Saturday, April 23, 2016

How Does Facebook Algorithm Work? Ryan Kellett At AK Press Club - Wow! [Updated]

[Sunday April 24, 2016:  I've gone through and edited this a little, added some links.]

There are sessions that complain about how hard life is to be a journalist today, and there are sessions that look ahead and give tons of information on what's happening and how to get in on it.  This was the latter.  These are my running notes, so read with care.  But there was lots of great content on FB and some on Snapchat.

Ryan's presentation yesterday was also great - there's a bit of video on that post.

People at FB probably don't understand the algorithm completely.

News Feed was main product.  Now Messenger.  Is News Feed still relevant?


  • Algorithms 
  • How Facebook puts you to work "texting" content on you
  • Why do people Share?
  • Snapchat

Landscape before Algorithms?

How organized before algorithms?  
Pages - most important, chronological  

FB reverse chronology  - Twitter feed continues this way. though Twitter is tweaking.

Algorithms to solve problem:  Too much content

But they're not neutral.  

Instagram just went through this.  70% of posts you don't see because in reverse chronology.  
Filtering is the purpose.  

People placed value judgment on what is worthwhile and what is not worthwhile.  That's the scary part of the algorithm.  Value judgment of what is important.

That's what journalists questions.  Who decides what's important?  Keep this all in mind.

How does FB put together the News Feed?  Testing.  And users are the lab rat.  

Small group of people.  WP posts something on page.  First second published tested against small audience.  A tiny percent.  Then the next group.  Then the second group.  (did it over or under perform baseline?)  If over performs, then to the next round of people.  At some point it stops over performing.  

You have 4 millions fans, 4 million did not see the post in the first minute.  Larger and larger groups may see it over time.

What's the value of a like, share, comment, click?
Or open or play (video).  Most people think, that my like is the same value of everyone else's like.  But that's not so.  "If I only I can get enough likes."  No. Algorithm weighs different users differently. If someone likes every post and never shares, that counts as nothing or less.  But if she shares after never sharing, then it's a huge value boost.  Because she rarely shares.  Comments etc.  
User B:  Only clicks or watches videos.  Again, if does something they don't normally do, it gets more weight.  
User C:  Comments on everything.  Sometimes shares.  

Q:  If person has lots of friends, do they have more weight?
A:  Probably, lots of things go into algorithm.
Q:  Does watching an automatic video count?   
A:  Yes.  If you have regular link, test how long the user spent over at the story.  Way to calculate the value of the story = time spent away from FB.  
Google does click through and checks out the link.  Video - ten minute video.  

No one thing on the algorithm, it looks at many different things.

Q:  Sort of a private social credit score for individuals.  
A:  Yes, but they would never admit an individual score.  

Play the game - ways to game the system.  Think about the value of your like clicks.  Robert Gobel  [Scoble - I should have known better because I posted about his book Naked Conversations back in 2006] thinking about ways to manipulate the algorithm  [go to this link! it's amazing] for your personal advantage.  

Q:  How do ad clicks affect things?  They would be more valuable to FB?
A:  I don't know exactly  Value of the ad can be different for different parts of the screen.  Some ads need clicks, others just impressions.  Whether you should pay for distribution is question for journalists.  50% is paid social media.  

350 BC  - New Yorkier Maria Konnikova - about 2011 best job on describing world we live in.  Aristotle wanted to know what would make speech persuasive and memorable.    three principles:  ethos, pathos, and logos.  Content should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal . . .
Formulating stories 

Why do people share?

We want to feel smart and for others to perceive us as smart and helpful, so we craft our online image accordingly 

Lists:  Practical Value, Memory Trigger
Social currency:  LOLcats  - you want to be on the inside, 'we get it"

I see it as a batting average."  Jonah Berger says:  " No one is going to hit a home run every time, but it you understand the science of hitting your batting average goes up.  
Lots of reasons why succeed or fail, but need to be improving batting average over time.  The algorithm will kill you cause you don't know what it does.

Jonah Berger and Aristotle quotes from this New Yorker article by Maria Konnikova:

Q:  What about stuff that makes you feel good?  
A:  Yes!  We have Inspired Life blog.  I was skeptical, but it really works

Mistrust of media.  Generally part of journalism, but not everything.  

FB Tips

Repurposing content:  Why the URL matters on Facebook.  Role of recycling stories on FB.  Algorithm looks at URL, FB recognizes you've done this once  If do it again, oh, I've seen it and it gets downlinked.  (specific url, not the generic url of your website, but the specific article or post)

Q:  Autopost or manually do it?
A:  People would say FB wants people to do it manually.  All my tweets to FB automatically, two things against you.  1)  Tweet language doesn't translate to FB 2) Auto feed is Twitter, not the best.  But Wordpress better probably.  

