How Does the Facebook Newsfeed ACTUALLY Work?

If you manage a Facebook page for a nonprofit, you already know that organic reach in the Facebook Newsfeed is hard to come by these days. The average Facebook user can see as many as 1,500 stories a day, each one vying for attention.

Your Facebook posts get seen a lot or a little, depending on how relevant they are to your fans.

Some posts get lots of comments and shares, while others get nothing but crickets. You can see how each post performs in the Insights Posts report (below):

post insights report - facebook newsfeed

It often seems like there’s no rhyme or reason behind the widely varying reach that each story receives. In this article, I’ll try my best to explain the fundamental rules that govern the Facebook newsfeed.

How does the Facebook newsfeed work?

Yes, there’s an algorithm, but how does it work? And more importantly, how can you get more more people to see your posts?

The Facebook newsfeed has changed slowly but surely over the past few years in one important way: Posts from your page reach far fewer fans than a couple of years ago.

There are three reasons for diminished reach:

  1. More Posts – more pages and more people are publishing more content than ever before.
  2. More Advertisers – It’s easier than ever before for businesses and nonprofits to get started with Facebook ads. Which means more ads in the newsfeed.
  3. Less Attention – Smartphones have killed our ability to focus. In fact, goldfish can focus better than us humans!

The dogs wag the tail

It’s often said that the Facebook newsfeed decides who sees your Page posts. But in truth, people (aka likes, followers, fans) decide what they want to see in their newsfeeds.

Facebook users are the dog that wag the newsfeed algorithm. Their actions (reactions, comments, shares, clicks, etc) drive what’s in their Facebook newsfeed.

How the Facebook Newsfeed Works:

When you publish a story on Facebook, nothing happens – until your fans log into Facebook. At that moment, the newsfeed ranks each story based on the interests and connections of each user.

Facebook tries to predict how interested a user will be in each story, based on several factors:

How the Facebook Newsfeed Works

1. Who published the story? The first driver of the Facebook newsfeed is the relationship between the user and the publisher (page, profile, group, etc). Is the publisher a close friend they frequently interact with, or just a page they recently liked? In most cases, the newsfeed prioritized posts from friends before posts from Pages.

Of course each user has a different relationship with each of their friends (and Page they’ve liked). For example, posts from family will take priority over posts from acquaintances.

The same is true for pages: Posts from Pages that a user frequently interacts with will take priority over posts from Pages they ignore.

2. When was it posted? All things being equal, recent posts will generally rank higher than older posts. However, the publication date isn’t as important as the relationship with the publisher or the amount of interactions a particular story receives. This is why you’ll see that baby picture from a friend, even if they shared it a few days ago.

3. What type of content? Facebook also looks at the type of content (photo, video, link, etc) each user tends to prefer. For example, if someone engages mostly with photos from a specific publisher (person or page), they will see more photos and less text updates from that publisher.

4. How many interactions? Facebook also recognizes that there are certain updates that are super important. For example a picture of your sister’s newborn baby. Milestone posts like this tend to receive lots of comments, shares, reactions, and clicks.

Facebook prioritizes these important updates over, say, pictures of your sister’s lunch.

5. What type of interactions? Facebook also looks at the type of engagement a story receives. Stories with lots of shares tend to get more exposure than posts with the same amount of reactions. And yes, Facebook even looks at the type of reactions a post receives (likes, loves, angry, sad, etc) when ranking it in the Facebook newsfeed.

What Makes Dogs Like Comment and Share (2)

Let’s break down each type of Facebook interaction:

  • REACTIONS – When you like the Page Update, you’re essentially saying “Huh, that’s interesting…” or “I like that”. Facebook assigns very little weight to it in the newsfeed algorithm.
  • COMMENTS – Comments are essentially saying “This is what I think.” Facebook’s newsfeed gives more weight to comments than likes.
  • SHARES – A share is the brass ring on Facebook. When you share a story, you’re essentially saying “All my friends have to see this!”.  This is huge in terms of exposure, word-of-mouth, and credibility. Realizing this truth, Facebook assigns the most weight to shares.

How posts are ranked in the Newsfeed

So how does Facebook rank all the updates each user has queued up in their newsfeed?

Stories are ranked in the newsfeed based on a relevancy score. Each post you publish will have a different relevancy score for each Facebook that follows your Page (see below).


How can you increase your newsfeed ranking?

So now that you know more about how the Facebook newsfeed works, how can you use this knowledge to rank higher in your fans newsfeeds?

Facebook’s success depends on happy users. Every connection, reaction, click, comment, and share helps Facebook answer one question:

How can we keep them coming back for more?

The real secret to Facebook is asking the same sort of question.

Tips for getting more engagement, higher rankings, and reach:

  • Write compelling headlines: Before you post an update, ask yourself: “Does the title and first sentence of the description grab people’s attention?” Would your fans share the with their friends?
  • Don’t be too salesy: Facebook has worked hard to reduce clickbait in the newsfeed. If your post promises something that can’t be delivered, or reads like an Upworthy headline, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Instead, write headlines that are compelling, but also truthful and sincere.
  • Never take off your lab coat: Yes, best practices are great. But not if you blindly follow them. Your audience is unique. Use insights to constantly test best practices or other experiments.
  • Tell Facebook about your audience: All pages now have an audience optimization feature. Make sure you’ve entered as much information about the audience you’re trying to reach on Facebook. Ideally, these are people who already like, know, and trust you (see below).

What else?

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John Haydon