Remember when you would log in to Facebook and see a news feed of posts ordered chronologically? The Twitter-like feed would display posts with the newest at the top, the oldest at the bottom.
Posts were displayed in date order but Facebook displayed the posts it thought were the most relevant and interesting to you. In 2010 the social network announced the formula it used and that it called this algorithm EdgeRank.
EdgeRank means you see posts from certain friends, brands or news sites more than others, and it determines what you are interested in by working out what you have clicked on, liked, commented on and shared.
Since 2010 when Facebook revealed that there were three components to its algorithm: affinity, weight and time decay, brand managers have been quick to learn the tricks and keep up to date with changes.
You can find out what your page's EdgeRank score is by using Facebook analytics tool EdgeRank Checker. The founder and chief executive of the analytics tool Chad Whittman told Journalism.co.uk that the simple guide to EdgeRank and objectives for those managing a news outlet's Facebook page should be to "increase engagement – likes, comments, shares and clicks" and "decrease the negative feedback, which is when someone hovers over your object in the right corner and hides it".
Here are some tips for managing Facebook pages from Luke Lewis, editor of music title NME.com and soon to be editor of BuzzFeed UK; and Richard Moynihan, social media and community manager at commuter title Metro.
1. Work out your goal
"With Facebook you have got to be clear what your goal is," Luke Lewis says. "There are two distinct goals: one is to be more visible in people's news feeds if they have already 'liked' your brand page; the other is to make sure you get lots of organic shares on Facebook."
If you are looking to increase the size of your Facebook community and increase engagement, you can use status updates to gather likes, comments and shares; if you are after referral traffic, you want people to share your stories. Most news outlets aim for both engagement and referrals.
2. Post every hour or two
How often should you be posting if you want to increase engagement but not negative feedback? Richard Moynihan says news outlets can post more frequently than brands.
"Generally the recommendation is only to post once or twice a day if you are managing a page, but for journalism, especially for news journalism, we tend to post every hour or so.
"Our Facebook page is generally the six to eight things that you would need to be informed of that day. That could be the breaking news stories, it could be the main news stories of the day, or it could even be the web meme that day, just whatever is going to keep you informed and keep you ahead of all your friends as well."
Luke Lewis has carefully measured and experimented, aware that a page's EdgeRank depletes if the number of interactions on each post decreases. "We've tried doing fewer, we've tried doing more, and it works out that the more updates we do, the more referral traffic we get. That doesn't necessarily work out as getting more likes but you do get more click throughs."
NME also tried reducing the number of updates to two a day, but Lewis concludes that by doing that "you are not really doing yourself any favours".
"You want to be in people's news feeds all day, ideally, so don't restrict yourself to two updates a day. Aim for once every couple of hours, maybe slightly more frequently during the week.
"If people have liked your page, they want to hear from you, and I think doing two updates a day, which seems to be almost gospel now, is crazy."
3. Keep it concise
Moynihan advises keeping whatever you are posting as short and concise as possible. "People tend not to respond if we put a big paragraph of text in."
He also says a short status update or introduction is also easier to read in the ticker feed on the right hand side of a news feed.
4. It's a conversation, not a broadcast
"It's almost a privilege to be getting your content out in front of people," says Moynihan, "but just because someone has liked your page it doesn't mean that they are agreeing for you to spam them. We always try and engage people rather than just broadcast to them."
He suggests driving debate by asking a question, but warns: "Never as a question that's just for the sake of asking a question, and seems very clichéd or generic. If there isn't a genuine question to ask, don't be afraid to put the post out and let it take off organically with your own community."We always try and engage people rather than just broadcast to themRichard Moynihan, Metro
"It's not just about getting loads of replies, it's about getting a good conversation going, because that's what is going to keep people coming back."
The team at Metro asks questions they know the audience has an opinion on. "A lot of them might struggle to talk about the latest economic findings, but a lot of them will have an opinion on Tesco and horse meat."
Luke Lewis has found that the most liked and shared status updates posted by the NME.com team are universal questions that everyone can have an opinion on, such as 'what song do you want played at your funeral?'
"That didn't link to an article, we didn't get any referral traffic from it, but our users really loved it and it got shared hundreds of times."
5. Make people laugh
"Humour is another thing that's really good for us," Moynihan says. "If in doubt don't go with a joke because it can backfire, but if you can put in a bit of a humorous tone or something irreverent, it always gets a much better response than if you just do a straight headline equivalent."
"People tend to like to see that there is a person behind the page."
6. Post pictures and add text
Moynihan and Lewis both recommend posting pictures as attachments to status updates.
"EdgeRank is this mystery and Facebook doesn't give you too much information about it, but what we do know is that things like videos and pictures are more likely to be seen by more people than just a normal straight link or a normal status update," Moynihan says.
However, he has a word of warning: to check that you have the rights for third-party distribution before uploading images used by your news site.
NME and Metro not only share pictures but also combine text and photos. "People love memes," says Lewis. "It's a mysterious thing on the internet but if you've got a line of copy and a photo that might do quite well, but if you put the line of copy on top of the photo it will do three times as well.
