#thanksfacebook: the new New NEW algorithm that haunts us all

In July 2016, I shared a new talk “#thanksfacebook: the new New NEW algorithm that haunts us all” at the annual #PSEWEB Conference.


In shocking news: Facebook’s algorithm turned on us all again. Delivering content to subscribers was as basic to Facebook as Pumpkin Spice Lattes are to the liquid fashion conscious among us. So for awhile there was “EdgeRank” and Facebook picked what to send to who based on social scoring and infinite mysterious but all very important and made-up behavioural signals.

We get it. Write good content. Be awesome. Write stories, not promotions. Zuckerberg saw what he had made, and it was very good.

The thing about Zuck (or Z as his friend calls him), is that he’s not into good. Disruptive is a little more “his thing.” So he changed the game and now it’s our turn to read his mind, cross our posts and hope to reach. Let’s discuss the signs, symptoms and remedies for the new New NEW Facebook algorithm – and then let’s all get a drink.

The Gist:

Facebook uses an algorithm to control which content is shown to which people. Each person only sees a carefully controlled portion of all the content that they have subscribed to; and each Facebook Page post only reaches a slice of the people who “like” the page. This algorithm is frequently updated by Facebook, most recently in Summer 2016.

In Winter 2016, many Facebook Page owners – including Canadian universities – noticed significant decreases in the number of people who were being reached by their posts. Pages that typically reach 5,000+ per post were now reaching less than 500.

Why bother? Facebook is still a VERY big fish.

Despite all the social media gurus and tech journalists eager to say that Facebook is passé and that the 18-24 audience has moved on to snappier pastures, Facebook should still be at the top of your social media strategy. It has the most people, the best business tools and wins at everything it touches.

Using Western University as an example, Facebook delivers more subscribers (page likes) and more engagement. With half as many messages and half as many accounts, Western’s Facebook Pages reach more people and earn more likes, comments and shares than Twitter. Instagram returns a much higher engagement rate but cannot compete with Facebook’s overall larger subscriber-base and business tools.


Table 1:

Campus-wide network of more than 600 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, June 2016

facebook twitter instagram
accounts ~200 ~425 ~7
subscribers 159,097 147,032 25,854
sent messages 16,549 31,449 1,053
seen by 34,456,260 40,090,029 n/a
likes 224,650 57,080 304,607
replies 18,418 6,228 6,848
shares 45,521 38,567 n/a
engagements / account 1,443 239.7 44,493
engagements / post 17.4 3.2 295.8
post engagement rate
engagements / posts / followers
0.01% 0.002% 1.14%


Table 2:

Official Facebook Page, Twitter account and Instagram account, June 2016

facebook twitter instagram
subscribers 69,983 55,900 22,300
impressions 596,367 1,300,000 n/a
posts 43 277 24
impressions / post 7,820 4,574 n/a


Table 3:

Comparing organic impressions of Western, McMaster & UBC official Facebook Page & Twitter accounts, June 2016

Western McMaster UBC
Facebook Total 596,367 3,459,785 4,243,999
Facebook Average 13,881 / post 82,376 / post 41,607 / post
Twitter Total 1,300,000 666,900 972,298
Twitter Average 4,574 / post 6,232 / post 1,913 / post


What Changed?

  • First (2004-2009), we could publish things on Facebook and off they went to everyone who liked us.
  • Then (2009 – 2015), post a picture or other popular content to help boost other important but less popular content.
  • Now (2016), post popular things & wait a day (or two) to let people settle back down.

“People keep telling us Facebook is dead, but it’s our largest, most active social network, and the most active demographic is 18-24.

We have adapted to how people are now using it: we don’t post things that NEED to be seen today – they might not be online until tomorrow or later. We also use a great deal of video and we’ve started using 360′ and livestreaming.”

– Matt Terry, Manager of Strategic Communications, McMaster University

How We Are Adapting

  • Less Content: more “attention white space”
    (we are now in competition with ourselves)
  • Less scheduling: monitor engagement in real-time
  • More (live) video, more links, more real-time, more sharing, more focus
  • Actual, realistic, non-promotional content strategy
  • When in doubt, try the Selena Gomez test
  • MAX: One scheduled post per day.

Facebook is still at the top of my social media strategy, followed very closely by Instagram and Snapchat. Twitter, LinkedIn, Vine and YouTube also play very important roles. Yes, I would love to see my Facebook content reach the numbers that I used to but throwing my hands up in the air isn’t an option. Despite the challenges created by the algorithm, our Facebook subscriber base continues to grow. With careful attention (and sometimes a small financial investment), I can make sure that the quarter million Mustangs who use Facebook continue to see our school colours in their newsfeeds – especially if I listen to the numbers and deliver the content that people want from us, rather than the content we wish they wanted.


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