This post is for:

  • Bloggers and other website owners who use Facebook Pages as a way to drive traffic to their websites.
  • People who have a Facebook Page for fun and are trying to extend their reach.
  • Abandoning Pretense followers who are curious to know how much thought and effort I put into earning their loyalty. (It’s a LOT, guys. A LOT.)

So. Facebook page owners unanimously hate The Algorithm. This mysterious mathematical formula, probably conceived of by Satan himself whilst some fallen angel was ramming a flaming pitchfork up his nostril, prevents a page’s followers from seeing every single thing the page owner posts. HOW DARE FACEBOOK DO THAT TO US.

Things Facebook pages owners say:

  • My reach sucks and there is absolutely no explanation why!
  • Facebook hates me!
  • Facebook only showed my post to 32 people! What the hell?!
  • I HATE THIS MOTHERF@$%G ALGORITHM!!!!
  • Zuckerberg and his minions can kiss my fat white ass! (Okay, this one might’ve been me.)
Baby crying.
This baby is a Facebook page admin.

We all hate The Algorithm.

We shouldn’t, though. The Algorithm is actually a good thing. No seriously. And I’m about to tell you why.

But first, we need to answer a few questions:

  1. What is The Algorithm?
  2. Why does it exist?
  3. How does it work?

WHAT IS IT?

As previously mentioned, The Algorithm is a mathematical formula created by the devil. Just kidding about the devil part, unless you think the mathematicians who work for Zuckerberg are demon spawn, which – let’s be honest – is not out of the question.

BUT WHYYYYYYYYYYY???????

Because Facebook is a business, a publicly-traded stock on NASDAQ and everything. It’s very fancy, y’all. Facebook’s board of directors is not in the business of massaging the egos of businesses and bloggers and bands and writers who got far too comfy with years of free advertising and are now pissed that someone is asking them to *GASP!!* pay for what truly is a valuable service. No. Facebook is in the business of Benjamins, baby, just like everydamnbody else.

I could talk about Facebook’s right to earn revenue via Facebook page owners, and we could call that the “why,” but isn’t that a little obvious? Everyone already knows Facebook is trying to squish money out of page owners’ tightly-clenched little bums by encouraging them to use the “boost” feature, and some are even willing to grudgingly admit that Facebook has a right to do that. But this is not the real answer.

Instead I’m going to focus on the same thing Facebook is focusing on with regards to The Algorithm, which is THE CONSUMER. Are Facebook page owners the consumer? Are the businesses and brands who purchase Facebook ads the consumer? After all, that IS where the revenue comes from. So these guys must be the consumer, right?

WRONG.

The real consumer is the regular everyday Facebook user. The Eyeballs. Without these millions (billions?) of Eyeballs, the ads Facebook is hocking at page owners and businesses would be WORTHLESS. We page owners are NOT the consumer. The millions of eyeballs are. Facebook has to please The Eyeballs, or Facebook’s share value on NASDAQ gets a kick to the nads.

ordinary man smiling
Average Facebook user, or, duplicitous demon spawn who works for Zuckerberg. It’s hard to tell.

The Eyeballs do not want to see clutter. They THINK they want to see clutter, because, after all, they do keep “liking” all these random pages their friends have shared. But what they really want to see is updates on their nieces and nephews and the absolute very best videos of cats falling off of things.

If the Eyeballs’ Facebook feed becomes too cluttered with every single post of every single page the eyeballs have impulsively drunk-liked at three in the morning, the Eyeballs’ feed is going to get way too crazy. The Eyeballs will then flee to Twitter or Google+ or Instagram or Pinterest but hopefully not Ello, because I really cannot handle another social media platform, please no please no no no.

Imagine this, bloggers: Imagine that EVERY. SINGLE. BLOG. OUT. THERE. was seen in the newsfeed of YOUR followers’ eyeballs. Just think about that for a second. How likely are your followers to see YOUR post? You are now a tiny drop in an incomprehensible ocean of bloggers who suck way harder than you do.

