Hate it or love it, Facebook is still one of the best ways to reach your target audience. Their combined platforms currently have 2.8 billion monthly active users, and 1.84 billion (with a “B”!) people who visit the social network every single day. With that said, knowing that your target audience is on the platform, and reaching them, are two very different things. Why?

You know why. At this point we have all experienced the pain of crafting the perfect message for our brand, and publishing it with great anticipation…only to hear crickets. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Cero. And as you review the numbers (or lack thereof) a wave of despair sweeps over you. You think to yourself “but I used three exclamation marks, had less than 20% text on my photo, and dutifully followed all of the rules that have worked the last two years.” And you probably did. But by now if you own a company or manage a brand, you know that the Facebook world can be a cold place for businesses, and the algorithms don’t fight fair.

As we get settled into 2021, we wanted to show you how to get the most organic reach on Facebook given its recent changes. Let’s start with some of Facebook’s News Feed values:

It’s about them…

If you want to know what an organization values most, start with their values. In the case of Facebook, here is a brief summary of their stated news feed values that we believe are most relevant to you:

  • Friends and family come first: The main objective of the News Feed is to connect people with their friends and family. So posts from friends and family are prioritized (in that order). After those posts, Facebook found that people want their feed to inform and entertain them. Which of those it leans more towards depends on the individual user’s past – determined by what they have generally interacted with more.
  • A platform for all ideas: Facebook welcomes all ideas while making sure that everyone feels and is safe. They aim to deliver stories that each individual wants to see the most, based on their actions and feedback.

Ever since Mark’s famous monologue about how he was going to re-prioritize connecting people, the platform has drastically reduced the presence of businesses and content providers in the newsfeed. Whereas part of this was marketing speak for “we want to make businesses pay-to-play,” there was another part that earnestly wanted to create a better user experience where people are able to easily accomplish what they downloaded the app for – to stay connected to those they love (and those they just “like”…and those friends-of-friends they feel lukewarm about but they do interesting things that are fun to watch…and ex’s they silently stalk…and don’t forget the people they are secretly jealous of but follow so they can hate on them). You get the point, Facebook wins as long as we are able to leave the platform feeling like we were either informed by the sharing of ideas, entertained by content, or have a better connection with our frienemies and family.

Unfortunately, this means fewer posts from the businesses someone invited us to “like” and we’ve been too embarrassed to unsubscribe from.

Here are some facts that matter

98.3% of users access Facebook via their phones

That means your attached website had better be mobile-friendly or they will likely penalize your posts and devalue your paid ads. If most of their users are on mobile, and your website’s mobile experience sucks, then Facebook will assume that you are not a good fit and de-prioritize you. Facebook watches everything from how long someone spends on your site to how many interactions they have while on it. Front and center, it is judging your design, user experience, and especially your load times.

How do they make their money?

One word: Ads. Similar to a television station, Facebook makes most of its money through ad sales…that’s 96.8 percent of its revenue to be exact. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the company brought in $28.1 billion in total revenues. $27.2 billion of that was from advertising.

In order to show people ads, they have to be on the platform, which means it’s in Facebook’s best interest to keep users on Facebook as long as possible without them getting bored. They consider this a delicate balance that is important to their success. They want the user to leave when satisfied, and not a second sooner. This means that adding external-facing links in your posts is likely going to sink your post faster than a cardboard boat. Find ways to get the content you want people to see living inside Facebook as much as possible. If not, you are dooming yourself to paying for ads.

Fundamentals and Physics of the Facebook Universe

Post types

The News Feed algorithm takes into account the types of posts that each user tends to like. Given that there are usually over 1,500 posts that the platform could show a user on any given visit, it is constantly evaluating what you tend to gravitate towards. This includes ads users click on, and news topics they read through the platform. Basically, the algorithm watches everything users do in order to find out everything they can, and best curate the most engaging posts for that person.

Story Bumping & Last Actor

Facebook has recently decided to bend its rules around time decaying posts, by giving high-interaction posts a continued lifespan as long as it is still getting engagement. At the same time, “Last Actor” puts a premium on recency. Under the philosophy that people can only manage 50 (or fewer) friendships at a time, the algorithm prioritizes content from the last 50 people users interacted with, as well as roughly the last 10 brands or groups (lumped together).

Although organic post reach used to be governed by the since-decommissioned “Edgerank,” Some of the basics of Edgerank are still alive as factors determining who sees posts:

  • Affinity: How close is the relationship between the user and the content source? This factors in geographic location, if they are part of a group, club, or program whose members/alumni still seem pretty close, how often the parties like or comment on one another’s posts, and the extent of their interactions (even measuring if users hover but do not interact with certain people’s posts when they are generally a high interaction person).
  • Weight — i.e., what type of action was taken on the content? Facebook measures if users liked, loved/emoticon’d, or took the time to comment. Their points value is given in that order.
  • Decay — i.e., how recent/current is the content? This means posts are buoyed by slower content days, or have a shorter timespan to sink or swim during high communication times. Individuals generally have a 2-3 day window for reach if Facebook thinks their connections would enjoy seeing their content. This can be as short as 1 day for brands. If it does not think the content is valuable, then you will need to pay to get in the front of the line.

Your page

So now that we’ve talked about the overall rules that Facebook holds dear, let’s talk about the five biggest factors we’re seeing impact your page’s post.

  1. User interactions
    Does a user generally love what your page posts? Facebook looks at which users usually like, comment, or click on your page’s posts. Those are superfans, and they will be prioritized in organic reach.
  2. Content type
    Users may tend to like posts from a certain brand, but Facebook wants to get more granular as it decides which 20 posts to show users out of the 1,000+ available at any given moment. It will look at the type of post that the user usually prefers to interact with. If they tend to like photos, videos, text-only updates, or links more, it will prioritize those types of posts in the queue.
  3. Social proof
    When you make a post to your page, Facebook shows it to a small test group of people (often 25-100). If that test group LOVES the post, the algorithm will guess that it’s probably great content and will show it to increasingly wider parts of your audience. The more people interact with the post when they see it, the more likely Facebook is to show it to the maximum number of people organically. But…if that initial group doesn’t seem to like it, then Facebook may very well torpedo that post’s reach.
  4. Device and Connection vs. Medium
    Facebook actually tracks the kind of device users browse Facebook on, as well as average wireless connection and internet speeds. Based on a user’s phone type (yes you can get different content on an iPhone vs. old/new Galaxy, vs Motorola), their location, and their connectivity speeds, Facebook will prioritize showing them posts that are ideal for where they’re at and what kind of person it thinks they are. This means it may not be a great idea to post a video on a holiday like Memorial Day when lots of people are headed to the lake and parks. A poor connection means Facebook will serve them up texts and pictures that are easy for them to load instead of your data-intensive video.
  5. Timing
    The time decay we talked about earlier is a very real thing (still). Just keep in mind that fostering lots of interactions and conversations on a post is the best way to continue its lifespan and reach.

The path to Facebook gold is a tricky one, but can be rewarding if you navigate it correctly. For more conversations on how to stand out in a crowded market, feel free to reach out to the Lillian James Creative team. After all, we still love Zooms.