content. Our recommendation is to use video where possible - it allows for many more transformation options, such as narration, voice-overs, commentary, new information… the sky's the limit here!


Timing is everything

Timing is an often overlooked component of social media strategy - after all, it’s easy to just go with the suggested time from your scheduler tool. However, you could be missing out on a quick win by not planning your Facebook posts around your audience’s activity.

According to SproutSocial, the best times to post on Facebook are between Monday and Friday, at 3am, 10am, and 12pm. That being said, Facebook’s Page Insights collects and displays data on when your page’s followers are most active, which can be really valuable in reaching your audience at the right time. On top of that, if you’re using Facebook’s own scheduler tool, it will automatically display the best times to schedule your posts based on page follower data.


What's next?

Facebook can be a particularly challenging platform for marketers, which is why it’s often dismissed as obsolete or ‘dead’ - but understanding how the platform (and its algorithm) has changed over the years can help you shift your Facebook strategy away from ‘shouting into the void’ and towards ‘meaningful interactions’. 

Looking to better understand the LinkedIn algorithm instead? You can read about it in our LinkedIn Algorithm Guide here.

Like this? You may also like

  1. Mastering the LinkedIn algorithm

    / Marketing

    Mastering the LinkedIn algorithm

    LinkedIn can be a powerful platform for getting your content in front of C-suite members, buying committees, and other relevant audiences. However, getting your content to ‘win’ the LinkedIn algorithm is no easy task - not only do the actual contents of your post matter, but so does the engagement (or lack thereof) from your network. However, there are steps you can take to help your content reach users’ feeds.

  2. Your Ultimate Guide to the Instagram Algorithm

    / Social Media

    Your Ultimate Guide to the Instagram Algorithm

    While Instagram’s image-focussed approach can be off-putting to B2B marketers, excluding Instagram from your social media strategy may actually be a missed opportunity. Instagram’s algorithm - much more sophisticated now than at its inception over a decade ago - actually favours personalisation and niche content, allowing you to reach your target audience in a more informal, personal context. Read on to find out how to make Instagram’s algorithm work for you.