Facebook held their annual F8 Developer conference earlier this week, where they announced a heap of new products and tools, many of which hold truly mind-boggling potential.
But with so many F8 sessions (there were more than 60 separate talks on the schedule), it was hard to keep track of everything, and to get enough time to process all the information and consider the full impacts.
One of the key highlights, from a social media marketing perspective, for the past two years has been Adam Mosseri's sessions, in which the VP of News Feed explains the inner workings of the News Feed algorithm and how it dictates what content each user sees on Facebook. And with more than a billion people getting their news and insights from the platform each day, and with Facebook driving more referral traffic than any other source, this is key information to have - Mosseri can't offer any magic tricks or shortcuts to suddenly and radically increase your organic reach, but understanding the fundamentals of how the system works is crucial info for anyone looking to get the most out of The Social Network.
This year, Mosseri again provided a great overview of the basics of News Feed, while he also detailed some of the key initiatives they're looking to implement moving forward - here's a full overview of Mosseri's session, which you can watch yourself at this link.
First off, Mosseri gave a broad-ranging overview of the News feed - why it exists and how it works.
Mosseri explained the familiar News Feed justification - that there's simply too much content available to be able to show people everything they could potentially see on Facebook, every day.
"[there's] a massive, massive amount of information out there, and in this world of all this information, at Facebook, we've found success in helping people find the gems, helping people find those few stories each day that they're going to find particularly meaningful, that they go home and talk to their friends or family about."
To give a basic overview of how the system works, Mosseri compared the algorithm to every day human decision making process - he used an example of choosing what to order for his wife for lunch at a restaurant when she's running late.
To do this, Mosseri explained that he would have to go through a series of steps, which, in effect, is an algorithmical process. He then equated those steps to the key elements the News Feed algorithm uses when ranking relevant content.
Mosseri translated those steps into more detail, in a News Feed sense, how the system actually determines relevance based on those signals.
These are the core factors which govern the content each user sees.
Underlining the actual process in action, Mosseri used an example from his own feed - a post from his brother, who's content he engages with regularly. Mosseri explained that the algorithm analyzes the main factors, like who posted it and their relation to you, what type of content it is and your previous responses to posts of that type, and how much engagement it's already received.
The system then factors in a whole heap of other data points - "hundreds of thousands" of them, according to Mosseri.
Based on this, the algorithm then makes a series of predictions.
"The likelihood that you'll comment on this story, share this story, how much time you might spend reading this story, even more qualitative things like if we'd asked you, would you say this story is informative - what's the probability of that?"
Finally, those factors are all consolidated into a single score, with each individual post processed through this same method in order to produce a relative ranking metric.
As such, Mosseri noted, each score is based on your individual preferences - "fundamentally, each and every News Feed is entirely unique".
This is the core process behind how your how News Feed works, and why each person is presented with the content they see on Facebook, every day.
In terms of future efforts, Mosseri explained that they're focused on three main themes: Discovery, Integrity and Partnerships.
On Discovery, Mosseri said that they want to help uncover more relevant information for users.
"We want to a better job helping people learn about stuff that they might not even know exists yet, but they would love or find interesting or meaningful in their lives"
This directly correlates with their recent test of a secondary News Feed of content from Pages and people you aren't connected to on Facebook, but which you might be interested in based on your previous activity.
Mosseri later touched on this, noting that they're working on a 'discovery surface' though they don't have the exact way forward (if there is one) just yet. You can see the alternate 'Explore' tab in the below image.
Facebook's tried several ways to get this discovery element right - last May, they tested a set of alternate News Feed options which were centered around broader topics.
What their next test will be, Mosseri didn't clarify, but you can expect Facebook to be looking to boost discovery - which should benefit publishers and Pages by exposing more potentially interested users to their content.
On Integrity, Mosseri said that Facebook has a responsibility to work out how they can better support and inform communities through the information they present.
"How can we better nurture the good and address the bad?"
This clearly relates to the spread of fake news, and the way the News Feed system can help fuel filter bubbles which reinforce people's beliefs, while eliminating alternate perspectives. Facebook's already announced a range of measures to combat fake news and misinformation, and in another F8 session, Facebook's Chief Product Officer Chris Cox noted that they're working on new processes to restrict those looking to spread fake news by removing the financial incentive to do so.
Mosseri also noted that they rely heavily on community input to detect potentially offensive, false or otherwise problematic content, so making the reporting process as simple as possible for users is key here.
For Discovery, Mosseri said they they're very interested in figuring out how to become better partners with news organizations to help them maximize the platform.
"We're doing something that's new for us, and it's going to take us a while to get good at, which is trying to figure out how to develop products in conjunction with publishers from day one."
Mosseri explained that there are three areas they're focused on.
On Story Formats, Mosseri said they're looking to help publishers create new types of formats to tell stories in more compelling ways.
For Local News, Mosseri said that local news is 'really suffering', but it's important to local communities, so they're working with local publishers across America to help them better understand how they can collaborate to empower them to better distribute their content.
In terms of Monetization, Mosseri explained that they're committed to helping create more products to help news organizations with their bottom line. Facebook recently announced a new set of measures for Instant Articles in line with this, tools that help alleviate publisher concerns about giving up their audience to Facebook by enabling them to insert call to action buttons so readers can subscribe and follow the content originators direct from the IA post.
Finally, Mosseri also touched on the Facebook Journalism Project and how Facebook's working with the publishing industry to improve news literacy and eliminate the spread of fake news, among other initiatives.
Once again, it was a great session from Mosseri, presenting a clear picture of how the News Feed algorithm works and what they're planning for Facebook moving forward. As noted, it doesn't provide you with all the answers - Facebook can't possibly tell you how to generate maximum reach, as there are no specific 'tricks' to it. The only impetus is the response from your target audience - if you create content that they respond to and engage with, you'll be on track to boosting your relevance to those users, which will then help improve your post performance in the News Feed.