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How your church can adapt to the new Facebook algorithm

Facebook Notifications

Facebook has undergone some major changes in how people view posts from “fan pages.” The model that we all used to enjoy was predicated on pages seeking “likes” in order for content to be seen within the news feed. The advent of more pages, friends, and advertisements has made the news feed much more difficult to penetrate.

Have you noticed some posts from friends, or other sources, tend to stay at the top of your feed for more than a few days? This is because the entire news feed algorithm has changed? Facebook is now employing an algorithm that tries to predict what they think you want to see, based on your engagement with people and pages, along with your close friends’ engagement.

Facebook is a publicly traded company, and we are now seeing the direct impact of that reality. Your page content is now being seen by fewer people for free, and for any high level engagement you will need to pay per post you would like to be seen by a wider audience, including those who already “like” your page.

What does this mean for your church or faith formation page? Strategy.

You will need to carefully plan out what you post. Posts that are deemed “click bait” are quickly pushed off of the news feed.

We have all seen these posts: “Top Ten Reasons You Are Like this Harry Potter Character” or “Which Type of Animal Are You?” or “Watch This Inspirational Video to Brighten Your Day, don’t forget to share!”

All of these posts bring you outside of the Facebook world, and outside of the site’s paid advertisers. Facebook, on their own press release, said “like baiting” links will garner a 15% reduction. This is massive. Don’t link bait.

Keep your page’s posts visually appealing. Always use a picture, if possible, to go along with text. Facebook likes visually appealing posts.

Keep the text engaging and short. If the post leads to an outside link, and if your site is legit (all faith formation or church websites should be compliant), they will be left alone when Facebook crawls the news feed for the garbage.

Facebook has said explicitly that you should “Focus on posting content that is relevant and interesting to your target audiences. It’s OK to encourage discussion about your posts’ content, but you should avoid asking for likes or shares to get more distribution.”

The basics of the Facebook algorithm are broken down like this:

News Feed Visibility = Interest x Post x Creator x Type x Recency

This means that if there is high interest in your post (say, a Key Resources post about e-Formation), that the post is engaging, that it is from an original and trusted creator, that it is not “link bait”, and that it is recent, the post will do particularly well even without promotion.

ShopIgniter looked at posts made by 15 major brands in the two weeks before and after this later tweak, and found that while reach for text status updates dropped a staggering 65%, reach for photos and videos posted stayed about the same, and reach for link posts actually jumped 30%.” – Business Insider

Good content should always win, and Will Cathart, Facebook’s news feed director, detailed the new Facebook algorithm thusly (quoting verbatim):

  1. How popular (liked, commented on, shared, clicked) are the post creator’s past posts with everyone?
  2. How popular is this post with everyone who has already seen it?
  3. How popular have the post creator’s past posts been with the viewer
  4. Doe the type of post (status update, photo, video, link) match what types have been popular with the viewer in the past
  5. How recently was the post published

This is becoming a scary proposition for page managers. For faith formation leaders and church organizations who do not have the same reach as huge corporate entities it becomes a game of engagement.

Before the recent change the natural reach, or the likelihood any one post would be seen on any individual’s news feed at the specific time they were logged into Facebook, was still only 6%. There are reports that the drop could eventually become 1%-2% natural reach.

This problem is also coupled with the fact that people are not as engaged with Facebook as they were a few years ago, particularly among youth.  The original target demographic, those who were in college when Facebook began to take off in early 2005 (including this author), are now in their mid-20s to early-30s.

Facebook has seen explosive growth for those older than 55 and a dramatic decline of over 50% of those currently in college. There are also 3 million fewer 13- to 17 -year-olds using Facebook than in the past.

I would argue this might be a direct correlation with the explosion with that “over 55” demographic. Facebook is slowly becoming the hangout for adults and not the “cool” place to be online. For more Facebook demographic information, click here.

I believe faith formation leaders who are using the platform to share best practices should refrain from overly spending on Facebook. Churches should use targeted advertising purchases for a specific area. Hopefully church pages are not purchasing reach to get in contact with their own parishioners.

You have read this far and now you need an answer for how to ensure people who have “liked” your page will see every post from your page. Follow these steps, then afterwards encourage your fans via a post to do the same. They will then receive every post in their timeline without you having to spend resources on “reach.”

  1. Log into Facebook
  2. Search for, say, Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary
  3. Hover your cursor over the “like” or “liked” button
  4. The new menu will give the option for “Get Notifications.” Click it, and a small check mark should show up.

Update: The Verge recently ran a story about Facebook attempting to kill “clickbait.” Essentially what we have shown here, but this gives more incentive for Facebook page administrators to ensure their content is satisfactory per the Facebook algorithm. 

Chris Hamby (@chris_hamby) is the digital producer in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching and a M.Div. student at Virginia Theological Seminary.

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