Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cracking the Facebook News Feed...

On Facebook, not all people are created equal.

We're all familiar with the Facebook News Feed - the starter page that's visible when we first login, filled with recent status updates of our friends. Well, have you ever wondered why some people's statuses appear on the "Top News" feed, while others do not? Furthermore, would you be surprised to learn that the "Most Recent" feed - which we assume displays all of our friends' recent statuses in reverse chronological order - actually does not?

Facebook controls both news feeds with an algorithm. This algorithm is designed to highlight for the user only certain status updates, and not all of them - those that Facebook thinks will keep you interacting with the site longer.

So how exactly does this algorithm work? Thomas Weber of The Daily Beast conducted a fascinating experiment to test what factors are involved in making some users' statuses show up in people's news feeds, while not in others. I recommend reading the entire article, but here is a summary of his findings... [the experiment is based on a new user, Phil, creating an account and trying to get noticed in his friends' feeds] ...

  1. Facebook is biased against newcomers - Poor Phil spent his first week shouting his updates, posted several times a day, yet most of his ready-made "friends" never noticed a peep on their news feeds.

  2. Facebook's Catch-22 - To get exposure on Facebook, you need friends to interact with your updates in certain ways. But you aren't likely to have friends interacting with your updates if you don't have exposure in the first place. (The secret: Try to get a few friends to click like crazy on your items.)

  3. It's not the amount of activity you have, but the type - Facebook has a reason to do this: If users saw all of the posts for all of their friends, they might be overwhelmed (or bored) and tune out—a disaster for Facebook, which needs eyeballs to earn revenue. But in doing so, Facebook's ranking system makes judgments about items it thinks you'll be interested in.

  4. "Most Recent" news is censored too - Think that viewing your "Most Recent" feed will display all updates from all your friends? WRONG. If you've never tinkered with the "Edit Options" button on your Most Recent feed, this underscores why you should check it out—there's a little-used setting that caps the number of friends shown in the feed.

  5. Stalking your friends won't get you noticed - Maybe you've fretted about it while poring over photos of an old flame or estranged friend on Facebook — or maybe you've diligently worked to get on someone's radar by clicking all over their page. Do Facebook's mysterious algorithms factor your stealthy interest in another person into that person's news feed? Answer: Absolutely not.

  6. Having friends who stalk you WILL help your popularity - Stalking does work in the other direction, we found. After Phil spent days posting updates in vain, with most of our volunteers seeing none of them, we tasked a handful of friends to start showing more interest in Phil. Even though he wasn't showing up in their feeds, they sought out his Facebook page repeatedly, clicking on links he had posted and viewing his photos. This was the point at which Phil finally began to break through. It took a few days of constant clicking, but not only did the friends doing the stalking begin to see Phil in their Top News feeds — others who weren't stalking began noticing him as well.

  7. Links trump Status Updates - We're sure you consider all of your musings fascinating — but Facebook doesn't. For those who were seeing updates from Phil, links appeared more frequently than status updates — presumably because links are more effective at driving "user engagement," which translates into people spending more time on Facebook.

  8. Photos and Videos trump Links - Same principle applies here as in the last point, but photos and video are even more likely to appear in friends' news feeds than links.

  9. The Power of Comments - If items you post attract comments from a few friends, it clearly raises your visibility overall.

  10. Facebook Really is Like High School - After weeks of testing and trying everything from having Phil post videos to getting some of his friends to flood him with comments, by the end of our experiment, a few of our volunteers had still literally never seen Phil appear in their feeds, either Top News or Most Recent. These were the "popular kids" — users of Facebook with 600 or more friends. (Conversely, those with only 100 to 200 friends were among the first to spot Phil.) So the key, as you build your coterie of friends, is making sure to include some without huge networks. They'll see more of your feeds, interact in Facebook-approved ways, and up your visibility with all.

So the next time you post something to Facebook, be aware that not all of your friends will see it. Conversely, when you're reading through your news feed, also realize that some of your friends may have posted something that you're not seeing.

I bet you thought this was all so simple :-)


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