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How to really get your message out on Facebook

Hint: Simply saying "please copy and paste instead of sharing" doesn't cut it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: Facebook 101: How to get more eyes on your posts

In a wave of anger after President Donald Trump's election, many people have taken to writing Facebook protest messages. To get their message out as far as possible, they often end their posts with postscripts, such as: "If you plan to share, please copy and paste rather than share. You'll reach more people."

Ah, no. Sorry, it doesn't work that way.

Here are some Facebook postings basics: First, not everyone who's your Facebook friend is going to see your posts. Facebook controls their news feeds -- and yours -- with programming using its EdgeRank algorithm. Facebook is constantly tweaking this as well. No one outside of Facebook really knows how it works.

Generally speaking, EdgeRank creates your news feed using three factors: Affinity Score, Edge Weight, and Time Decay.

Affinity Score measures how close you are to someone. If you're always liking your friend Esther's posts, and she returns the favor, you'll see far more of her posts, and vice-versa, you'll see more of her posts. Now, say you have another Facebook friend, Cathy, who you knew in high school, but you rarely like her posts now. Her posts will disappear from your Facebook feed.

Let's say you're always commenting on someone's posts. That increases their post's Edge Weight, and so you'll be even more likely to see their posts. This means if you share a story, you're increasing its Edge Weight, so in turn, it will be seen by more readers. In other words, when you share a post, instead of copy and pasting, you're increasing its Edge Weight and thus the odds it will appear on news feeds.

Finally, as a post grows older, Facebook invokes Time Decay. In newspaper terms, what was once news is now old news suitable only for fish wrap.

We also know that Facebook tends to show you more of the kind of messages you like, share, or comment on. So, for example, if you already like anti-Trump messages, you'll see fewer and fewer messages from your pro-Trump relatives. This causes an echo-chamber effect. Just because everyone agrees with your positions on Facebook, don't assume that that's really "everyone." It's not.

So, what does that mean for you? Well, here's how to get the broadest possible reach for your posts.

First, share stories. Next, and I can't emphasis enough how important this is, set any post you want to be seen to "public." If you keep your posts "friends only," then only your friends can see it. With shared messages, only your friends and friends of the other person can see the post. By making your posts public, you're vastly increasing your audience's potential size.

You should also include an image with your posts. People like pictures. Give them a little eye-candy, and they're more likely to read your content.

Facebook readers also seem to prefer short and sweet messages to long diatribes. This is going to be painful, but if you can shrink your argument down to 100 to 119 characters -- yes, that's less than Twitter -- you're more likely to get your message read.

If your message can't possibly fit into a sound-bite, write the longer post on Medium, WordPress, Blogger, or another blogging site, and then link to it from your Facebook post. This also has the advantage of giving your message a permanent home you can send readers to from other social networks such as Google+ and Twitter.

Another way to get people interested in your post is to ask a question. It can be as simple as "Do you agree?"

Even with all this, at the most, only 35 percent of all your friends will ever see any one of your Facebook posts. So, keep in mind, whether you're spreading an important political message or just asking people to share a meme, you will never reach all your friends with any single post.

Facebook only appears to be a giant public forum. In reality, it's small groups loosely connected with each other. To maximize your reach, you need to work at making your posts as accessible as possible.

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