Is that what you want?

Me neither.

Okay. So we now accept that The Algorithm is not the worst thing ever.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

When you publish a post on your Facebook page, Facebook sends a sample blast to a very small percentage of your Eyeballs. IF the Eyeballs included in that initial sample blast interact with the post (like/comment/click/share), The Algorithm determines the post worthy of appearing in other Eyeballs’ newsfeeds. Eyeballs interacted with the post. Eyeballs must like it. Okay, fine, says The Algorithm, we’ll allow other Eyeballs to see it.

I think we know what happens when the Eyeballs do not interact. Cue foreboding music.

Scary skull
This frightening skull is meant to represent the demise of a Facebook post with which no one has interacted. Much like humans, Facebook posts need interaction in order to survive. Notice that the skull does not have Eyeballs. Can you believe how clever I am?

So how is all this a good thing for Facebook page owners?

I see three big positives to having The Algorithm around:

  1. The Algorithm weeds out inferior competition. I already alluded to this. Every time you post, you are competing with other page owners using interaction as a measurement of your value. Rest assured, those who suck more than you do will be seen less. But … this also means you gotta up your game if you want to compete, which brings us to my next point:
  2. The Algorithm makes you work harder to impress your followers. We would all love to get that initial “like” from a pair of Eyeballs and never have to do any more work to keep those Eyeballs’ attention, wouldn’t we? But can we be honest? Humans are lazy. We would become complacent. We would post shit. It would be pandemonium. The algorithm forces us to think hard about what we post. This is a good thing!
  3. The Algorithm is a useful tool for measuring your efficacy as an entertainer. You can see within minutes whether or not your beloved Eyeballs have connected with your content.

So how does a Page owner use The Algorithm to his advantage in terms of reach?

DON’T POST CRAP.

Post awesome stuff instead. WAIT! How do I know what’s awesome?!?! OMG THIS IS SO SCARY. Look at your insights. Study them. Fondle them. Make love to them. Ew, that’s gross. But seriously, go look at your insights, and you’ll learn what your followers like. I could sit here and walk you through every tab in insights, but if you’re still here reading this, then you are just as capable of clicking the tabs and reading the charts as I am.

INVITE ENGAGEMENT.

engagement ring
No. Not this kind of engagement.

Engagement = LIKES, COMMENTS, CLICKS, SHARES. I put those in order of least important to most important. Again, your insights will tell you what is working and what is not, but I do have a couple of tips here to add:

To get LIKES: Post something likable! I know: DUH. (Look at your insights.)

To get COMMENTS: ASK QUESTIONS. Eyeballs LOVE to talk about themselves, so definitely take advantage of that. Ask your Eyeballs probing questions that demonstrate your sincere interest in their opinions, thoughts, lives. Ask them to share pics of their kids, pets, hobbies. Don’t be a phony asshole though; they will see right through that shit. Engage with them meaningfully; they will love you. I’ve had people tell me they had to fan themselves when I responded to their comment. This is a nice, albeit creepy, feeling. Respond to comments.

And: Post about controversial topics. People love to argue. Arguing >>> commenting >>> reach.

To get CLICKS: I do actually have a couple of tricks up my sleeve for this one. (By the way, The Algorithm rewards clicks heavily. You want clicks.) What makes a person click on a post?

Sharing more than one image. Eyeballs will click to see a full view of both images, assuming the images are not some dumb lame crap you just barfed onto the internet for the sake of posting multiple images. You would never do that.

And: Sharing long status updates. Make the beginning of the update interesting enough that the Eyeballs are willing to click “continue reading.”

To get SHARES: This is the holy grail of Facebook reach. Shares are how you get NEW followers. You want shares. Again, this will depend on your individual followers, so you will have to review your insights. What has been shared the most on your Facebook page? Do more of that.

