Facebook’s algorithm changes make engagement all the more important

Facebook recently released an update to its algorithm aimed at strengthening the importance of user engagement with pages.

The shift will mean that Facebook’s algorithm – known as Edgerank – will put greater emphasis on the proportion of users who respond to page posts, whether through likes, comments, shares or other interactions.

The output of this algorithm is what determines how likely any post, or piece of content is to appear in a user’s newsfeed. More than a quarter of all time spent on Facebook is on the Newsfeed, so getting visibility here is key forbrands to make their voice stand out against the background hubbub of Facebook.

Though we know that there are a large number of factors that go into Edgerank, these are commonly given as the big three. Facebook will not quantify how much each of the algorithm’s factors contribute, nor how this is going to change, but the figure mooted is that content with poor engagement rates will be up to 50% less likely to appear in the newsfeed. By extension, this also means that recency of post and an individual’s previous affinity with the page will be proportionally less important. The engagement and affinityseem to be being blurred together, asaffinity is effectively an historical, page level engagement score, as opposed to the specific engagement level of a specific post.

Now, this isn’t a seismic shift in thinking – engaging content has always been a key part of Edgerank. Dividing the total number of people who actually interacted by the total who could have interacted, for any given post, is as good a way as any for a machine to judge soft, human metrics like popularity and standout.

Brands who get Facebook have understood that good content aimed at pre-qualified interested consumers is the best way to use the platform. Good content and engaging content aren’t necessarily identical – the ‘Like this if you love Fridays’ posts generate lots of interaction but limited brand value. But if that’s what people want to do on Facebook, who are brands to judge? A mixture of light touch, simple engagements and the more involved online experiences seem set to become the two keys to Facebook content. Again, many brands are well down this road, but for those who have put their eggs in one or other basket, this change may give them pause.

What this really does underscore is that the era of buying fans, pumping up fan numbers against your competitors and then claiming victory, really is over. The more inactive fans a page has, the harder it’s going to become to get traction with that audience. iProspect has long championed engagement as a KPI, and have been actively encouraging clients to think in terms of always-on engagement campaigns as the baseline, with product launches and tent-pole events as upweights, not as siloed, standalone campaigns.

Equally we have rejected the CPA buy, initially the most common way of approaching Facebook fan acquisition, as incentivising the wrong kind of buying. Incentivise agencies to buy cheap and pile high, and your fans will be chosen on price, not on quality. Facebook has a way to go before its algo changes hit the digital world with the force of Google’s Pandas and Penguins, but the new Edgerank should make brands who care about quantity over quality stop a moment, and think again.

Angus Wood is director of Paid Social at iProspect.