For some marketers, it seemed like a bait and switch. Many had
spent heavily to acquire their fan bases in the belief that a high
share of those users would then see their content for free. The
algorithm changes -- which Facebook characterized at the time as
ever-evolving with the goal of showing users the most relevant
content and reducing spam -- presaged the necessity of boosting
Facebook ad spend to maintain reach.
"You'll still need to supplement with some kind of paid
strategy," said Brandon Fischer, GroupM Next's director of
predictive insights, last November.
Perhaps buoyed by good news -- its stock price reaching its IPO level after far
exceeding Wall Street's expectations in the second quarter --
Facebook is again addressing a mysterious elephant in the room that
shows no signs of disappearing. According to one agency executive,
the opacity of Facebook news-feed algorithms continues to be
frustrating. The executive cited internal research from the first
quarter showing that brands' posts with texts and links had begun
to get more news-feed exposure than posts with photos, which get
much better engagement and thus drive more earned media impressions
that marketers don't pay for.
"There's been a lot of speculation, and we haven't done a good
job of communicating," said Lars Backstrom, a Facebook engineering
manager whose team works on news feed. He announced two changes to
the ranking algorithms behind it and another in the works.
'Bumping' the News Feed
After first testing the feature with 80% of its employees, Facebook
has rolled out story "bumping," which means that an organic post
that users didn't scroll far enough down to see the first time they
logged into Facebook on a given day will be eligible to reappear
during subsequent visits. The expectation is that the change will
boost engagement -- likes, comments and shares -- by ensuring that
users don't miss out on content they'll like.
There's something apparently in it for brands too. Based off its
test with employees, Facebook claims that engagement for posts from
"pages" -- which could be from a brand, an organization, or a
public figure -- were up 8%. Among posts by regular users, the
engagement lift was 5%.
Story bumping could potentially be aimed at users who are on
Facebook infrequently, so they see the most captivating content
that could be culled from a period of several days when they do log
in, observed Robin Grant, global managing director of the social
agency We Are
"Is this a sign that Facebook is so worried about decreasing
user engagement that they're changing how the news feed works to
try and stem the tide?" he said in an email.
Facebook also announced the rollout of a new algorithm signal
called "last actor," which will take into account the last 50
interactions users have made on the site when gauging what posts to
present to them. It's significant because the ranking algorithms
have historically relied on long-term usage. By way of a simple
example, Mr. Backstrom said that "liking" the post of a friend who
the given user isn't typically that interested in could have the
result of surfacing more of her posts over a short-term period.
"Before we didn't have any of the real-time-ness that this
change allows," he said.
Lastly, Facebook announced that it's working on chronological
ranking of posts by actor. The notion is to have posts by a given
friend that mention a TV show or a sporting event appear
sequentially in news feed to provide context and relevance. But the
problem is that grouping posts on unrelated subjects -- say a
picture of a latte at 8 a.m. and a check-in at a bar at night,
posted by the same friend and appearing one after the other in news
feed -- could be disruptive to users. It had the effect of reducing
engagement in early tests, Mr. Backstrom said, noting that the
signal is still in development.