Facebook posts that receive the most engagement are usually seen by a small percentage of people, says Facebook’s Head of News Feed John Hegeman.
Hegeman stated this in response to a tweet from Kevin Roose, a New York Times columnist, which drew criticism about an alleged bias in the Facebook algorithm.
Roose shared data from CrowdTangle that shows which US pages recently published the top performing link posts on Facebook.
Today's top-performing Facebook link posts by US pages are from:
1. Fox News
2. Fox News
3. Occupy Democrats
4. Fox News
5. Ben Shapiro
6. Ben Shapiro
7. Ben Shapiro
9. Blue Lives Matter
10. Dan Bongino
— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) July 20, 2020
The criticism received stems from the fact that the sources are not the most varied.
This leads some to believe Facebook is deliberately pushing content from pages that share a particular viewpoint.
Facebook’s Hegeman stepped in to explain how the news feed actually works.
It’s easy to come to the conclusion that the most-liked content is also seen by the largest amount of people, but that’s not the case.
According to Hegeman, lists of top performing content do not represent what most people see on Facebook.
“While some link posts get a lot of interactions, likes or comments, this content is a tiny % of what most people see on FB. News from these Pages don’t represent the most viewed news stories on FB, either.”
These lists do not represent the most viewed content on Facebook because CrowdTangle only calculates interactions, not impressions.
One conclusion that can be drawn is these pages have some of the most passionate followings.
But it’s not accurate to say the top performing content is also the most popular.
“CrowdTangle calculates interactions, not impressions, which is # of ppl who see posts. Pages in these lists see high engagement because followers, or those interacting w/ the posts, are passionate. But it shouldn’t be confused with what’s most popular.”
Determining What’s Actually Popular on Facebook
If we can’t judge popularity based on engagement, then how do we figure out what content is most popular on Facebook?
According to Hegeman, links with the most reach (impressions) are a more accurate representation of what’s popular.
Unfortunately for marketers and publishers, that data is only available to Facebook employees for the time being.
“A more accurate way to see what’s popular is to look at the links with the most reach (impressions) in the US. Right now this data is only available internally and we are exploring ways to incorporate it into our publicly available tools.”
Although the data is only available internally, apparently it’s allowed to be shared publicly.
Hegeman shared a chart comparing CrowdTangle’s data with a list of links that truly received the most views (based on Facebook’s internal data).
“Here’s a view of what’s getting the most reach on Facebook in the US, and it’s not as partisan as your lists suggest. It’s a mix of news from mainstream outlets, gifs and other pop culture content.”
Takeaway For Marketers
The key takeaway for marketers is not to rely on engagement as a reliable indicator of which links have the greatest reach on Facebook.
Engagement metrics are not a sign of what Facebook’s algorithm is distributing in users’ news feeds the most.
Posts with a large number of likes, comments, and shares may only be getting seen by a small percentage of people.
At this time, only Facebook has the data on which posts have the greatest reach in terms of impressions.
The data may become more accessible in the future, as Facebook is actively looking for ways to incorporate it into publicly available tools.
Source: John Hegeman on Twitter