"It's just a question of putting in that bit of extra work, using Photoshop and overlaying text onto an image – and there's a magic that happens when you do that."
Examples from NME include 'which song made you a music obsessive?', 'the gig that changed your life?' and 'who'd be in your ultimate band?'. An example from Metro is 'should the Olympics and Paralympics be combined?'
7. Avoid gimmicks
"There's an obsession with EdgeRank at the moment," Lewis says, "Every publisher and every brand in the world are desperately trying to get likes, and it's a bit self-defeating and it's generated a lot of gimmicky behaviour.
"Everyone has seen the kind of thing that a lot of brands do, which are really naff things like 'click like if X'." He says this is a "real turn off for users".
8. Timeless stories work
Lewis says that news publishers tend to think what they post on social media has to be topical and related to the news that day. But some of the things that work best for NME.com are timeless. "They are universal and they tap into users' fundamental passions."
9. People respond to feel-good stories
The Olympics was a really good time for the Metro, partly because the majority of the audience is based in London or were people coming to the city for the Games.
"We were basically liveblogging to our Facebook page and what we found was, without sounding too cheesy, where we reflected the mood of our followers, those posts did really, really well.
"There was this iconic shot during the opening ceremony of the rings above the stadium that were lit up like fireworks. We posted just that screen grab and something along the lines of 'proud to be British', that did amazingly well in terms of shares." That post received nearly 1,000 shares and 6,000 likes.
Metro also posted medal updates, and asked people for their opinions, such as whether Danny Boyle did a good job in creating the opening ceremony, "picking up on the debate that we were having in the office or we knew people were having while they were reading the paper on the tube."
NME.com harnesses the feel-good moment by marking rock stars' birthdays, simply posting a 'happy birthday Dave Grohl, Jimmy Page', which generates likes from fans.
10. WTF stories get you shares
Getting likes and comments is good "but it is shares that will get you out in front of your followers' friends", as Moynihan says. And if they are sharing they are advocating the story and saying 'check this out'.
And one type of story that will get you shares is the WTF article. An example is this Metro story headlined 'Paul McCartney to replace Kurt Cobain in Nirvana reunion gig'. The story not only resulted in referrals – indeed 25 per cent of site traffic on that day came from social media, with 66 per cent of hits on that story coming from Facebook, according to Moynihan – but generated comments too.
Another WTF story for Metro was 'a woman has been jailed after stealing a ferry while drunk and high on drugs and shouting ‘I'm Jack Sparrow’'. That generated more than 1,600 shares.
"I'm not saying this is for everyone, but our experience has been the articles that get the most organic shares are on the WTF side of things," Lewis said.
"So if there's a weird headline, if there is something funny about it or unexpected or quirky, that always works best. All our most shared stories on Facebook last year had that kind of quality to them."
And indeed this list of the most shared Facebook stories from major news outlets in 2012 is dominated by quirky, WTF headlines.
11. Lists get you shares
Many of NME.com's most shared articles on Facebook in 2012 were lists – and also timeless in topic.
They were stories including 'The 10 most pretentious albums ever', 'The 10 lamest frontmen of all time' and the '50 best tracks of 2012'.
12. Stories with a strong visual element get shares
NME has also found that articles with a strong visual element get a lot of shares and drive referral traffic. Stories such as this 'music map of British bands', this 'song map' and 'stars of album covers... as they look today'.
13. Use subscribe
Luke Lewis has 55,000 Facebook subscribers, people who follow him without requiring a reciprocal agreement. He says Subscribe is an "incredibly useful tool for involving NME's users in our editorial process".It becomes almost second nature first thing in the morning to ask how we should cover a topicLuke Lewis, NME.com, on Facebook Subscribe
"It becomes almost second nature first thing in the morning to ask how we should cover a topic."
He may post that he is thinking of doing a feature on the greatest drum intros and then get 50 or 100 comments with ideas and then turn them into a playlist and show them their suggestions have been noted. "It's a really nice, satisfying way to involve your users," Lewis says.
14. Consider comments
There is much debate about Facebook comments at present. Trinity Mirror titles including the Manchester Evening News switched to Facebook-only comments earlier this month and TechCrunch and Politico went the other way, switching off Facebook comments.
Metro switched to using Facebook at the beginning of December, and Moynihan says there is now a cyclical process that takes place of someone commenting and then visiting the page.
"We've had a higher uptake on stories where people weren't previously commenting so much," according to Moynihan, and Metro is also noting more frequent visits as people see notifications that they are getting replies when they log into Facebook, so they return to the page and pick up the conversation once again.
Moynihan describes the process clearly: "Comments and shares on Facebook page started a ripple effect of virality. Person A comments on our Facebook page and shares the post. His friend, person B, sees the shared story, clicks the link, comes to our site and comments there. Person B’s comment is shared back onto Facebook for all of his friends to see. Some of them click the link, comment on our site, that's shared on Facebook and the post spreads and spreads."
How to: best post news on Twitter and Facebook
Seven ways NME uses social media to 'harvest ideas' from its audience
To listen to Luke Lewis, Richard Moynihan and Chad Whittman sharing their tips, click on the podcast below.
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