Image: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
This morning I spent a considerable amount of time staring at my Facebook News Feed. And by staring, I mean long, lingering confused staring – accompanied by a scratching of the head and the making of a contorted, confused face that looks so charming to the outside world.
Let’s see if you have the same reaction – open your Facebook News Feed, skim-read the names of the people and organisations listed on your feed, and then keeping scrolling. And scrolling. And repeat at least ten times. Now ask yourself – “who are these people?”.
If you’re like me, you’ll find that perhaps the majority of people in your Facebook feed are not your closest friends, or people that you vaguely remember or even care about. Organisations listed are not ones that you engage with very often in your waking life or even give much of a stuff about.
Welcome to Facebook Edgerank.
Edgerank is the most frustrating part of the whole Facebook ecosystem – and, as we know, there are many. It’s frustrating in that for much of the time, it seemingly doesn’t work. It doesn’t do what we want it to do – either as a user or a business. It’s also frustrating due to the fact that when it does seem to work, it works beautifully. If only it would work more often.
So what is it? Edgerank is in the same family as Google Search, in that it is an algorithm that effectively tries to guess what it is that you are really interested in – although unlike Google, there isn’t an easy explanation, or indeed a tried-and-tested process that will get yourself seen by more people.
The harsh reality behind Edgerank is that, in calculating what it believes you want to read, it gives you with around 16% of posts or content published by Friends or Pages that you have Liked. Which means, that 84% of posts from People or Organisations that you have Friended or Liked – that is, directly expressed an interest in – are effectively invisible to you. Or put it another way: the average Facebook user will never see 4 out of every 5 posts published by their network.
And the posts that you do see? Well, see above – that 16% to me feels wrong. Those posts in my feed are chock full of people that I’ve Friended, but barely know. I haven’t visited that business Page recently and I haven’t Liked or commented on their posts. Yet, there they are. Surely this fact, combined with the 4 out of 5 invisibility ratio, build to what amounts to an Epic Fail on the part of Facebook? When all is said is done, I’m not seeing what I really want to see. There is a world of ideas and content out there I’m passionate about, yet it’s remarkably absent from my feed.
But is Facebook responsible for this Fail? Yes and no – Edgerank assigns preferences to us, based on our Facebook browsing history. And there is of course a massive difference between what we think we’re interested in, and what we’re actually clicking on. (The truth is often quite terrifying – sure, you read Alain De Botton, so why does your browsing history only show pictures of cats in hats?)
Facebook also assigns a weighting to the post itself, based on its popularity within our network. All this means that you will see some posts from a Friend or a Page, but not everything. You might see a popular photo from a Friend’s night out, but you won’t see their next less-popular post about what they made for breakfast the morning after.
In the words of every great, lame shampoo commercial, “here comes the science” -
Edgerank is based on three core areas: Affinity, Weight and Recency.
- Affinity is calculated by how connected you have been to a Friend or Page in the past. It’s based on your actions – your clicks, likes, comments and shares; and the recency of those actions. The more of these you do with a Friend or a Page, the higher your affinity, and the more you will see them in your Feed.
- Weight is a value assigned by Facebook to a particular post based on the interactions. Here, a Comment is worth more than a Like, a Share is worth more than a Comment. So, posts with a high number of interactions have higher weight and thus more likelihood of appearing in your feed. Look now at your feed, how many posts have no Likes, Comments or Shares? Few, in any, I’ll wager – Weight is a popularity contest. But know this – if your post has no Likes, Comments or Shares, the chances of it appearing in the News Feed of your network are next to zero, so was it therefore worth posting at all?
- Finally, the sci-fi sounding Time Decay – the older the content, the less value it has. This tends to mean that any Post has a rough life-cycle in News Feeds of less than a day.
However, even if you were to master all of the above, and become a ninja of the Edgerank business, there’s a sucker punch – Facebook’s Promoted Posts now allows you to pay cash to pole-vault ahead of the pack. $10 here or $15 there will broaden your Affinity, add more Weight and slow down your Time Decay.
If you’re still reading, chances are you’re getting a little deflated, even borderline depressed by all of this. So here’s a couple of tips for getting the better of Edgerank – not to completely buck the system, but to at least bend it a little and get the most out of it.
As a user -
Image: Outtacontext via Flickr CC
There’s a simple alternative which is not to read your News Feed, but to read everything. At the very top right of your feed, you’ll see an option to ‘Sort’. Click there, and you’ll discover that by default it’s set to ‘Top Stories’ (aka Edgerank-ed content). Change this to ‘Most Recent’ and you’ll see everything, warts and all – all posts by all Friends and Pages.
However, whilst this might seem like a good idea initially, you’re now increasing the volume of Posts in your feed and therefore also increasing the percentage of useless content. There are two alternative options for improving the quality of your News Feed:
(a) Opt Out: When you rollover every post, you’ll see a small arrow top right. Click on that to reveal an option to ‘Hide’ that Post from your Feed. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see two new options:
- For Friends – Change What Updates You Receive, or Organise Who You See In Your News Feed. (This latter option will explain how to move Friends into a list of Acquaintances, or second tier Friends (!), and thus see less of their posts).
- For Pages – Hide all stories, or Unlike them altogether.
For Friends or Pages that you’re really no longer interested in, take action – do the decent thing and remove them from your Feed forever.
(b) Opt In: This requires more effort, but is much more useful. Facebook’s Interest Lists allow you to create a feed from scratch – i.e. build up a new list based on local Friends, or favourite Pages, or any categorisation you like, and you can read that instead of your News Feed. Every person and Page has an option to ‘Add to Interest List’ (use the Gear symbol next to the Message option). All your Lists show up in the sidebar across desktop, mobile and app versions of Facebook. You can of course bookmark a List, or even set a particular List as your browser Home Page, so you’ll always start there, rather than on your Feed.
As a Page manager -If you thought the challenge was just to write solid, regular content, you’re sadly mistaken. There a few magic ingredients (Photos and Photo Albums stand more chance of being Liked, Commented or Shared than a Link; longer Status Updates are generally more popular than shorter ones); however the cold truth is simply this: you need to be more interesting. If you’ve ever read George Orwell’s Animal Farm you’ll understand when I say “All Facebook posts are equal, but some are more equal than others”. You need to rise up and be more interesting than all the other piggies in the feedlot.
Of course, Facebook isn’t oblivious to the fact that relevance is key to its success. The less relevant it becomes, the less we will use it, and so it’s clearly putting more resources behind the issue. Indeed, they recently started to roll out a new Feed design to better categorise and filter options in our News Feed – and they may have already done so by the time you read this post. In which case, some of the above actions listed in this post may have already moved around or been altered significantly – thanks FB
But irrespective of whether the functions change, if you are like most Facebook users and log in daily, it follows that you should really treat Facebook like your home. You need to tidy up once in a while, and every now and then, treat yourself to a good spring clean. You know the feeling – when you turn a sad home into a happy home with a concerted bout of throwing crap into the trash and getting the vacuum cleaner out. Do the same with Facebook and, who knows, you might even start to love it all over again.