Also: Find pages similar to yours in theme and content. Insights will have some recommendations, but those will probably be pages that have around the same number of likes as you, and you want larger pages than your own. Browse through those larger pages’ feeds to see what gets shared most. Share THAT content. The Algorithm will reward you for sharing good content from larger pages.

What about paying to promote?

Some very smart marketing acquaintances of mine have told me you CAN successfully boost your Facebook posts if you target your audience carefully and create a well-crafted post that is designed to invite the absolute most interaction based on some of the techniques discussed above, as well as other marketing techniques that I’m really stupid about because that’s not my thing. I just understand the algorithm.

Funny-looking llama
Compared to me, this llama knows more about marketing but less about the Facebook algorithm. A LOT less.

Personally, I will not pay to promote my posts. For one thing, I’m cheap, and for another, I still don’t trust Facebook’s ability to recognize the difference between a real set of Eyeballs and an empty like from a like farm. The latter will destroy your reach, and I’ve known quite a few people who paid to promote and ended up with new followers with names like “Howdy Doody” and “Ben Dover.” I’m sure those people will be SUPER interactive. No thanks, I’ll pass.

One final note: Although I have kick-ass reach (averaging 50%-60%), the one code I haven’t been able to crack is how to get 500,000 followers. I only know it has something to do with either having a post go viral, having a much larger page share you, having a page for like ten years, or just being so damn awesome that people can’t help but follow you. Or all of those things together. Anyway if you’re a Facebook admin who’s figured that shit out, PM me, kay?

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[UPDATE 2016: Need Facebook Coaching? I’m a pro now, and I can help you grow your page. Find out more HERE.]

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16 Comments

  1. So much great advice, and I always remind myself when I’m complaining about The Algorithm, it’s not like a page like Humans of New York ever has a problem with reach, so it is possible to do just fine even if you have to play by Facebook’s rules.

    • Humans of New York is a HIGHLY relatable page. There is absolutely a reason they have no problem with reach. They figured out what their followers wanted to see and made it happen! =)

  2. This is absolutely the best post I have ever read on ‘The Algorithm’. Thanks so much.

  3. I understand that we don’t want our FB posts cluttered, but as a blogger AND a set of eyeballs with her own personal FB account, I follow lots of pages and it really bugs me that I don’t see their posts in my feed. I followed them for a reason. If I don’t want to see their posts, or they post too often, I should be able to make my own decision to unlike their page.

    Also, if FB is truly concerned with consumer eyeballs, why do we see followup comments to posts we didn’t care about in the first place. “Joe Schmo commented on this” 3 days after the original post. Or “Jane Doe liked this.” If I commented on it, sure. But if I didn’t, I don’t care to see it in my feed. I just don’t buy the reasoning for the algorithm (except to make money).

    I have some followers who want to follow my blog on their FB feed, not via Twitter, not via email. Yet they don’t see my posts and assume I’m not posting. The average consumer doesn’t know or care about reach. They just want to follow the pages they follow.

    However, I really did enjoy this article and your writing. 🙂 I’m just still very upset about the algorithm!

  4. Great post. Definitely sharing this. And I think I can answer your last question. I think the key to growing your page is to have FB promote it for you. What you do is find pages close in size to yours who ARE paying to promote their page. Add them to your pages to watch list. FB knows they will pay to boost their page, so if FB can keep you neck in neck with them, that might entice the other page to keep paying FB (assuming they are also watching your numbers). I am convinced that FB has been promoting my page to keep a close competitor in my niche paying to boost her page to stay ahead of me. Brilliant actually on FBs part. Since I’ve never paid, they know they won’t make a dime from me, but they CAN use my page to make money in a different way.

    Oh and p.s. I started my page in 2009 and have 435,000 likes and have never paid for a boost or ad or like.

  5. So very helpful!!!! I’m learning as I go but I’m certainly going to incorporate these wonderful tips into my Facebook etiquette and bloggery. You rock! Thank you☺

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