Last week we learned that Facebook is once again updating its News Feed algorithm. We can assume the algorithm is constantly being updated, but the latest changes were big enough to hold a media session to explain things.
The changes are part of a continuing effort to bring a better experience to the most prime of Facebook real estate, the News Feed. Another way of saying better experience is 'more relevant.' One change, Story Bumping, takes stories you didn't see because they were below the fold and makes them eligible to be pushed to the top the next time you check Facebook, so you don't miss something important. Last Actor, the second update, looks at your last 50 engagements and gives more weight to the people and pages you've interacted with lately.
The idea behind the changes is to 1.) allow users to control what content they see by engaging with different types and people to receive more content from them and 2.) make important content, such as life events, eligible to be seen later. No one wants to miss out on the biggest stories from their social graphs, and Facebook doesn't want to punish users for checking their News Feeds at the wrong time.
Formulas in Flux
Facebook's changes are based on the understanding that relevance is the 'hook' that keeps people coming back. They want updates on their friends, family and interests, and when Facebook fails to deliver the most important updates, people have little reason to stick around. Facebook's algorithm, previously called EdgeRank, is one of Facebook's most important features, and it's all under the hood and designed to deliver compelling content reliably enough to give users a reason to come back again and again, but Facebook's not the only one.
Pinterest has recently changed its formula by delivering pin and board suggestions based previous pins and web behavior. They've also added a new feature that sends alerts when an item you've pinned goes on sale. It's become an almost indispensable shopping utility. Amazon's formula is constantly changing based on each individual user's browsing history and shopping behavior. While, it may come across a tad on the creepy side, Amazon is almost never delivering irrelevant content. LinkedIn is evolving to include content to help professionals grow in their careers.
Every successful web platform has found the right hooks to keep pulling people back but none have stopped evolving their formulas. That's not the case for most brands, which have a formula for reaching consumers that doesn't evolve. The same message is delivered with the same methods time and time again.
The social web has forced brands to become content platforms themselves, and understanding their purposes beyond the products and services they sell is at the heart of finding the 'hooks' that keep people coming back. Relevance isn't something that is earned and retained forever. It's something platforms and brands have to pursue day after day.