Understanding the Facebook Algorithm in 2021

Social media plays an important role in school marketing today, and Facebook is a channel central to many social media marketing strategies. Most schools include Facebook Ads in their budget, but it’s even better if you don’t have to commit an endless amount of money or resources to paid campaigns.

As of 2021, Facebook reported 2.85 billion monthly active users, making it the most popular social network worldwide. In the United States alone, Facebook accounts for over 60.6 percent of social media visits per month.

While Facebook usage continues to grow, schools are noticing their organic reach is extremely low. In April 2020, We Are Social and Hootsuite reported organic reach on Facebook for page posts is at 5.2 percent.

That’s where the Facebook algorithm comes in.

The Facebook algorithm prioritizes posts submitted on a personal profile over posts to a business page.

There are, however, ways you can make the Facebook algorithm work for your school.

What is the Facebook Algorithm?

The Facebook algorithm is a machine learning program that decides which posts should appear in users’ feeds, and when they should appear. It uses over 100,000 factors when ranking content.

Interestingly, posts don’t appear in chronological order. Instead, the Facebook algorithm prioritizes content based on the user’s past history of viewing and liking posts. The algorithm will show posts they think the viewer will be most interested in at the top of their feed.

No one knows the details of why and how the algorithm works, but we do know its main goal is to keep users scrolling through posts you’ll like.

Why the Facebook Algorithm Matters

There is a lot of competition to get your content seen in the Facebook News Feed. Your school might have a hard time getting seen unless you have a sizeable Facebook advertising budget.

Take advantage of organic reach to get your followers’ eyes on your content without spending a large budget on Facebook ads by learning how to work with the algorithm.

How the Facebook Algorithm Works in 2021

The Facebook algorithm works by ranking the posts in a user’s network according to the historic actions of the user. The algorithm:

  • Boosts posts the user is likely to be interested in
  • Hides posts the user likely won’t engage with
  • Scores and ranks posts based on which posts will be most interesting to the user

In order for your content to rank at the top of the Facebook News Feed, you’ll need to understand the ranking factors and signals the algorithm uses to determine how content is ranked.

Facebook Algorithm News Feed Ranking Factors

There are four factors the Facebook algorithm uses to rank content.

  1. Inventory

Facebook refers to all content uploaded to the site as “inventory”.

  1. Signals

Signals are divided into two categories: active and passive.

  • Passive signals – non-active metrics like view time, story type, time posted.
  • Active signals – engagement activity such as likes, shares, and comments.

The Facebook algorithm emphasizes active signals because they drive “meaningful” interactions such as likes, shares, replies, and comment.

Here are the major ranking signals marketers need to know:

  • Content type

    • Type of post (video, link, image)
    • How informative
    • Time spent on the post 
  • Relationships

    • Who users interact with
    • Who posted the content
    • How complete the profile is (the percentage)
    • Interactions between users 
  • Engagement

    • Likes
    • Comments
    • Engagement with content shared by friends
    • Shares on Messenger
    • Replies to comments on a video
  • Regency

    • Newer posts shown first
    • Time posted
    • Time now
    • Technology used (device, internet connection)
    • Person sharing link on Messenger
    • Multiple replies to peoples’ comments on a video
    • Commenting or liking photos or status updates
    • Engagement with a publisher post shared by a friend
  1. Predictions

Predictions aim to understand the likes and dislikes of each user so the algorithm only shows content with which the user is likely to engage.

  1. Relevancy

Facebook assigns a score to each piece of content based on how relevant it is to a specific user. The higher the score, the more likely it will be displayed on the feed. Each content receives a different score based on the individual user.

Updates to Facebook Algorithm in 2021

Facebook continually updates its algorithm. Here are some recent updates you should be aware of:

  • Feed Filter Bar

Facebook now offers a “Feed Filter Bar” to users. This will help determine what content is shown to each user. Users can choose between:

  • Content ranked by the algorithm
  • Most recent posts
  • Updates from favorite friends and pages they follow
  • Original sources

Facebook now prioritizes original news reporting or analysis. The more extensive the original reporting, the more distribution it will receive. Original reporting includes:

  • Exclusive source materials
  • Significant analysis
  • New interviews
  • Creation of original visuals
  • Apple Data Sharing

In its IOS 14 update, Apple offers users the option to opt-in or out of data sharing. This was a significant update; research shows businesses saw a 60 percent decline in sales as a result of this change.

