July 19, 2011

The Leader of the Facebook Pack

Part 3: The Leader of the Facebook Pack

The first three posts in my Facebook news feed this morning were:

  • A video of my neighbor’s new puppy (cute!)
  • A picture of the beach in Greece where my best friend is vacationing (jealous!)
  • A rant on the morning commute from a high school classmate (unintentionally hilarious!)

On the surface, these posts have nothing in common. So how did Facebook decide they should be in my “top news” feed? In a word: EdgeRank.

EdgeRank is Facebook’s top-secret algorithm that determines what each user sees in his or her news feed.  Although its exact formula is unknown, EdgeRank functions much like search engine optimization for Facebook. Its goal is to show unique content to each user, based on his or her personal profile.

EdgeRank is made up of three factors:

  • Affinity. Affinity examines how often a user interacts with a particular page, and how many common friends or interests exist between the user and that page. The more often you view, comment on and message a particular page, the higher your affinity score with it.
  • Weight. Weight accounts for the interactions with a particular post. This includes how many comments and likes it has generated. For example, a post with 12 replies will receive a higher weight score than a post with 2 likes. In addition, video and photo posts receive more weight than text-only ones.
  • Relevancy. Relevancy is the time-sensitive branch of EdgeRank. It considers how recently the item was posted, and looks for keywords such as “today,” “limited time only” or a date. It also matches keywords against interests. For example, if a post mentions gardening, and you list gardening as an interest on your Facebook profile, that post will receive a higher relevancy rating for you.

Now let’s go back to my morning’s top posts. My affinity for all three users is high — I interact with each of them on a daily basis. Two of the three people are connected with each other, as well as with me. Two of the posts contain photo and video, automatically giving them more weight. The commute post attracted scores of replies from others chiming in with their own travel horror stories. It also contained the phrase “this morning,” tipping off EdgeRank that this was a time-sensitive post, which increased its relevancy score. Suddenly, my morning news feed makes a lot more sense.

The beautiful — and frustrating — thing about EdgeRank is that it is so customized for each individual user, it can be difficult to figure out how to make your page stand out above the rest. How can you possibly be all things to all people? This is such a hot topic that the recent PR News Facebook conference for communications professionals dedicated an entire session to the “9 secret weapons” of increasing EdgeRank. They are:

1.       Ask questions — especially ones that start with who, what, when and where — to encourage fan interaction. But avoid asking “why” — fans might be put off by the need to give a long response and choose to skip the post altogether.

2.       Post games and trivia questions. Not only does this help engagement, but it sends a message that you care about what your fans have to say.

3.       Keep up the conversation. Answer questions, solve problems, acknowledge compliments. Be an active participant in your page.

4.       Incorporate “sapplets” — small social applications, such as polls and quizzes. Keep your page interesting and give fans a reason to visit.

5.       Post relevant photos. Users are more likely to view photo posts than text-only ones. Tag photos whenever possible.

6.       Relate to current events. Not only does this make fans more likely to view and interact with a post, but it also helps with the time-sensitive aspect of your relevancy score.

7.       Incorporate video — but use it sparingly. Keep it short and let viewers know up front how long it is.

8.       Post at odd times. Engagement is 20 percent higher outside of business hours.

9.       Include links — but be careful when posting shortened versions. While link-shortening services such as www.bitly.com are great for tracking results, some users think the funny-looking combinations of letters and numbers will take them to spam or a virus. Whenever possible, include both the full and shortened link so that fans have a choice.

I hope this three-part series has helped you get a clearer picture of Facebook marketing. What it all comes down to, as one conference participant said, is to be a good storyteller and always be interesting. And really, isn’t that what all good marketing is about?

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