Public relations walks a tightrope between creativity, persuasion, and strategy. If you know how to do PR you can impact every part of a business or brand.
Are you looking to expand your brand’s reach? Would you like to expose your business to new people who might want to try your product or service?
Welcome to the world of public relations.
What is public relations?
Public relations (PR) is the practice of using media channels to promote your organization and cultivate a positive public perception. PR is also the process of managing your organization’s brand and communications — especially in times of crisis.
PR is how brands manage the spread of their information, so it’s similar to branding. The main difference is that PR focuses on communication and reputation, while branding relies on visual elements like logos, websites, and marketing materials.
Why is public relations important?
Public relations defines how a company communicates with people — customers, partners, journalists, philanthropists, politicians, and the general public.
All businesses need public relations, regardless of their size or industry.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 27% of U.S. adults trust the information they find on social media. But 56% trust national news media, and 75% trust local news outlets.
Public relations professionals are expert storytellers. They find strategies for how to get your story out in front of the people you want to see it, in media outlets that build trust.
Why? Because, nowadays, customers want to trust the brands they do business with — and nothing builds and fosters trust like public relations.
What is a PR strategy?
A PR strategy helps a business create, organize, and measure the effectiveness of its public relations tactics over time. It’s separate from a marketing plan but should support marketing efforts.
A public relations strategy may cover a full year of campaigns or address a single goal, like a product launch.
Developing an authentic PR strategy requires a collaborative approach to communication. Sharing a point of view about climate change, diversity, equity, and inclusion is no longer optional for brands.
Internal and employee communications also play a more important role. 46% of PR professionals in 2021 report directly to their CEO, up from 34% in 2014. This figure speaks to the increasing importance of PR in business operations and brand perception.
It can be easy to jump on one-time opportunities for media attention. But if you want to know how to do PR right, start with a public relations strategy.
How to Build a PR Strategy
1. Research internal and external brand factors.
Start with what has gone well in the past for your business, and what efforts didn’t work out. This could include:
- Tracking media mentions
- Reviewing influencer relationships and results
- Evaluating social media engagement and traffic KPIs
- Review buyer personas and customer insights
Next, do some competitive analysis to figure out what is working best for other businesses in your industry. Social listening tools can help speed up this process.
As you close out your research, list any internal or external factors that could have had an impact on your brand. These might include:
- Feature, product, or pricing changes
- Distribution shifts
- Stakeholders and leadership changes
- Employee sentiment
- Legal factors
- Political climate
- Economic shifts
- Tech advances
2. Outline your goals.
It can be tempting to jump on tactics you notice during research, but first, decide on goals. Whether you’re addressing a local crisis or planning a year of public relations image-building, this step is critical.
Even a short outline of goals can be enough to steer you and your team toward the right tactics.
There are a few things that every PR plan should include. First, decide who your target audience is for each campaign. Next, choose the key messages you want to communicate to that audience.
Finally, don’t forget to include the metrics you plan to track. Analytics tracking should be part of campaign set-up, not something you add on after a campaign launches.
Forming a strong foundation for your public relations will better enable your success than one-off efforts. Try to make each goal a SMART goal.
This PR plan template can help you make sure that your strategy covers your key messaging and other goals.
3. Create a timeline for your PR campaigns.
Public relations success relies on the right message at the right time. So, create a clear calendar for both short and long-term initiatives.
Be sure to note public holidays and important industry dates. For example, the end of November is an important time of year for most ecommerce businesses.
4. Select the right public relations tactics.
Once you know when and why, it’s time to nail down which tactics will be the best to deliver on your strategy. This comprehensive list breaks down useful public relations tactics. It might also help to look at some PR examples for inspiration.
5. Track your results.
Once you decide on tactics, decide on how you will measure outcomes. Public relations isn’t an exact science, and measuring perception can be tricky. Whenever possible, align your PR metrics with business goals. This can help you draw a clear connection between public relations efforts and ROI.
An important note: A public relations manager often guides strategy around earned media. But they can be more effective with a multichannel strategy, connecting the right topic to the right audience.
Brands manage their PR — or communication and reputation — through various media channels. A great public relations strategy usually includes three types of media.
Media: Owned vs. Paid vs. Earned
The types of public relations, which we’ll review shortly, fall into three main categories: owned, paid, and earned media. Each type works towards the same goal of building a positive brand reputation, but they use different strategies to get there.
Your PR strategies should include all three, as they all provide different ways of reaching, engaging, and building trust with your audience.
Owned media is any content that your business controls. It’s often the go-to strategy for businesses looking to build a PR campaign.
