If you don’t know EdgeRank, you’re not invited to the Facebook party

It still baffles me how many people masquerading as social media executives, consultants and – worse – experts still don’t know what Facebook’s EdgeRank is and how they can use it to their advantage.

Lara O'Reilly

For those still in the dark, EdgeRank is Facebook’s secret formula that determines how many people see a brand’s or personal user’s posts in the news feed and how high that particular content is positioned.

It has been well publicised that on average, Facebook page posts only reach about 16% of that page’s fans. Even brands that have amassed tens of millions of fans often only reach a couple of thousand of that base via the news feed with their posts. But other pages have seen some considerable results without having to fork out tens of thousands of pounds for a reach block, just by understanding the science behind social.

EdgeRank is invaluable to marketers, not least because 98% of people who like a brand page only visit that page once, according to industry sources. Without paying for advertising, the only other way to appear in front of consumers on Facebook is by leveraging the news feed – Facebook’s “killer app”.

The algorithm works by combining three social factors: affinity, weight and time decay.

Affinity is the score of how “close” someone is to another user. This closeness can be defined by being tagged in the same photos as someone; commenting, liking or sharing their posts; sending messages and even just snooping on someone’s holiday snaps. Fear not, nosy people: affinity is a one-way thing, so your ex-boyfriend will never know you’ve been rueing “what if” for the past three months.

As affinity is one way, it’s perhaps the most difficult element of EdgeRank for brands to master. But behind all the science, the key to Facebook is being social. Brands can boost their affinity by encouraging consumers to chat to them.

Sometimes the easiest way to do this can be to post questions or comment on something current in popular culture that is bound to spark a debate.

Photos and videos are also key to boosting interaction and affinity scores, which also affects the “weight” triggers in the Facebook algorithm. They tend to carry more “weight” than simple status updates or links to content outside of Facebook, so it’s vital brands think about how they might be able to use multimedia every single time they update – and it makes pages a lot more inviting to look at too.

The time decay element of EdgeRank is fairly self explanatory – the more recent a post, the more likely it is to be seen. Something brands may not have considered is that this means their social media teams can’t just be 9-5 Monday-Friday operations. By posting on your page in evenings and weekends not only will you boost your recency Edge but at the moment it means you’re likely to appear when competitors have shut up shop.

EdgeRank lesson over. It’s simple really, just like the mechanics of a party: I’m more likely to pay attention to someone I talk to a lot, says interesting things and is talking to me right now.

The implications of EdgeRank to marketers are vast. It means that brands can’t simply think of Facebook as just an extension to their TV activity – they must be “always on”, constantly thinking of ways to excite their fans in order to boost interaction.

It also goes some way to proving that gathering thousands of likes should not be the objective of social media campaigns – a million likes doesn’t guarantee exposure to a million people no matter how cool you are with the hipsters.

If increasing the amount of likes is one of the KPIs of your activity, you’re measuring the wrong metric in order to determine success. People like pages for a number of reasons, primarily because they feel they can get something for free, a discount or win a competition – those people are probably not your most valuable “fans”.

On the face of it, EdgeRank sounds like trying to apply sterile mathematics and science to being social, which is something that should be more emotional and spontaneous by definition. But actually, just like the party scenario, EdgeRank is inherently social because it encourages brands to spark the conversation with meaningful application.

As understanding of EdgeRank increases, fewer brands will attempt to treat social like a PR campaign or a company blog and will hopefully start bringing more life to the Facebook party.