Adapt to Facebook’s Algorithm Update with Better Storytelling

Focus on the Fundamentals: Great Content + Great Packaging

January 25, 2018

“The end is nigh”, “All hope is lost”, “Organic is dead”. Some claim Facebook’s News Feed algorithm update is a death blow to organic content performance. But as usual, these claims are greatly overblown. To the contrary, this round of updates creates a new opportunity for great content to shine.

Rather than rehash doomsday concerns, let’s focus on what we know and how to quickly adapt. First, here’s a consolidated recap of Facebook’s update:

  • 1. Facebook will prioritize interpersonal interaction over passive content discovery
 I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

– Mark Zuckerberg, CEO - Facebook

  • 2. If your content drives interpersonal interaction, you’ll be rewarded
 We will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed…We will also prioritize posts from friends and family over public content, consistent with our News Feed values.

– Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed - Facebook

  • 3. You’ll reap the greatest rewards if your content drives comments and shares* *We’ll bundle Facebook Messenger content sharing with the concept of “shares” for simplicity.
 Interactions between people like comments, shares, and messages will be valued more than reactions and likes…Content from pages that drives interactions between friends will perform better than page content that drives only passive consumption without any person-to-person engagement.

– Campbell Brown, Head of News Partnerships - Facebook

Adam Mosseri and Campbell Brown share what we’ve known for years: engaging content delivers value. The question is what engagement matters most – this evolves, as Mosseri reminds us in a recent interview with Ben Thompson at Stratechery:

 “Engagement’s an ambiguous term. I think that for News Feed we’ve always used different types of metrics to try to measure the value we create for people. No metric or measure of value is perfect, they all have tradeoffs, and we’ve tried to iterate on those measures over time.”

Comments and shares have long been high value currency from Facebook users, and harbingers of high performance (i.e. a great share rate drives great traffic, video views, etc.). Brown provides more specifics than Mosseri, highlighting that comments and shares are now the highest value post interactions content creators can drive.

There are many ways to pursue more comments and shares. Here are some things we know will and will not work:

  1.    Produce quality, original content You know what it is. Teams producing fewer but higher quality pieces will increasingly outperform teams that pump out thin content. This will be a forcing function, leading teams to hone their target verticals and run leaner.  
  2.    Don’t ask for comments and shares Mosseri tells you everything you need to know: “Using ‘engagement-bait’ to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed”  
  3.    Test, Test, Test your Facebook Posts You may produce great content, but you leave too much value on the table if you don’t optimally package your Facebook posts. Teams from The Penny Hoarder to TechCrunch, Refinery29, TravelZoo, Foursquare, and VICE Media test before they post. Across our clients, we see testing consistently lifts comments, shares, clicks, and views by 25% to 100%+.  

To really shine, optimize for producing the best content and posting with the best packaging. Producing great content takes time, but optimizing packaging each day is fast.

The goal of testing your packaging isn’t to find ‘one weird trick’ to game Facebook’s algorithm. The goal is to tell the best story possible. You learn which visual/text combination resonates most with your audience + performs best with Facebook’s algorithm at this moment in time. Just like algorithms evolve, storytelling evolves, and testing powers proactive storytelling.

Change is never easy, but Facebook’s latest update will encourage the production of great content. While performance punishments may be harsh for weaker content, teams with strong fundamentals will thrive in this new Facebook environment.