Stop Trying to Game Facebook’s Edgerank

by Ken Mueller on October 22, 2012 · 73 comments

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facebook insights Stop Trying to Game Facebooks EdgerankI noticed something really annoying on Facebook this past week. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with politics. Go figure.

Over the past few days a lot of businesses have been using their business pages to post updates asking their fans to do things in order to see more of their content. Everything from urging fans to create special Facebook lists of the businesses they want to see, to pleas for fans to spend more time liking, commenting, and sharing updates. The idea is to beat Facebook at their own game and somehow take advantage of their Edgerank algorithm.

Facebook’s had a lot of bad press lately as the result of changing that algorithm in hopes of getting more businesses to spend money on ads and promoted posts. You see, Facebook needs to make money in order to survive. And while Facebook’s changes trouble me and don’t seem fair, we need to re-recite the marketer’s mantra and remind ourselves:

Facebook is free

We don’t pay to use it, so really, they can do whatever they want, and we don’t have to like it. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bad decision on Facebook’s part, but there it is. So instead, marketers and business folks are trying to outwit Facebook and game the system. But that’s not a good idea. And it’s not smart to ask your fans to jump through hoops for your sake. They are on Facebook to be social and for their own pleasure, not to keep you in business.

For years, there have been those in the SEO world who have worked to outsmart and game Google, but each time, Google responded with algorithmic changes. Google doesn’t want to be gamed because it wants the best possible experience for it’s users. As far back as 2006, Shel Israel and Robert Scoble recognized this in their book Naked Conversations,

“Neither a press release nor a full-page ad in The New York Times will boost your search engine ratings as much as a regularly updated blog. The shortest, cheapest, fastest and easiest route to a prominent Google ranking is to blog often.”

Google’s algorithm has changed a lot over the past six years, but even then it was all about good content as opposed to some of the little SEO “tricks” we would try. And with the latest changes and move toward latent semantic indexing, it’s even more about content.

The same is true on Facebook. While you can make a strong argument that Facebook is not improving the user experience, the fact is, we as marketers and businesses need to focus on content. We need to stop focusing on having our fans do our work for us. By asking them to create lists, we are most likely asking them to use Facebook in ways that are contrary to how they currently use the platform. As my friend Liz Jostes said to me in conversation,

Those who are requesting fans to do that are not thinking about the fact that unless users already use that feature, they aren’t going to suddenly change the way the act on Facebook. Pages are expecting user habits to change in a snap!

Add to this, that if you’re using a status update to tell your users to act in a certain way to see more of your content, the only ones seeing that update are already seeing your updates. You’re not only engaging in a spammy business practice, but you’re spinning your wheels.

I think I saw about 20 of these updates on one day alone, many from businesses with which I never engage. They offered long status updates with step by step instructions on how to see more of their content. Stop wasting my time and yours. Focus on your content. Give your customers a reason to engage with you via likes, comments, and shares, rather than instructing them how to help you. It’s not their job, it’s yours.

Organic is always better.

Trying to game the system will only get you so far, and in the long run, will hurt you. Baseball went through this with the steroid era. The cycling community is going through this right now, and it seems as though more football players are getting caught for using performance enhancing substances. Athletes try to beat the system, and it works for awhile, but eventually they get caught, and penalized, and it hurts the reputation of their sport. This is why Google is vigilant, and you can bet that Facebook will do it’s darndest to prevent the same thing from happening.

Content first

I don’t care how many likes or comments you get, or how many people throw you in lists, you still need compelling content. If I see more of your status updates, they better be worthwhile. Spend more time worrying about creating quality updates.

  • Provide useful information
  • Offer deals
  • Use images and videos
  • Provide links that people want to click
  • Blog and share those posts on Facebook
  • Ask questions
  • Be entertaining
  • Focus on your customer, not yourself

In case you missed it:

focus on content.

Good, consistent, relevant content promotes engagement. Engagement improves your Edgerank. Sure it takes time, but working for the long term is much better than a quick fix.

