September 24, 2010

The Mystery of The Facebook News Feed: How to Optimize The Hidden Jewel of Facebook

Carrie Kerpen

As brands come to understand Facebook more, they learn how to optimize posts to make them more “likeable”, or worthy of clicking like. There are many ways to do this, but the method that is by far the most mysterious to brands is the often misunderstood News Feed.

Currently on Facebook, when you log in as a user, you are brought to a home page that has your Top News Feed. The Top News Feed is a stream of information from your social connections (Facebook Friends, Groups you’ve joined, and Pages that you’ve “liked”) that Facebook thinks is most important to you. It’s not every piece of information being posted by every one of your friends. You have access to that, of course, through the “Recent News” feed—but the default for users who log into Facebook is the “Top News” in their News Feed.

If you’re a smart marketer, the first thing you’ll want to know is how to get into your target users Top News Feed. And yet, if you’re not a techie, you might find most descriptions of the process quite difficult to digest. Here’s a graphic from the presentation given by Facebook engineers Ruchi Sanghvi and Ari Steinberg at the 2010 f8 developer conference.

I don’t know about you, but when I start seeing anything that looks like my 10th grade math homework, I cringe. What does this mean in plain English? Let’s try it this way: Anything that is posted on Facebook, be it a status update, a link, a video, or some other form of update is considered an object. Since I’m kind of girly, I imagine that object as a big, shiny, diamond ring. Now, bear with me here. I’d like you to think of this said object as a fabulous diamond ring. Your update, that you post, is the center of that ring—it’s the diamond itself. Whenever a user interacts with that gorgeous diamond ring through a comment or a like, they are forming the EDGES of that diamond. The more interaction, the sharper the edges (better cut, clarity, color, etc). The crisper the edges, the more likely to show up in a user’s TOP news feed—where they’ll see and interact with you and your ring (maybe they’ll even “ooh” and “ahh” at it’s brilliance!). Let’s look at the criteria to make that perfect diamond ring in a way that an everyday user can understand:

There are three edges that determine News Feed Optimization. The first is how often this user is checking you out. If a user “liked” your page through a Facebook ad, never visited that page, and didn’t have friends who interacted with that Facebook page, the user would be much less likely to see your update. If the user visits your page from time to time, has liked the occasional post, or has viewed photos from your company, your chances of showing up in the News Feed increase dramatically. (And here’s where you see why getting likes initially on your content is so very important—once you’ve got someone engaged, it allows you to continue the dialogue.)

The second edge is strengthened by the type of interaction. One way to think of it is the amount of time a user is engaged with your page. Posted written comments on the status probably weigh more than multiple likes, for instance. But this edge is also interesting, because when Facebook launches a new product or service, it IMMEDIATELY ranks higher than comments, likes, or any other interaction on Facebook. You may have noticed that when Facebook launched Places, for instance, you immediately saw a post from anyone you had on your friend list who was using the new service. That’s because Facebook weighted Place checkins higher than any other action on Facebook. And so, another trick to News Feed Optimization would be to capitalize on Facebook’s new launches quickly, even if they’re not a part of your long term approach to Facebook.

The third edge is the simplest edge. If your content is recent and has a lot of activity on it, you can count on it showing up in the news feed. Great examples of this include posts on the day of a new product launch, or posts when a baby is born. This is also one of Facebook’s ways to outsmart marketers. If you have to push forever to get likes or comments on your posts, it must not be that interesting. And so, what we can learn from that is to be current, and relevant to your audience. Haste makes waste in the world of Facebook.

By getting engaged to Facebook with the diamond ring strategy of News Feed Optimization, you’ll find increase page growth and interactivity. But, while outsmarting the news feed is an important skill, it’s useless if you don’t first create content that is worthy of being viewed, liked, or commented on.

Tags: Best Practices, Content Marketing, Facebook, Tools

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