How to Adapt to the Facebook News Feed Algorithm Using Your Data

facebook news feed algorithm

Love it or hate it, the Facebook News Feed algorithm has the power to put your content front and center or at the bottom of the content pile. For nonprofits and businesses, a recent announcement about changes to the News Feed has caused panic and frustration as people anticipate the end of organic reach. Should you worry? And how do you know if your organization will even be impacted?

Before throwing up your hands and saying “I quit!”, put your page’s data to good use by digging in to your Facebook Page Insights. Find out where to look for metrics that can help you identify the effects of the update on your page’s reach. From there, you’ll be able adjust your strategy based on what works and what doesn’t for your nonprofit.

Expert Take: The Latest Facebook Update

Let’s start at the source. If you haven’t read the news for yourself, take a couple minutes and review the announcement about changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm. In a nutshell, Facebook will now prioritize content that is likely to engage with people and start actual conversations.

More than ever, your organic or unpaid posts will need to meet the needs, interests and concerns of your followers. And they will need to let Facebook know they care by interacting in real ways, like longer comments and shares with their family and friends. There’s not value, in the eyes of Facebook, in simply “building awareness.”

Marketing and social media strategists with nonprofit expertise have reacted to the news feed changes in fairly similar ways – encouraging organizations to take this opportunity to focus on quality content rather than quantity, which is a natural advantage for causes:

[T]he algorithm can actually increase the amount of visibility for the sector if we successfully share stories about the good work and impact that the sector is achieving, at a time when it is needed more than ever. – Vinay Nair

Nonprofits have a clear advantage over consumer brands and businesses. People talk more about the causes they care about more than the clothes they wear. – John Haydon

My advice for nonprofits is to continue with your current content strategy – being the go-to resource and sharing stories. – Julia Campbell

 

Recommended next steps for nonprofits have also been pretty consistent. Generally speaking, a manager of a nonprofit Facebook page should be thinking about:

    1. Facebook features and functionality that do a better job of engagement compared to a normal post by your page. These include Facebook groups, events, fundraisers and live video.
    2. Cases where your content is important enough for paid promotion so that you can start budgeting for posts or ads that are mission-critical, like those for your annual appeal or gala.
    3. Ways to improve your storytelling that lead to meaningful reactions and humanize your organization. How can you consistently (and sustainably) surprise, celebrate or encourage your followers?
    4. Using ambassadors or top followers to weigh in on the kind of content that moves them and leverage their networks to expand your reach.
    5. How your target audiences actually want to engage, especially if the answer is not on Facebook, a place that’s increasingly about friends and family.

Facebook Insights Are Changing, Too

Just weeks after announcing changes to the algorithm, Facebook announced that the way they measure organic reach is also changing. The new calculation is an improvement and more precise – only counting when someone sees your posts on their screen, not just when it loads in the news feed somewhere. This is the same way that paid reach is measured, so now the two metrics are better aligned.

You should see a notice about the change in organic reach calculations when you access your Facebook Page Insights. It includes the expanded explanation and graph shown in the screen capture below. For at least the next couple of weeks, Facebook will show you the before and after versions of your reach data so that you can measure the difference.

According to Facebook, this “stricter reporting” may mean that “some pages may see lower reach figures than before.” So in addition to the potential impact of changes to the news feed, your page could see a broad decrease in reach due to this new way of measuring.

Review the before and after comparison ASAP to see what you can expect from this change alone. To find it in your Page Insights, go to the main Overview tab and hover over the “i” symbol in the Reach section. In the window that pops up, click the “Learn More” button to see a reach data comparison graph using your page’s data.

facebook insights reach comparison

Is Your Nonprofit In Trouble?

This is probably the question that has been weighing heavily on your mind. No one likes to feel like they’ve been doing something “wrong” with their nonprofit marketing, especially when it’s not something you can spend a ton of time on to fix.

Here’s the thing: I can’t think of a single nonprofit that’s been doing Facebook perfectly right all along. You’re not alone in needing to adjust.

Given the updated Facebook News Feed algorithm, you’ll likely be hit harder with the changes if the following scenarios sound familiar:

  • You auto-schedule posts from another place like Instagram or Twitter rather than customize your content for different audiences and platforms
  • You publish passive content, like the title of a blog post or article and a link, rather than adding commentary or encouraging action
  • You treat Facebook like a one-way street or dumping ground, often talking “at” people with promotions or inconsequential updates (which are probably better suited to a blog)
  • You publish posts as “bait” to get likes, shares or one-word comments
  • You only look at vanity metrics (such as the amount of likes) to measure success
  • You haven’t been building an email list as a more direct way to reach supporters

But before you panic or start pulling out the credit card to promote every post, there’s something more productive you can do to get control of your Facebook strategy. The only way to know how you’ll be affected and what might help is to get into your page’s data.

Every Facebook page and audience is different. By digging into the specifics of your page, you’ll have a better handle on exactly how you’re impacted, for better or worse.