Consider spending some money

Traditionally, I am not a big proponent of spending money, particularly on things like Facebook ads or Google ads. The click through rates are incredibly low, and I, for one, never click on them. I just don’t. But that doesn’t mean they can’t work. I’ve known plenty of folks who have used Facebook ads and promoted posts well. But there has to be a reason; a goal. Don’t just pay for something without real, measurable goals.

But if you’re going to use either Facebook ads or promoted posts, do it wisely. Just this week one of the pages I follow paid to promote one of their posts. Every time I logged in, there it was, the same post at the top of my newsfeed. Every time. What was once a decent status update and link suddenly became spam. It wouldn’t go away. So I unliked the page.

It’s a delicate balance we need to strike. This is not traditional, outbound marketing. People expect commercials on TV & radio; they expect ads in print publications. Yet they don’t like them. They come to social media to be social, not to be sold to. If your use of your business page starts looking too much like selling, people will tune out.

It can be done

Let me give you one example. My friend Rebecca Cicione manages the social media for a nonprofit called Soles4Souls. She does an incredible job with their Facebook presence, and despite the changes in Edgerank, she is not only experiencing huge growth in numbers (from about 20,000 to more than 50,000 in just one year), but also isn’t seeing the expected decrease in engagement. In fact, in looking at their numbers, they are seeing an increase.

Their secret? A combination of great content, heavy use of images, and small expenditures on promoted posts and ads. They are consistent and work at it. You can’t expect Facebook to do your work for you. It takes time and work.

No one said it’s supposed to be easy. We’ve lulled ourselves into a sense that Facebook is some sort of magic bullet that does our marketing for us. We need to change our mindset and how we use the platform, not the way our fans do.

Your turn

Go for it. If you’re using Facebook, focus on your content. Good content. Relevant content. The kind your customers want.

How are you using Facebook in light of the changes to their algorithm?

 Stop Trying to Game Facebooks Edgerank
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52 comments
RedKiteSocial
RedKiteSocial

Fantastic post.  This sits very firmly in my belief that Facebook, and indeed blog posts are all about 'crafting the message', and editorial content.  Probably from my magazine media sales days!  Content is king. :-)

krisbradley74
krisbradley74

I completely agree with you that creating engaging and good content is the priority, but I am also really disappointed in Facebook lately.  I thought this post really put it all in perspective http://bit.ly/VcaR9A.  

Facebook is in a perfect position to make their user experience so much better for both individuals and businesses, but instead they have been sidetracked by putting their resources into monetization through its user base.  This is really a shame and if they would ever fall from their mountain overlooking the rest of the social media world, this could be the reason that we all point to.  

I realize the thought of that happening seems completely unbelievable right now, but think about how AOL (among others) was all the rage in the early internet days.  It can happen.  

Inkling Media
Inkling Media

Yeah. She and I were chatting last night as she was writing that one. Pretty good stuff.

Kris Bradley
Kris Bradley

This is awesome. I just read the post where Lisa Jenkins mentioned and recommended your 'Stop Trying to Game Facebook's Edgerank' post.

MAXMike
MAXMike

I am in agreement, that it has been increasingly more difficult to get content that I have created or shared seen by Fans.  I am going to have to work harder!  You may say work smarter, right?  No, it may mean that my process of publishing content will have to be better planned and a better consistency of both organically created content, as well as OPC (other people's content).  I believe that my success as a content manager will increase as I learn to create relationships with like minded businesses, where my Client's content will be as valuable on their page as it will be on another.  Making my content worthy of being shared is important...just as important as it is for others to post content that is worthy of being shared.  I have to keep reminding myself, this is all about relationships...I am working with others each and every time that I post something on FB.  I am hoping that someone, hopefully many someones, will like, share or make comment about each and every post that I put out there.

Fernando Maneca
Fernando Maneca

Facebook Insights is just one side of the FB equation. For us, Facebook has been one of the top 5 sources of traffic to our website nearly every month for the past 3-4 years. The growth of traffic from FB has increased steadily, even as other sources have come and gone and come back again. 

lauraclick
lauraclick

Great post, Ken. I think your advice is excellent.

