Update – Facebook Is Changing How It Displays Comments

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Social media marketing for business is hard, and it seems to keep getting harder. The rules and tools are always changing.

Experts say study your target audience and invest your marketing dollars where they hang out. Early this year Pew Research reported seven out of ten Americans, around 69 percent use Facebook. If your business invests in social media marketing at all, you’ll probably find your audience there. The trick is finding a way to reach them, to get them to see your posts.

Last year Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook was changing its feed algorithm to display more meaningful content from friends, family members and groups. Comments were better for improving reach than simple “likes.” So, brands and publishers rushed to find ways to encourage comments to improve organic reach.

Now Facebook says it’s changing how comments are displayed. Let’s talk about what’s different.

How the Facebook Algorithm Works

Facebook has been fighting bad press for as long as it has been around. The social media platform draws criticism for everything from fake news to hate speech to security issues. Still, it’s the biggest social media platform in the world, and Mark Zuckerberg says he wants it to be good for people’s well-being. That means a focus on “meaningful interactions.”

The Facebook algorithm filters through all the possible results available to a user and tries to decide which ones they would most like to see. When users log in, there are thousands of possibilities, and Facebook wants to show the most relevant.

Once upon a time, the display was chronological. You would see posts from everyone on your list as they posted them. You might have to scroll through information from old high school friends you didn’t care about and view endless photos of your great aunt’s cat. Now the algorithm seeks to figure out what types of posts you’re most likely to interact with in a meaningful way.

Examples of Meaningful Signals

The algorithm gathers and stores information about how you currently interact on Facebook and uses that data to adjust what you see. Artificial intelligence looks at your interests, the types of posts you engaged with in the past, how many of your friends interact with similar posts and so on.

For example, Facebook says it used surveys to develop key signals to figure out which friends you engage with the most using tagged photos, check-ins and other signals. It also suggests and promotes links to content types for which you’ve indicated a preference.

Facebook notices when you linger and when you keep scrolling. Recent updates provide extended distribution for original videos when viewers watch for longer than a minute or watch more than once.

Comments play a huge factor because to Facebook they signal engagement. Social media is about being social, and that involves conversation. Successful brands learn how to post in ways that encourage users to talk about what they offer.

Comments Improve Reach

The Facebook algorithm favors posts that encourage interaction within a core group of people. When they do, more people see them in the timeline and have the chance to respond.

The more people see it and react with comments, views, likes and shares, the more it spreads.

Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes active interactions like commenting and sharing over likes and clicks. The idea is that hitting the like button is fairly passive. It takes a stronger feeling to engage in conversation. Plus, you have to say something intelligent or thought-provoking to get a reply.

The reverse is also true. If the first group of viewers keeps scrolling, Facebook thinks it must not be meaningful to them. It pretty much falls off the place of the planet. Last year when brands wanted to improve their Facebook marketing reach, the big advice was to encourage comments so your post had a greater reach.

Ruining It for Everyone

Of course, there’s always going to be that group that does something stupid to get ahead and makes things harder for everyone. Some companies doubled down on their efforts to provide content of real, lasting value. They engaged in conversations that aligned with their company values. They expressed their genuine desire to make the world and the online community a better place. That’s social media management done right.

Other companies and marketers tried to skip ahead, to work the system. They created posts with messages like, “Like, share and comment if you think polar bears should be saved from extinction,” or “If you actually love your mother and your country, prove it by explaining why in the comments.” People engaged, but it wasn’t good for people’s well-being.

Think about it. No one with an ounce of humanity wants to see polar bears become extinct. People either love their mother and their country or they have strong feelings the other way, and they feel compelled to tell you why. Those posts didn’t get a response because they were meaningful, just because they were manipulative.

Also, if you’ve been on Facebook for any length of time, you’ve seen how powerfully negative conversations quickly become. Some comment threads become an opportunity for discrimination and hate speech.

Ranking Factors for Comments

Facebook has ranking factors for how it displays comments similar to how it displays posts. If you see a comment in your news feed, it’s generally there because someone you know made it. Facebook puts people you know at the top of the list of comments. After that, it determines display order by the number of comment likes and whether or not you have interacted with the creator of the original post.

Comment replies also count. The more back and forth there is on a topic, the more meaningful it appears. The new changes measure not just how many people comment, but the quality of those comments.

Comment Quality Signals for the Updated Algorithm Update

Now not all comments are considered equal. This week in the Facebook Newsroom, Product Manager Justine Shen shared Facebook will now rank comments according to signals like these:

  • Integrity signals – Facebook removes content that encourages real-world harm, discourages diverse viewpoints, disrespects retions, cultures or ethnic groups or advocates criminal behavior. There’s a comprehensive guide to what is and isn’t okay in Facebook’s Community Standards.
  • Engagement bait – The platform frowns on marketing that attempts to boost engagement artificially. If a post tells viewers to comment, like, follow, share or subscribe for the sole purpose of boosting reach, it’s considered engagement bait. The idea is that with truly engaging content, you shouldn’t have to ask.
  • User preferences – Facebook is always conducting surveys. Feedback users provide is supposed to factor in to what types of comments are high quality and which ones aren’t.
  • How users respond – When you hide, delete or engage with comments, the algorithm takes note. Facebook says, “Ranking is on by default for Pages and people with a lot of followers, but Pages and people with a lot of followers can choose to turn off comment ranking. People who don’t have as many followers will not have comment ranking turned on automatically since there are less comments overall, but any person can decide to enable comment ranking by going to their settings. (See more details here.)”

High Quality vs. Low Quality Comments

Some users briefly saw options to vote on comment quality, moving comments up or down. However, most comment evaluation happens automatically. High-quality comments are timely and relevant. They come from a trustworthy source and they don’t result from engagement baiting. Facebook also says they’ll display more prominently when:

  • The comments have interactions from the Page or person who originally posted; or
  • The comments or reactions are from friends of the person who posted.

Facebook Marketing In a Changing Landscape

None of the businesses we work with throw money away on social media marketing no one sees. At Spade Design, we’ve always placed a high priority on creating posts that are authentic, unique and of value to the user. That’s why we get consistent results for our clients, and we’ll continue to do so no matter how often algorithms change.

Speak to your fans and prospective customers with a digital marketing strategy that works when you contact us for social media management today.

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