How Facebook's News Feed Works - and What's Coming Next
Facebook’s F8 conference was held earlier this week, and as has become a regular feature, the platform’s VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri gave an update on how their refining the News Feed algorithm, what they’re looking to focus on and enhance, and how they’re going about it.
If you’re looking to maximize your Facebook performance, this is always an essential session – you can view Mosseri’s full talk here, but below is a rundown of the key points from the session.
Mosseri’s session this year was called ‘Consumption to Connection’, which aligns with Facebook’s broader News Feed re-focus on building more person-to-person engagement.
“The consistent feedback that we’ve been receiving over the last few years has been that people feel that the important moments and important conversations are sometimes getting crowded out by content that people passively consume, often photos and videos.”
Mosseri says this runs counter to the most common answer they get as to why people use Facebook in the first place, which is to connect with friends and family. That’s, largely, Mosseri says, the core value proposition which the company was built upon, so they’re working to ensure this remains at the heart of the News Feed experience.
Mosseri says that they’re looking to do this in three ways:
- By helping people see the stories that they find meaningful - and that bring them together
- By figuring out they can help share the ‘moments that matter’
- By working on better facilitating conversations about all of these things
Mosseri then breaks down how the News Feed works, in order to further explain their refinements to the process. The News Feed algorithm takes into account four key factors when determining what each user sees when they open Facebook.
As you can see, the key elements of the News Feed equation are:
- Inventory – This is the entire collection of content that you could be shown, based on people and Pages you follow, which you haven’t seen in your feed as yet
- Signals – The algorithm then assesses each of these potential stories and posts based on a range of signals which indicate how important that item is likely to be you – things like ‘When was it posted?’, ‘Who posted it?, ‘Do you tend to like and comment on posts like this?’, ‘How fast is your internet connection?’, ‘What type of phone are you on?’
- Predictions – Based on these assessments, the system makes predictions – “so for any given story we predict how likely you might be to comment on that story, or to share that story, or to say that story was informative if we asked you. How long we think you might watch a video for, or read an article for.” Mosseri also notes that while the majority of these predictions are personal, some are universal – for example, in regards to clickbait. Mosseri says that they use models to predict whether a story is likely to be clickbait and “some of these predictions are positive – it’s a good thing if you’re likely to have a conversation about the story – and some of them are negative. It’s not a good thing if you’re likely to report or hide a story”.
- Score – As explained by Mosseri – “each of those predictions is weighted, and then rolled up into a number that represents how valuable we think this story is for you as an individual”. This happens for every story in your News Feed, every time you visit Facebook.
Mosseri then explains the new shift in the News Feed process, which involves them re-allocating the values assessed to their predictions.
For example, instead of putting emphasis on predictions like ‘how likely it is you’re going to read an article’ or ‘how long you’re going to watch a video for’, the News Feed team is now putting increased weighting onto measures like ‘how likely we think a given story will facilitate a conversation between you and your friends’.
That’s driven by their overarching focus shift – to illustrate this, Mosseri shared this chart, which shows that posts from friends, and groups, drive more engagement on Facebook than Page posts.
As explained by Mosseri:
“Friend posts facilitate more comments, per impression, than group posts, which do more so per impression than Page posts. Links tend to be less good for conversation than photos. Because of this, certain things are going to do more well in ranking and certain things less well in ranking, and we see the composition of News Feed shift.”
This explains why Facebook has been putting increased focus on Groups (they announced a new Groups tab at F8 this week), while also providing some clearer perspective on exactly why Facebook’s looking to change the focus of the News Feed. While Facebook needs Pages and publishers, and benefits from having that content on their platform, they’re no longer solely focused on what will keep users on platform for as long as possible, necessarily - they also want to facilitate more discussion and connection.
Really, it may be of more benefit for Facebook to show people more videos they want to see, or articles, as that would likely keep them around longer, but based on user feedback, they’ve made the decision to push content that inspires engagement – which, as shown in the chart, is content from friends, and from within groups.
Interestingly, Mosseri then went into the next element of sharing based around this re-focus – Facebook Stories.
As per Mosseri:
“Stories is the big focus for us this year in sharing”
Mosseri notes that Stories are for the more personal moments in between, things that you might be less inclined to share to your News Feed. Stories give people an immediate, easy sharing option, with less pressure, as it’ll be gone again the next day.
Mosseri says that the simplicity of Stories is what’s lead to their explosive growth in recent years, and notes that Stories will soon become the primary way people share on social.
Mosseri then explains how they’re working on new ways to incorporate Stories and News Feed to facilitate more sharing, with several experiments underway to examine the potential, including:
- Profile Picture Stories – Mosseri says that profile pictures consistently get the highest like and comment rates in News Feed, so they’re working on a way to “make a story out of a profile picture”
- Birthday Stories – Facebook’s looking to develop a way to help users contribute to collaborative birthday stories, enabling them to send their friends their best wishes via video
- Group Stories – Facebook is already experimenting with Group Stories, which enable group members to contribute to a single Story feed
- Event Stories – Facebook’s also working on a Snapchat-esque Event Stories option, which would collect all the publicly posted images from an event into one Facebook Story feed
If you’re wondering why Facebook is still pushing Facebook Stories, despite seemingly low take-up, this is why – Facebook sees the Stories format as adding another important element to the experience, and working to build upon the functionalities users are calling for.
Mosseri then moves to another way they’re looking to boost engagement – by improving post comments.
Mosseri says that they’re experimenting with new ways to keep comments more civil – their first test in this vein would make comments from friends the primary option on posts, and possibly even give comments from friends a separate space to public discussion (as seen in the second image below)
That, along with their other test of up and downvotes, points to Facebook’s broader efforts to not only filter out anti-social discussion, but also to help facilitate more direct conversation, by highlighting the best comments, or the ones from within your established network. How effective this will be will largely depend on the size of your network, but it’s another important consideration in how they’re looking to boost, or reduce, reach based on such engagement.
As noted, this is always a key session for those looking to make the most of the Facebook News Feed, and there are some key insights and points highlighted here that will help all social media managers get a better handle on the current state of the algorithm, and coming changes.
Again, you can watch Mosseri’s full session for yourself here.
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