Testing yourself with guide.  
How often should I post?  - No one answer.  Overall, more.  FB has told news orgs:  post more.  I tend to test how much is right.  Let's start with baseline and add 5% for two weeks.  # of posts can be tested because it's in your control.  Newer products, volume seems better.  I'm in the 30minute to an hour camp.  Huff post did every 7 minutes, NPR every 3 hours.

What type of posts?  Links and video now.  Great photos ok, on every day, links and video.  BUT this changes regularly.  FB live is new product.  Major thing they are pushing.  Paying some publishers to produce FB live for FB.  [Also see this link for live video to FB and Twitter.]

Should you post other people's content?  Someone else posting Wash Post. I checked, why would they push our content?  It was mainly parenting posts, home and gardening posts.  Looking at what is doing well for other pages.  Already know it's a good post.  

Q:  how exactly do you do your testing of whether things work, like how often to post?  
A:  Number of likes, shares.  I look at referrals coming in from FB.  

Q:  Change headlines for FB?
A:  We did in past, but lots of work.  Taught reporters to write better headlines from the beginning.  WP style has some weird things - Florida is FLA, which makes no sense on FB.  

Paying for distribution?  I don't do this, but I can talk to you about this later.  A lot of people work on paid social side.  Gone from "don't love it" but have become more accepting, as way to build certain communities, or verticals.  

A Great Facebook Post

Obama meets most powerful 2 year old.    

Great headline, short, Small curiosity gap.  
A clear and compelling image, maybe obscured
Clear invitation to click - curiosity gap headline, mentioning, but gap between what is there and what is on the other side of the link:  "here are the ways your city has eased up your parking rules."  What are they?

Text that serves up an expected emotion   - something that is fun, light, you want to click to participate and celebrate with everyone else.  

Q:  Text elements of FB post?  How do they need to work together.  See Obama Prince Image.

OG code terms, you can use whatever you want.  
click bate - headline is like a product, always deliver on that product.  We cannot oversell a headline.  
Answer has to be in top of the story.  


Snapchat wants to rule the world.  
Tier 1  FB, Twitter, Snapchat
Tier 2  Most everything else

3 major parts:

1.  Chat - messaging chat can type and video messages one to one or group
2. Story - totally different product, even tho same app, they see three parts, live stories, 
3. Discover - brands, super produced products

Settings - lots open and say, "what is going on?"
Drag Ion down

Added Me
Add Friends
My Friends

Add by username is simplest.  By snapcode interesting.  Boo-R code (ghost)

Stories - swipe left 
Chat  - swipe right

Why do things disappear? - 24 hour limit for stories.  People want to appear smart.  Something disappears is powerful, not preserved for ever.  Crazy weird on the fly.  Not forever.  

Lowering barriers to perfection.  See Instagram
What bad User Interface (UI) does for Snapchat.  - If you know how to use it, you're cool.  
No search, no share = discoverability nightmare  - need to know specific username
"Secret" features

Stories - once familiar with the elements.  Telling stories using regular snap stories.  
Average regular snap story.  India recognizes transgender status - pictures, first holy dip from WP

Example 2:  Seed vault - steps in pictures from outside, going down, there (capacity for 2.5 million)

Some accounts to follow

examples:  Washingtonpost (well, it's Ryan's company so he has to put it here)
ajenews,  thenytimes

local news:  the.oregonian

funny:  theflama, lacma (Los Angeles County Museum of Art artworks set to rap)

#brands:  everlane, tacobell

personalities:  juistinkan, snapatunde,  arnoldschnitzel

reporter:  djbdca

[I was going to put links here, but I'm not a Snapchat user, and as Ryan said, finding actual accounts is hard, intentionally, so people who can do it can feel like cool insiders.   I'm obviously not 'cool' in Snapchat's world.]


  1. Here's a comment I got on this June 30, 2017:
    "I personally think that even though Facebook has been in business for years there is still room for create buzz and to viralize info about a product or a company through this channel so as part of the algorithm talking about a brand through friends and community is the least expensive and efficient way, interesting article."

    It's clearly spam - it was put up from the Punjab, Pakistan - and had a link to a company that promotes businesses via Facebook. But it was better than most in commenting in good English about the post. My first instinct was to just mark it spam. But then I thought I could leave it up. It might be of interest to someone. But then, I thought, it would just cause more, similar types of spam ads. So I'm reposting it here without the links. It's of blogger interest. I move several of these to spam every day.


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