However, even if you produce the best content, it is going to be a tougher road for businesses since a smaller fraction of fans will be able to see their content. So, as hard as you may work to produce great content and do all the right things, your efforts (at least on Facebook) will have a tougher time getting through that before unless you're willing to pay.

I think this makes Facebook a bit tougher for small businesses and those just starting out with a Facebook page. I also wonder if these changes will deter more businesses from using Facebook or spending as much energy there. But, it's good to see that some businesses are still seeing growth. That's why testing is key - and why it's important to have someone who knows what they are doing helping guide the way. 

Anthony_Rodriguez
Anthony_Rodriguez

Exactly! "Focus on your content." I have zero interest in interacting with a company that is going to be gimmicky or bossy with what they have to say. I don't even try to understand Facebook's algorithms. I just focus on giving what the people who follow us what they want about foster care adoption and am continuing to see steady increases in the number of people who are finding out more about how terrible it is that more than 100,000 American children do not have families. And they are talking to their friends and families about it. And that is exciting.

Doug Cohen
Doug Cohen

This post is AWESOME.  This is what I have been saying to my wife / business partner for the last week or so.  I had a blog post of my own typed up on the topic, but instead of rushing to publish it I thought I'd sit this topic out for a bit, research what was going on and see how it plays out.  Your post validated and summed up everything I wanted to say.  When the change happened I was pretty angry, but thankfully I used sound judgement and stayed the course.  I didn't ask people to create lists or click on our stuff.  I'm always committed to organic and this was a time where for a second I was tempted to take the bait to try to game the system but that urge only lasted a second and I didn't do it.  I'm happy I didn't!  Thanks!  Retweeting now.

Schnooks
Schnooks

"you still need compelling content. If I see more of your status updates,they better be worthwhile. Spend more time worrying about creatingquality updates."

exactly.. that's why I'm glad I got the "annoying" message to go to my favorite pages and and add them to my interest lists so that I can actually see their statuses on my feed!  

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@AmyMccTobin @KenMueller You know, I stopped for a split second wondering if he'd be open to my saying that. And he did. He nodded as I continued to explain the types of things we can do with SM. I started by asking if he was on FB, which he is, and I said, "Would you buy real estate from a random posting you saw?"  - no. Good luck, Amy and by all means, use it. :)

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I hope this comment rocks everyone's world because I've never worked so hard to make a comment go live. 

I met with a potential client a few weeks ago - they develop resort real estate. His first question was, "How can we use social media to sell our condos?"

I said, "you can't." :) But you can use it to build community, conduct market research and do other initiatives that help move you towards the end goal.

To your point, brands that have already created that passion and loyalty will do well. People want their updates and are either sharing or buying. ( I closely follow my favorite bands and immediately purchase new music.) So you have to create that love, not manufacture it just as your post suggests.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I met with a potential client a few weeks ago - they develop resort real estate. His first question was, "How can we use social media to sell our condos?"

I said, "you can't." :) But you can use it to build community, conduct market research and do other initiatives that help move you towards the end goal. To your point, brands that have already created that passion and loyalty will do well. People want their updates and are either sharing or buying. ( I closely follow my favorite bands and immediately purchase new music.) So you have to create that love, not manufacture it just as your post suggests. 

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I wrote a post about the kind of behavior you speak of - I call it Beg Marketing, and you can just guess the ROI on it:)  I try to remind my clients, and myself, that people are on FB to BE SOCIAL... so don't sell.  Be visually appealing, be fun (IF that fits your brand), be conversational in a way that makes them want to talk back.  Great reminder post. 

aidemsolutions
aidemsolutions

Good Post Ken - although it may seem "unfair" to some businesses that they aren't getting as many views with the new algorithm, the bottom line is that a businesses Facebook page can be used as a part of their customer support department, promotions department, advertising department, and marketing department. If you are using it for promotions/advertising/marketing, I think it is fair to pay 10.00 to reach a certain amount of people. If you run an ad in a magazine, on a TV program, or on a website banner, you will pay, so I think it is only fair to pay for a better reach to more people. If you have a really good post that you want people to see, you can make sure it gets out there - and it is pretty inexpensive at this point. Like you said, we are playing in Facebook's sandbox - they make the rules, and we shouldn't try to "cheat" them or find workarounds for them, because they will just change them again.

