For your Facebook Page, stop thinking News Feed. Start thinking search engine.

magnifying glass on the Facebook News FeedIt wasn’t that long ago that when you posted something to your Facebook Page, you had a pretty decent shot of winding up in your followers’ News Feeds — that stream of stories a user sees on the Facebook home page.

How times have changed. These days, you’re competing against literally thousands of other pieces of content for a precious slot in a user’s News Feed. No wonder one study showed a typical Facebook Page post reaches only six per cent of its followers.

There’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth over this among brands and organizations. Facebook is very consciously reducing the organic reach of Page posts, and holding up paid promotion as a way to close the gap. And while it’s hard not to resent that, Facebook is a commercial enterprise, and a lot of commercial Pages have had a good, long free ride. It would be awfully nice if Facebook gave non-profits and civic organizations more unpaid profile… but don’t hold your breath.

So the days when you had a pipeline to your Facebook followers are gone. How do you adjust?

By recognizing that the News “Feed” has fundamentally changed. We’ve been thinking of it as a firehose, a newswire. But really, it’s something much different.

It isn’t a news feed. It’s a search query.

The News Feed is Facebook’s response to the user’s unspoken question, “What will I find interesting on Facebook today?”

Just like the way Google returns web search results, Facebook uses a complex, proprietary algorithm to decide what content answers that question. That algorithm (formerly known as EdgeRank, a term you’ll still see sometimes) uses thousands of factors to score how interesting a particular piece of content is likely to be to a particular user — and it’s shrouded in the mystery of all that is proprietary.

But we do know some important things about it. For example, a particular news item of yours will have a higher score if a lot of the user’s friends have liked it; if the user has interacted with your Page a lot in the past; how the user has interacted with ads in the past; and if it’s the kind of content (e.g. an image, video or link) the user tends to interact with. And newer content has a much higher score than the older stuff. (For more on what works, have a look at these terrific posts by Mari Smith and Buffer.)

So if you want to show up in users’ News Feeds, you need to post content that gets users to interact with it — clicking on links, Liking it, sharing it and commenting on it. You need to generate the proof now that your content tends to be interesting, so that Facebook is more likely to show your future posts to users.

At least in the short term, that can mean using Facebook Ads to put your content in front of more people and (if they like it) increase engagement. It can mean using other channels, such as email, to point people to posts on your Facebook Page — or embedding a post on your own web site, to expose your site’s audience to your Facebook presence.

And it definitely means keeping an eye on your analytics, to see what kinds of content, media, language and calls to action generate the most engagement, and what posting times work better than others.

It’s not that much different from what we’ve done for years to optimize our websites for search engine traffic: running experiments, watching the metrics, and using paid placement in tandem with organic tactics.

It all serves Facebook’s corporate interests, of course: more user engagement and more ad revenue. But to some degree at least, it also serves users when the content that wins is the content that’s most likely to be interesting to them — the same way that a good search engine gives you the results you’re most likely to click on in response to a query.

Facebook’s asking you if your content will be compelling to your audience. Your job is to make sure the answer is yes.

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