At the beginning of 2018, Facebook made another change to their newsfeed algorithm.
If you have a Facebook account, you’ve experienced Facebook’s algorithm shifts many times before. But over the past year, Facebook has come under increased scrutiny for their involvement in misleading political ad campaigns and perpetuating “fake news.” And that scrutiny has been followed with some pretty significant shifts to their newsfeed algorithm.
During my time at Upworthy, we talked a lot about the filter bubble. The filter bubble is the idea that you only see content on Facebook that reflects your own beliefs. Sometimes that’s a function of self-selection, but as time has progressed, Facebook has directly contributed to the thickening of the filter bubble through updates to their algorithm.
Their newsfeed algorithm favors content that you’re likely to engage with. So, if you typically like, comment, or share posts that are related to Planned Parenthood, you’ll see more posts about Planned Parenthood. And you’re unlikely to see posts from people or pages who you don’t engage with as frequently, even if you are interested in their content. And this applies to basically every topic you could think of.
It became so apparent that the Wall Street Journal released a “Blue Feed/Red Feed” tool so that you could see how different those feeds look.
The filter bubble affects every marketer, from the amateur to the seasoned professional.
And I’ve consistently seen Facebook’s algorithm updates affect people in the human sexuality field, from sex educators to bloggers and everyone in-between.
Facebook has consistently said that sexuality-related content is inappropriate for its newsfeed. It flags it as explicit, even if it’s not even close to explicit. When I worked for The CSPH managing their social media, I once had an ad for the Center’s internship program denied because Facebook’s system said that it was explicit content.
Yeah; an internship program.
So I get the frustration that folks in the human sexuality field feel when their content just doesn’t seem to be working at all on Facebook.
And I still think you shouldn’t give up on it just yet.
I have the unique position of working both in marketing and in sex education, so I’ve spent my fair share of time gaming the algorithm to get important posts in front of the right people. I want you to have those same tools.
That’s why I’m sharing five ways that you can salvage (and improve!) your reach and engagement on Facebook without sacrificing your content or your values. I hope they are helpful!
1. Enable audience targeting
If you’ve ever used Facebook ads before (or tried to) you’re familiar with audience targeting from the paid perspective. But in my experience, sex educators rarely know how to utilize Facebook audience targeting organically. That’s a shame, because it makes a significant difference.
The first thing that you need to do is go to your Facebook page settings, find the line for “audience optimization for posts” and make sure that the box is checked.
Checking that box allows you to target your posts, even when you aren’t putting money behind them. Targeting serves an important purpose, because it allows you to identify a target audience of people who are more likely to be interested in the content that you are sharing.
Here’s how you can do that for each post:
Go to “publishing tools” and then select “scheduled posts.” This will bring you to the dashboard that allows you to easily schedule posts into the future.
From there, you’ll select “+Create” in the upper righthand corner. Go ahead and add the content that you want to share. Below, I’ve demonstrated this with a link. (Pro-tip: Once the URL feature image loads, go ahead and delete the URL. It’s still clickable)
You’ll now see that underneath your post canvas, there’s a small target. If you hover your mouse over it, you’ll see that it says “choose the preferred audiences for this post.” Click it.
A window will appear where you can search for interests. I will note that not all Facebook pages or interests will appear here. For example, for this post, I tried to search “Autostraddle,” but their website doesn’t show up. So you might need to use some creativity to find pages that are similar to pages that your audience might like.
In the past, Facebook has said that it’s best to keep your target groups a mix of broad and niche pages or interests. Here, I’ve chosen nine different target interests: the American Public Health Association, Buzzfeed LGBT, GLSEN, human sexuality, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Planned Parenthood, public health, Refinery29, and women’s health. In my experience, interest groups like these will gather a good mix of sex positive folks, but experiment to find what’s best for you.
From there, click “save” and then click “schedule” and select the date and time that you want the post to publish.
You can also use this method to restrict your audience — so if you don’t want your post to be visible to people under the age of 18, you can do that. If you’re advertising a workshop in a specific metro area, you can restrict its visibility to that metro area.
I want to be clear that setting up audience targeting does not restrict other people from seeing your post (only audience restrictions can do that).
Instead, audience targeting finds people whose interests are similar to the ones you’ve selected, and shows them your post first. Which means that you’re more likely to get sustained engagement right off the bat, and that’s something that Facebook’s algorithm favors.
2. Use better images
Okay, I know. This one is seems a little vague. But I promise there’s more context. What I mean is that you should use images that are optimized for Facebook: Images with people’s faces, images that are properly sized (more to come on that in a moment), and images that are composed of less than 20% text (this last one is especially important if you’re going to want to “boost” your post).
Embrace the humanity
Images that do well on Facebook and Instagram are nice to look at. But on Facebook, there’s another layer: Images should be human. That’s because Facebook values authenticity in posts. So things that will do well are: Photos of yourself teaching, a “behind the scenes” photo, pictures of pets, or pictures of your work itself.
The image above is an example of an image that has worked well for me across all social channels when it is posted on its own. It works so well that I use it on my site and across my social media channels as a cover photo. Yes, it’s more than 20% text, but it inspires people’s curiosity.
