Facebook just reduced your chances to land a viral hit

Image: Artisan / DepositphotosApril seems to be the month for changes: Twitter added a way to comment on retweets, Google penalizes websites without a mobile version and now Facebook is making it less likely for you to land a viral hit. “Wait. What?” I hear you ask – here is why:

Earlier this week, Facebook announced a number of changes to the Edgerank algorithm that decides what content users see in their newsfeed.

One of these changes is that, once again, Facebook is giving more emphasis to updates posted by your friends at the expense of content posted by pages. This is just a continuation of what Facebook has been doing for over a year and, while painful, it should not come as a surprise to anyone. You can read more about why Facebook is doing this and what you can do about it in this earlier blog post of mine.

What really concerns me is another change that has gotten far less attention:

“Many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all …”

(Emphasis added)

This changes significantly how your content spreads across the social network! For years, best practice was to ask questions and give your fans a reason to directly engage with your content. Now, this type of interaction is suddenly worth less. I’m saying “less”, because a history of past interactions is still relevant if you want to reach your existing fans. But you can no longer reliably leverage this interaction to expose your content to friends of your fans, which was the exact mechanism through which a lot of content went viral in the past!

Of course, Facebook uses a lot of factors to determine what content rises to the top and I’m sure that, if you have a piece of content that suddenly receives hundreds of comments and likes, then that content will still make it to the top. But getting to the point where a lot of people see your content has just gotten harder and if fewer people see your content, then it is less likely to go viral. Ouch.

[Tweet “Comments now carry significantly less weight on Facebook, making it harder to leverage engagement.”]

Mixed signals

When I first read about these changes, I was very confused. Facebook says they want to prioritize what my friends say, but they de-prioritize their likes and comments? Isn’t content discovery part of what makes Facebook fun?

The answer is: While Facebook is giving less weight to comments and likes, the platform gives more weight to status updates, including those that contain links to content.

This means that Facebook users will see less content like this:

Facebook post with comment

And more content like this:


Do you see the difference? In the first case, the user commented on a piece of content, in the second case she made the content part of her status update. Going forward, this is what you want and you should actively ask your fans to share your content.

[Tweet “You need to optimize your website’s share button to cope with the latest Facebook changes.”]

For your digital media strategy this means that the “share” function within Facebook and the “share” button on your website are becoming more important, while “liking” becomes less important. You should use this as an opportunity to sit down with your web team and look at whether you have the optimal tools in place to promote your content.

I will try to write about some of these tools in the next weeks, so make sure to come back or subscribe to my newsletter.

What is your take on these latest changes? Let me know in the comments!