Get Familiar With Facebook Insights

If you haven’t paid much attention to your Facebook performance until now, there’s a good chance you’ve missed the impact of previous updates that could have changed the reach of your posts. So while the latest Facebook update has attracted a lot of attention, don’t be surprised to see your data telling a story of ongoing decline.

I know that talking about analytics and measurement can seem overwhelming, so I’ll zero in on some of the key numbers from Facebook Page Insights that you should watch as the news feed algorithm shifts over time. You always want to be careful about drawing broad conclusions from limited data, but even a beginner-level look at the reach and engagement Insights for your nonprofit’s page can give you a general idea of where you have challenges and opportunities.

facebook insights nonprofits

Reach Section

The term “reach” basically refers to how many people are seeing your content or content about you. You’ll likely see that posts without engagement aren’t reaching as many people. To learn just how many people you’re reaching, go to the Reach section of your Facebook Insights and look for these metrics:

  • Post Reach: The number of people who saw posts by, or about, your page, broken down by organic reach (what happens naturally) and paid (when you promote a post).
  • Reactions, Comments, Shares and More: These are actions that demonstrate engagement and help your content get in front of more people. Hover over the chart to see how your content is performing compared to your average activity.

Once you’re looking at your reach data, the next step is to see how your reach changes over time. If you click on the organic option in the right-hand sidebar, you’ll be able to compare recent reach to the previous period. Do you notice any significant changes or possible trends? If you see your reach shrinking (especially more than what you’d expect given recent changes to organic reach calculations), it’s time for a Facebook strategy adjustment.

facebook insights nonprofits reach

Posts Section

In the Posts section of your Facebook Insights, you’re able to look at your content at a granular level to see how different types of posts perform. You may notice that specific types of posts do a better job reaching your followers. Plan to create similar content in the future. Here’s what you’ll find in this section:

  • Posts Type: Discover the the success of different post types (like links or photos) based on their average reach and engagement.
  • Top Posts from Pages You Watch: If you’re following other pages, such as partners or nonprofits with similar missions, look at their top posts from the last week based on reactions, comments and shares. If they have a similar audience, you might get some inspiration for your own content creation.
  • All Posts Published: This is a chronological list of posts with links that includes information about the post type, reach and engagement. Try sorting the list by type of reach (all, with fans or with non-fans) and by engagement to see your top performers.

The best part of this section is the ability to quickly assess your content by looking at the engagement rate (circled below) for each post, a straightforward summary of the number of people who liked, commented, shared or clicked on a post.

facebook insights nonprofits engagement

People Section

If nothing else, the People section is worth a look to see if assumptions about your current audience are correct. In terms of engagement, you’ll want to look at:

  • People Reached: This metric reflects the number of people who see content from your page or about your page, grouped by age and gender.

In terms of your content and posting strategy, one of the important things to look for here is whether or not you are reaching some groups disproportionately. If you have a target audience persona that is well-represented in your followers but isn’t often reached through your content, you might need to diversify your posts in terms of content types, posting times, messaging and other variables.

facebook insights nonprofits people reached

 

Export Your Facebook Data

For all the data lovers out there, Facebook is ready for you! In addition to viewing your Insights through your page, you can export and save your data as spreadsheets. The amount of data you download is limited to a max of 180 days worth and up to 500 posts at a time.

Warning: you’ll get a LOT of information that’s best used for answering specific questions rather than to get a snapshot view. There are three standard exports you can choose from:

  • Page-level data about engagement
  • Post-level data about reach and impressions
  • Video data about views

A good place to begin is by reviewing your published posts from the last quarter and sorting them based on what you want to know, like post type, total reach and the number of engaged users. For example, you might find that photo-based posts have traditionally reach more people but that video posts are most likely to engage. You could also investigate the reach of different post types to see if they do better or worse over time. Maybe your link-based posts just aren’t getting the same reach since the news feed changed.

Boost Your Data Skills

Has all this talk about Facebook Insights got you wondering about what else is hiding in this treasure trove of data? Learn more about how you can use this free information:

Adapting to Change

As you know by now, Facebook is going to continually to tweak the platform. Unlike changes to features and functionality, the impact of changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm are always hard to predict. The key thing to remember is that your nonprofit’s page is unique, and the only way to know how to adapt is to be in tune with your audience and adjust accordingly.

By using Facebook Insights to review your content’s reach and engagement, you’ll be able to hone in on strategies that show real promise. Ideally, you should take a look at your page’s performance weekly, but try to complete a high-level look at engagement and reach every month. Once you get in the habit, it will get easier (and won’t take as much time) to evaluate how you’re doing. The secret to social media management is making small, strategic adjustments over time – not waiting until you have a BIG problem.

Have you noticed any changes since the latest update was announced or during previous algorithm updates? Do you have a plan if your numbers take a big hit? Let’s talk in the comments.