When people on my newsfeed see this image, they start to answer the questions themselves, talk about how they learned about those topics, or they follow-up the questions with their own questions.
Know the optimal size
If you’re doing an image-only post on Facebook, you should aim for a 1000 x 1000 pixel square or a 940 x 788 rectangle. Canva is your best friend here — just build a canvas and upload your photo, and it will automatically size it properly for you. For images that are feature images on my website (on blog posts or specific landing pages), I make them 1000 x 560-pixel rectangles, with the majority of the image content in the center.
Mind your text
This one really only matters if you’re considering boosting your posts for paid campaigns. Facebook will throttle your reach if your image includes more than 20% text, and sometimes will outright deny your ad because of it. Luckily, Facebook has a tool that allows you to check your text proportion.
That image that does well for me organically? It wouldn’t do so hot if I tried to put money behind it. This is one example of the importance of optimizing content for each goal and platform that you have.
An important mention
Facebook utilizes machine learning to teach its system how to identify potentially inappropriate content. And after Facebook got slammed for its involvement in fake news scandals in the United States, they tightened up their restrictions. This has tangentially affected folks in the sexuality field because someone, somewhere just doesn’t get it.
Your post images will get flagged as inappropriate by the system if there is nudity (either explicit or implied) — true story, I once had an ad denied because Emma Watson had too much cleavage in the photo. She was fully dressed.
This standard will also affect link posts that you make, but more on that in a bit.
3. Go live
You’re probably sick of hearing about Facebook Live by now, but it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, video will only grow on Facebook in coming years. So work on finding ways that you can produce videos that serve as teasers for other content on your site or IRL. Facebook loves longer, informative videos, but teasers that are a minute or two long will also work.
You can record videos or utilize Facebook live. Facebook live has the added benefit of sending push notifications to people who are likely to be interested in your content. And, live videos are archived in your video library so you can continue to share them in the future.
There is similar guidance here as there is for image posts: Implied or explicit nudity will lead to your video getting throttled in the newsfeed. So live toy demos aren’t going to work here, but answering three frequently asked questions about a specific toy will work great. You can still show the toy on video, just don’t insert it into any holes.
One example of how Facebook throttles that reach for implied sexuality is in a study of how this video performed when I posted it on my page:
The video starts off with two masculine-presenting people having sex, and even though they are animated, the computer knows. So, this post was immediately throttled, even though it would be considered both appropriate length and informative. In all, it only reached 11 people. Yikes.
Videos are a great way to direct traffic to your site without having to include a link — so if you’re a toy reviewer, this option may be helpful for you. Just drop your URL in the first comment on the video (“Read my full review here: [URL]!”) and mention your site throughout the video.
4. Share your blog posts (creatively)
If you have a blog, keep sharing your posts (make sure you remember your audience targeting from #1!) But, you might want to find new ways to share them.
If you’ve found that links directly to your site get throttled by the Facebook algorithm because your site contains “explicit” content (insert eyeroll here), sharing links directly to your website won’t work as well.
Instead, utilize the video tools mentioned above and do the “image + bitly” technique.
Upload an image like you typically would, and add your caption to it. Then, your “call to action” should include a customized bitlink. You can put that directly in the post or in the first comment. You can see an example of this below.
If you utilize the first comment option, you’ll trick Facebook into not reading your post as a link post. But, if someone shares your post, the bitlink won’t travel with it. The jury’s still out on if Facebook reads bitlinks in image captions as standard image posts, but in my experience, they don’t.
5. Build a support team
We all need support. And Facebook rewards pages and people who do have support in the form of audience feedback. So if people are “liking” or reacting to your posts, they’re more likely to show up in other people’s feeds. But that needs to happen naturally.
If you’re asking for likes, comments, or shares, Facebook is going to limit your reach, because they identify that behavior as spammy. And sorry, but it is.
Instead, reach out to your network of like-minded professionals and build a Facebook chat where you can post links to Facebook posts that you want more engagement on. Ask them privately to like, share, and comment on the posts. That way, Facebook will read your post as getting a lot of engagement and will start showing it to new people.
(Note: Make sure you have everyone’s consent before you add them to a large group chat. No one likes being added to a group chat without context. Ask them in a one-on-one message, and if they say yes, go from there.)
I personally recommend keeping those group chats under 10 people, because otherwise, you will all be getting inundated with messages nonstop.
Another thing that you can do is build a thematic Facebook group. Decide on a theme that feels relevant to your brand, and link that group up to your Facebook page. Invite your friends, colleagues, and audience to that group. Host weekly conversations there, encourage people to share articles and relevant blog posts and use that as a way of building your fan base.
Groups, like Facebook Live, have the added perk of sending push notifications to members every time someone posts.
These tips are just a few ways to improve your reach and engagement on Facebook. Some of my tried-and-true standards, like sharing related content that isn’t affiliated with your brand at all, aren’t included here. So this list is by no means exhaustive (I wouldn’t have a job if it were), but it is a solid start.
Want to chat more about this? Just drop me a line.