This report drops on the heels of Facebook tweaking its algorithm to prioritize “meaningful interactions,” meaning fewer posts from brands and more posts from friends should appear on users’ feeds.
It also underpins the reality that, while millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide use Facebook, many of them don’t feel they have control over what content they’re seeing.
The numbers: People who don’t understand the feed
If you feel confused about what Facebook is showing you on any given day, you’re not alone. Pew’s survey shows that 53 percent of U.S. adults don’t understand why certain posts are included in their feed, with 20 percent saying they do not understand the feed “at all well.”
Not surprisingly, the older the polled user is, the less likely they are to understand Facebook’s news feed, or that they have some control over what content appears more or less frequently.
But confusion isn’t just an older person’s game here: 41 percent of users ages 18 to 29 say they don’t have a good understanding of the feed.
So how does the feed work?
Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s former head of news feed, spent much of the past year trying to explain the feed’s ranking system to users, publishers, and anyone who engages him.
Mosseri is now head of product at Instagram, but he was once described as the “only Facebook exec anybody can stand talking to because he seems not to lie all the time.” So when he explains the algorithm, you can believe it.
Here’s how Mosseri broke down the news feed ranking system in a video released by Facebook last year:
Facebook uses a tool called ranking: “Ranking is a set of algorithms we use to try to assess people are in each and every story they can see on Facebook,” he says.
Facebook’s algorithm essentially estimates the likelihood that you’ll engage with a post. It involves combining four steps:
- Inventory: The “menu” of Facebook, which is the collection of posts you have not seen from your friends or the pages you follow.
- Signals: Information Facebook has such as how old the post is, who posted it, or how fast your current internet connection is or what device you’re using.
- Predictions: Facebook uses signals to predict how likely you are to comment, share, or hide a story.
- Relevancy: The final step is to weigh predictions and roll them up into a relevancy score—a number that represents how likely you will be interested in a given story. Stories are ordered in the news feed by those scores.
Mosseri also mentions that recency is an important but not all-important signal, which is why Facebook is “lightly chronological.”
Today, the inventory that Facebook is selecting stories from has more posts from friends than businesses. Marketers will need to study how to hurdle over competitors in order to win the limited space available to them.
And if your brand’s content does show up in people’s news feed organically, it’s because that content is highly relevant to them. Conversely, if you see a brand’s content in your feed, maybe that content is closer to your heart than you imagined.
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