  • Facebook Access Your Information Tool

Facebook now offers users the choice of understanding how Facebook interprets their interests and preferences with the use of the Access Your Information tool.

How to Make the Facebook Algorithm Work for Your School

Understanding is the key to working with the Facebook algorithm.

Basically, you will have the best chance of build organic reach for your school by:

  • Promoting meaningful reactions
  • Focusing on your audience
  • Avoid engagement bait

Here are some tips for how to achieve this.

  • Avoid engagement-baiting

Engagement-baiting is when you try to lure people to engage with your content. This includes:

  • Clickbait
  • Like-baiting
  • Posts with abnormal engagement patterns (a like-baiting signal)

Examples of engagement-baiting that the algorithm is likely to flag include:

  • Posts with spammy links (i.e. links with a clickbait title that leads to a page full of ads)
  • Repetitious content
  • Text-only posts
  • Intensely promotional page content prompting people to make a purchase
  • Posts that reuse text from existing ads
  • Engage with your audience

Once you publish an update, it’s important you engage with your audience. This means you should replying to comments and private messages.

  • Encourage your audience to engage with each other

Facebook has said its algorithm uses “action bumping logic”. What that means it recognizes when a post sparks a lot of conversation among a user’s audience.

In order to take advantage of this factor, publish conversation starters.

  • Encourage parents and employees to advocate for your school

Since the Facebook algorithm ranks person-to-person posts over page-to-person, posts related to your school will rank higher if published on a personal profile. Be sure the person tags your school.

  • Get reactions over likes

Try to trigger reactions (heart, hug, haha, wow, sad and angry emojis) from your audience.

  • Publish at the best times

Newer posts are the most likely to be at the top of the news feed. Your audience has the best chance of seeing posts if they are published at the optimal viewing time.

  • Publish Facebook Stories

Stories aren’t part of the newsfeed, so the algorithm rules don’t apply. Stories receive a lot of engagement, so they are a useful tool for boosting organic reach.

  • Consider creating a Facebook Group

Groups foster community and connection, which is exactly what your school needs to drive engagement and start conversations among group members.

  • Use Live streaming

Live video is one of the best ways to connect with your audience. Facebook Live gets six times more engagement than other videos on the platform.

Read more: 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Facebook Live for Your School Marketing

  • Get Included in Your Follower’s Favorites List

Facebook allows each user to save up to 30 Pages in their Favorites list. Most people aren’t aware of this feature. Just be careful you aren’t using language that could be considered engagement-baiting if you encourage people to include your school in their Favorites list.

  • Post Longer Videos

The Facebook algorithm boosts longer videos based on watch time and completion rate. Longer videos will help you keep eyes on your video to the very end.

Read more: 27 Video Marketing Ideas for School Marketers

  • Leverage Organic Momentum with Facebook Ads

As with most social media platforms, organic reach is giving way to “pay to play”. Boost organic reach by investing in Facebook Ads. Paid media supports organic reach, amplifying the return on investment.

Read more: 14 Ways to Make Your Facebook Ads Better

As the Facebook algorithm continues to change, helping your school maximize organic reach may seem like an overwhelming task. A good place to start is to focus your energy on your target audience and developing a content strategy that will delight them. Chances are, creating valuable content specifically relevant to your followers will help increase meaningful reactions and inquiries for your school.

Do you have a Facebook organic reach strategy that’s working for your school? Please share in the comments below…

About the author 

Brendan Schneider

Hey, I’m Brendan, and this is my blog. After 28 years working in private, independent schools in mostly admissions, enrollment, marketing, communications, and fundraising roles, I decided to make SchneiderB Media my full-time job, where I help schools get more inquiries through my Fractional Digital Marketer program. I also started the MarCom Society, a membership created expressly to help, support, and train marketing and communications professionals at schools.


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