I also found that posting pictures gets more views, so I have been doing that, but last week, I coughed up 10 dollars for a video our company created - it showed up in 2,800 peoples timelines, and we got a few more likes on our page. I am going to see how this works out - hopefully they don't raise the price !

Erin F.
Erin F.

Well, I haven't made any changes to how I'm using Facebook either as a person or as a business owner. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. I'm a firm believer in sharing good - and often funny - content. 

Latest blog post: Money is Not a Vision

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Ken, you've gone over and above on this one. Excellent counsel; I'm appreciative of your insight on one of my least favorite channels on the Interwebz...thanks for also sharing me in relateds! Another TU!

DawnMentzer
DawnMentzer

Great reality check, Ken! I wrote a post at the end of last week about how many small biz page owners feel entitled to Facebook and that we consider ourselves cheated by their throttling of our posts. Yes, I'm guilty of singing the blues on occasion! But as you said, we have FREE use of their platform. Who can blame them for trying to make a buck off of their hard work, ingenuity and investment. Our choices are to put more effort into providing quality and varied content to organically build our Edgerank status or invest monetarily to improve things. Personally, I'd love to see a paid "Premium" option for pages whereby we could pay a monthly fee to have all of our updates/info seen by anyone who has chosen to like us. Sigh! In an ideal world...Anyways, terrific post!

LizJostes
LizJostes

Eh, you know I think the "it's free" reasoning only goes so far. Facebook is the social giant it is *because* of its users. 

Fan pages admins worth their salt have long been using photos, asking questions, and the like, but they have experienced the same decreased reach. So, yes, solid engagement strategies and content are key, but it's not going to solve the problem of Facebook purposely making it more difficult for fan pages to get their updates seen (without paying $$$). Unless, of course, you're an admin that can find a SomeEcard appropriate for every status update. :-)

jsncruz
jsncruz

One of the best posts I've seen regarding the Facebook Edgerank system. I still think it's very unfair especially to small business and non-profits (yes, they "have to learn to be better") because I don't agree that Facebook should select what newsfeed items I see. If I Like a page, I want to see its posts on my feed, without having to search for the page. From the pages I manage, yes, high-quality images DO get the highest amount of meaningful engagement (shares and comments) so that should be my staple for a while yet.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@lauraclick I wish I had the answers to all of those. My feeling is that Facebook is still important for most small businesses and organizations, based on the sheer numbers. And people are using it. A lot. Based on what I'm seeing, I honestly think the uproar over Edgerank changes is a bit overblown. We just have to keep plugging away and working within the system.

And remember, there has never been a guarantee on any platform that all of your "fans" will see your content. Not on Twitter, blogs, emails, anything. 

I'll be working with a few small businesses to launch brand new pages in the next month or so, so I'll let you know if the experience is any different. 

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@Lisa Gerber EXCELLENT answer... I may have to 'borrow' it from you in real life.  The older I get the more I am convinced that ALL online efforts really revolve around the same qualities that good, old fashioned sales did/does....  you never walk into a new client and just 'get a sale..'  not if you're selling anything truly valuable.  Sometimes you must lay the groundwork for weeks, months, and even YEARS.  Social Media is just one part of your online groundwork...

