Facebook’s algorithm update: who benefits most? Facebook, users or advertisers?

Success on Facebook is as much about the quality of posts as it is about the quantity of posts. Research by Expion into the social network finds that user engagement with brands has declined despite an increase in the number of posts from the top 50 retailers.

The list includes such names as Tiffany & Co, Walmart and Amazon who are responsible for a good deal of the site's ad revenue and the findings go some way to explaining not just why the news feed algorithm has changed, but also why Facebook announced it so publicly.

Advertising is only effective if users are engaged, and Expion's report found that retail brands experienced the slowest period of growth in the first half of 2013 for two and a half years. This is in spite of the fact that there were more posts made by the biggest retailers.

But Facebook is actually benefiting from the poor growth period as companies are spending more money on advertising and promoted posts. This has resulted in Q2 2013 pulling ad revenue of around $1.6B, and analysts suggest there will lead to higher quality posts as retailers vie for attention in an already saturated market.

High quality brands were found to post to Facebook far less frequently, but this resulted in relatively high user engagement. In the first half of 2013 Tiffany & Co made 186 posts resulting in almost 29,000 "fan actions" (commenting, sharing etc.) for each one, compared to Walmart who made 1,034 posts while benefiting from just under 11,500 fan actions each; five and a half times the number of posts, but less than half the impact with each one.

It's not just luxury brands that fare well on Facebook, the type of content posted is also important. Images make up 80 percent of posts from retailers, with videos accounting for a mere three-percent.

Basic status updates -- the reason most people use Facebook -- make up a tiny one-percent of retailers' posts. The preference for graphical posts is understandable as they are 28 percent more popular with site users.

Facebook is obviously keen for advertisers to see results from the ads they pay for. By increasing the amount of time users spend on the site, the number of posts and ads that are seen by each Facebooker increases. This is one of the reasons Facebook algorithm tweaking is so significant.

The seemingly selfless act of helping Facebook users to see more posts that they might previously have missed actually ensures that more of these ads are seen, keeping retailers happy and the money rolling in.

Of course it is not just the big names that are important to Facebook -- smaller brands are also key. They may spend less in advertising but they remain important cogs in a larger machine.

Expion's research found that from 11am to 2pm ET was home to the most successful posts, but 8am to 11am also did very well. As brands look to reach larger global audiences, local time zones become meaningless.

It may previously have been difficult for a small company with limited resources to arrange for posts to be made at the most effective times, but the changes now mean that time of posting is now a less significant factor in whether an individual post is seen or not.

So the algorithm change looks to benefit lots of people in different ways. The average Facebook user gets to see more of the content that is relevant to them, businesses on the network have an easier time not having to worry so much about time zones, and big name, big money advertisers are kept happy due to increased page time and user engagement.

It will be interesting to see if Facebook users notice the changes or whether they will appear subtly.

Image Cedit: Gonzalo Aragon / Shutterstock

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