The Facebook algorithm, a brief history in time

Publish Date

October 9, 2021


Post Author

Francis Rozange

Four essential attributes determine The Facebook Algorithm: Novelty, Popularity, Content, and Relationships. The same is true for all other social networks that publish a news feed, such as Twitter or LinkedIn.

The organic reach is the number of people reached by your posts without resorting to advertising. For Facebook, it was 7.7% in 2018 and 5.2% in 2020. One fan in twenty is already not a lot, but Facebook, like other social networks, also considers the number of your followers: For example, if you have more than 100,000 subscribers, you will only directly reach 0.1% of them. We should therefore be realistic, but without however neglecting social networks. First, it is about free distribution, always good to take, this way you will gradually build a loyal base, with the pious hope that one of your posts will be liked well beyond the statistics: this is what we call virality, the holy grail of marketing.

Facebook updates this way the newsfeed of 2.7 billion people in real time using artificial intelligence. But how did we get to that? A bit of history…


In 2004, was born, connecting Harvard students to each other. Just for fun you can try looking for on the web: the name still exists and will automatically refer you to Facebook. The newsfeed – the world premiere as it has been personalized for each user – was introduced in 2006 and the following year – the “like” button: The Facebook we all know was born that year.


From 2009, artificial intelligence took its first steps and the posts with the most likes were propelled to the top of the newsfeed. Unfortunately, this led to perverse effects since it was easy for the robots to like the posts and thus artificially move them to the top of the list, to the point that Facebook members no longer even saw the posts of their relatives, while that was one of the main reasons they signed up in the first place.


The following year, in 2016, Facebook introduced a measure that has since been taken up by LinkedIn: the time spent viewing a post – so that it can be highlighted even without further engagement from users. As it was observed that live videos were viewed three times more often than conventional videos, these were given additional weight by the algorithm.


In 2017, it was the turn of the new emoticons (heart, laughter, etc.) which were given more importance than the “like” introduced ten years earlier. Among the many other tweaks, we also note the “completion rate”: number of people who have seen a video to the end, which is no small feat. You will find a lot of information about the “video completion rate” in Google, we will come back to this in an independent article.

2018 Facebook in crisis

Trump is President of the United States, society is more polarized than ever, the fake news machine is in full swing, harassment and even suicides directly attributable to Facebook are increasingly common. In January, it was Zuckerberg himself who announced an alteration in algorithms to prioritize inspiring and interesting posts. The weight of posts sent by relatives was increased, but it is far from sufficient, since they spread fake news and hate messages as much as others. The organic lead continues to decrease, which means that brands have to invest more.


As we know, the controversy over fake news and the polarization of society was far from being extinguished with the small measures taken by Facebook, quite the contrary: many felt that the 2018 version algorithm increased division and violence even further. The shooting was unfortunately not corrected with simply a boost on the videos that we watch for more than three minutes as well as on the posts of “close” friends, identified as such by tags on photos or live messages.


Following the new features in IOS 14.x which limited tracking in Facebook and forced publishers to indicate everything recorded by their apps, Facebook had to face a huge scandal: outraged users realized in particular all that was read in WhatsApp, whaich was far beyond what a messaging app requires. Facebook have also introduced a news credibility index – nothing substantial enough to reassure their users.


The Instagram and Facebook messengers merge, which allows to gather additional user data. Facebook is also being investigated by US states for monopoly practices. In all likelihood, the underlying issues of the platform will not be resolved. The new features are described here: How does News Feed predict what you want to see?

Our tips for optimizing your organic communication on Facebook

The most important criterion? Your subscribers must be online, which is relatively easy in a small country such as France, but the task becomes more complex if you target for example both French and Canadian: you will then have to post twice, with enough differences between the two contents so as not to be penalized. Another solution is to create one page per country, regardless of the language. For a country such as the United States it will be necessary to post continuously and in English, taking into account the important time differences.

As many interactions as possible

If your users comment, respond systematically, possibly adding a question at the end to restart the conversation, but not every time to avoid the risk of irritating your correspondents.

Live videos

They generate six times more engagement, but you still must have the necessary skills: having something interesting to show, expressing yourself with ease, being photogenic. Live video is influencers’ weapon of choice. Give it a try and if the results aren’t convincing, don’t.

Call on your employees

Don’t rely on your community manager, if you have one. Turn all your employees into evangelists praising your company and your brand, the reach will be beyond your business pages, and it is not absurd to make social network proficiency a criterion for recruiting. Hootsuite offers a dedicated tool: Amplify, which allows you to group and analyze their posts.
In conclusion, remember that organic engagement is very low and that unless you are an influencer, you will have to go through advertising to reach your target on Facebook, which, let’s face it, makes quite sense.

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