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Lisa Gerber You did it! I'm so proud of you. Everyone wants that quick fix. You're not going to get that from social media. Little tricks and tips won't cut it. This is a whole new world.Now I need to start a band so you can purchase my music!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@aidemsolutions Thanks, Derek. I think you're doing the right thing. Play around. Experiment. There are no "right" answers, per se. What works for one business might not work for others.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Erin F. Funny can work really well! I do believe we try to hard to make platforms work the way we want them to work. That can be counterproductive.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@DawnMentzer Well, the paid premium right now is promoted posts or ads. We just have to figure out what works for us. There has never been a time in the history of Facebook where people saw all of our posts. Much of that is a function of when we decide to post and when people decide to log in. One thing I failed to mention is that the only way to get people to see all of your posts is to get them to leave the newsfeed and come to your Timeline. That said, we need to find creative ways to bring them there. In some cases, doing an approved contest can work. We just need to find the right methods.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@LizJostes Well, I think from the user standpoint we have to remember the "free" part. yes, it's because of the users, but that's Facebook's problem to work out. As businesses, we have no choice but to work within the framework. I started trying a few things with clients over the past few days and it's working. I'm seeing an increase to the levels they were at prior to the latest changes. We just can't expect it to be easy, which is what most businesses want. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jsncruz I agree completely. I think Facebook has made some big mistakes here. But in the meantime, we need to work within the system and find what works for us.

lauraclick
lauraclick

@KenMueller Good points, Ken. All of these platforms are continually evolving - it's up to us to stay on top of the changes and continually test and tweak to find the best approach.

You're right - there were never any guarantees - the game has just changed a bit. So, now it's important for businesses to adjust and figure out what works best. Let me know how those page launches go. I'd love to know what you see from that.

LizJostes
LizJostes

@AmyMccTobin @Lisa Gerber I really love your point, Amy! So many people don't *see* that business works the same online as it does offline. I recently had a question from a client about how to talk to people on Twitter. When I was done explaining and giving her a few examples for her particular business, she said, "So I'd talk to them the same way as I would if they came into my (brick & mortar) store?"

Yes, yes you would. :-)

Erin F.
Erin F.

@KenMueller The other day, I shared one of Grammarly's photos about the extinct "thesaurus." Word nerd humor for the win!

Indeed. It's a lot of wasted energy.

Latest blog post: Money is Not a Vision

DawnMentzer
DawnMentzer

@KenMueller @DawnMentzer True! In my ideal world, we'd have the  "all you can eat" Premium option AND the optional promoted posts for basic pages. Good point about getting folks directly to our Timelines - guess we'll all need to get a lot more creative and experiment to find out what will work.

WeareSculpt
WeareSculpt

@KenMueller @LizJostes Question. You say your metrics are back to the point before the algorithm change. Is your REACH the same? Or just engagement? I'm curious because between content frequency/quality, interactions/stories created -- our clients properties are up across the board. Yet reach is still HALVED.  Only solution so far has been higher (sometimes coming from zero) social ad spend.

STRONGFathersME
STRONGFathersME

@KenMueller @LizJostes I appreciate the good content thing, but as the coordinator of a small program in a larger nonprofit, I use my page to try to make sure guys know if I have to cancel a group or class, to post an article related to something we talked about in class, etc. A lot of my posts are not interactive per-se. But they do help create a community. I'm not ever going to have a gazillion likes, so if only a few of my core audience see my posts, then a really helpful tool is no longer useful to me. And the worst part of it as a regular non-page admin, is that I never know what I am missing. I wish i had control of who I see and who I don't. That is the bargain I made with FB when I signed on and began liking things. 

And Ya it's free, i get it. But it does seem to put us little guys at a disadvantage.

jsncruz
jsncruz

@KenMueller So far images work - it's just so frustrating to see my engagement rate drop and explain these things to clients (who by the way won't care; it's their money after all). Thanks for the reply, Ken! I appreciate it.

AlyssaPenman
AlyssaPenman

@STRONGFathersME @KenMueller @LizJostes I believe this is where we see the rise of groups on Facebook. You can get every single notification from a group. I have a group for my clients. This is where I share articles (like this one!) or updates, requests, questions, events, etc. I'm in a number of groups too. If you have classes and people need to know on Facebook (instead of a text, an email, a phone call, etc) then perhaps an open group is the best bet. 

LizJostes
LizJostes

@STRONGFathersME @KenMueller @LizJostes I agree with you, and am much less "tolerant" of Facebook's changes than Ken. I don't think Facebook would be pulling these types of shenanigans if it wasn't the #1 social network. I think if it doesn't correct course, it will do long term detrimental damage to its business. Because, after all, Facebook is nothing without its users.

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