You probably have heard the term ‘algorithm’ before, but what is it? In the simplest of terms, an algorithm is a set of rules and instructions that a computer follows in order to solve some sort of problem. In the context of social media, an algorithm is “solving the problem” of what posts to show users, and in which order they appear on their newsfeed. Algorithms do the work of sorting content automatically, but it is also always learning from your behavior and engagements within that platform, in order to give you the most personalized content.
How the Algorithm works on Facebook
The goal of the algorithm is to keep users engaged for as long as possible so that they are exposed to more ads when scrolling. How do you keep users engaged for long periods of time? Prioritize the content that they are consuming. Most of us don’t realize while scrolling, but our newsfeed on Facebook is never in chronological order. The algorithm ranks posts from most to least interesting, so that there is more of a chance that you stay on Facebook for a longer period of time.
The algorithm is constantly changing and behaves completely differently than what it was when it was first introduced in 2009. In fact, there are now multiple algorithms at play, and Facebook engineers are making changes to them all the time. Because of this, the algorithm is always learning what kind of content that you like, therefore, the algorithm also changes with you and your interests.
Steps in the Algorithm Process
Generally speaking, the algorithm has four basic steps. However, this is going to be an overly simplified explanation of what happens to all of the content that is uploaded to Facebook. A lot of what makes up the mathematical processes of the algorithm is unknown to the public.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the first step! When you first log into Facebook, the algorithm has already processed the information that will appear on your newsfeed and has ranked them from most to least interesting. You would think that interesting content would be subjective, and a program would never be able to decide what is or is not interesting. However, the algorithm looks at things like your relationships with other users, engagement, type of content you interact with the most, and recency of each post.
The following step is to take the information gathered in the first step and get rid of things that the algorithm thinks wouldn’t interest you. The posts that you don’t interact with as much get pushed down your newsfeed further, so you are less likely to see them if you only open the app for a short period of time.
The third step in this process is to prioritize the posts that the algorithm thinks you want to see and engage with. Again, this is determined by your previous interactions and engagements on the site.
The last step in this process is to create a nice range of content for the user when they open Facebook. A mix of pictures, videos, links to other sites, articles, etc. keeps your newsfeed interesting and engaging!
The Facebook algorithm may seem overwhelming and out of your control, but you can actually use it to your advantage! If you know how the algorithm works, then you understand how your content reaches other users and how other’s content reaches you. This can be very beneficial if you are running a business of some sort! Algorithms are not exclusive to Facebook, but the algorithm behaves differently on different platforms. It’s important to know the basics of how they function since we almost all interact with an algorithm whenever we scroll through social media sites.