Rightly so, as it’s arguably the most important type of PR-related media that you should be focusing on. This is because you have total control — unlike the other two media tactics.
Owned media includes:
- Social media posts
- Blog content
- Website copy
- Email newsletters
Owned media acts as a “home base” for your PR activity. When people write about your brand or products, they’ll likely reference (i.e. link to) your owned media in their coverage.
It’s not uncommon to pay to promote your content in the marketing world,and it’s no different when it comes to PR.
Paid media refers to paying to make your content visible. It’s standard practice to promote owned media.
Paid media includes:
- Social media advertising
- Influencer marketing
- Pay-per-click (PPC)
Putting some funds toward boosting PR content is becoming increasingly popular. Since the majority of social platforms are reducing organic reach for business accounts, paid media is a fantastic way to make sure your content gets in front of the people you want to see it.
Earned media is the tactic used to boost conversation around your brand. It’s essentially word-of-mouth and is arguably the best PR tactic to build your reputation.
Earned media is the hardest type of PR media to obtain. It takes a lot of effort, consistency, and hard work to establish it — that’s why it’s “earned.”
Earned media includes:
- Mentions in industry news and reviews
- Praise from customers on social media
- High rankings on search engines
All of these media avenues provide ways to use PR to build brand awareness, generate leads, and convert those leads into paying customers — similar to your marketing. Now, let’s discuss the difference.
Public Relations vs. Marketing
Public relations and marketing are similar in their actions and tactics, but their goals are quite different. The main goal of PR is to boost the reputation of your brand. On the other hand, the main goal of marketing is to drive sales.
Unlike marketing, PR doesn’t always have an impact on sales. It typically indirectly promotes your products or services through activities like press release distribution and speaking at industry events. Alternatively, instead of improving the perception of your business, marketing campaigns focus on driving revenue and boosting profits.
People don’t buy products, they buy brands. For this reason, using PR and marketing in tandem drives the best results: typically, someone connects with your brand as a result of your PR efforts and converts into a customer as a result of your marketing tactics.
For example, 33% of marketers used paid media in 2021 to improve brand awareness.
Now, let’s discuss the types of PR you may use as you promote your organization and build and manage your reputation.
PR Strategies and Tactics
- Business Events
- Community Relations
- Corporate and Social Responsibility
- Crisis Management
- Cyber Threat Intelligence
- Employee Relations
- Influencer Relations
- Media Relations
- Social Media Marketing
1. Business Events
Business events are opportunities to market your products or services and gain exposure for your brand.
Whether hosted or attended by your company, events are also important sales opportunities. Events give you a chance to meet prospective customers and delight current ones face-to-face.
Speaking engagements at events are also helpful for boosting brand awareness and sharing unique thought leadership or data-driven information that can help elevate your brand.
2. Community Relations
Community relations refers to building positive relationships with the local community around your business.
This could include charity work, donations, special discounts, or anything that builds a strong relationship with the community and strengthens customer loyalty.
3. Corporate and Social Responsibility
Corporate and social responsibility is similar to community relations, but it places a greater emphasis on ethical business practices, environmental responsibility, and philanthropy — locally, regionally, and globally. This is a critical area of PR as it directly affects the public perception of your brand.
4. Crisis Management
Crisis management is the practice of acknowledging, managing, and working to reverse negative communication and perception surrounding a business crisis. PR usually handles anything that could jeopardize or ruin your brand’s reputation.
Crisis management is an important function of PR and should be handled quickly, consistently, and strategically. With certain PR tools, you can avert crises through monitoring online chatter and quality-checking any marketing or promotional material that may be misunderstood or misconstrued.
5. Cyber Threat Intelligence
Besides the financial challenges that cyberattacks create, there is also a perception challenge. This can be devastating to a brand’s reputation if it’s not handled skillfully.
These issues will call on PR’s crisis management expertise. It’s also a good idea to build relationships with tech experts and thought leaders in the industry. This can give you the expertise you need to limit the reputation impact of these increasingly frequent attacks.
6. Employee Relations
Employee relations, also known as internal PR, is the practice of communicating with and cultivating a positive employee perception of your company.
This process may include dedicated employee newsletters or communications, employee perks and benefits, free training and skill-boosting opportunities, employee appreciation events, and working with unions or employee groups.
Employee relations not only keeps your employees motivated, hard-working, and loyal, but it also encourages them to advocate for your business — which can bring in both customers and more high-quality employees.
7. Influencer relations
Influencers play a powerful role in PR and marketing. According to Statista, the influencer market was worth 13.8 billion in 2021, more than double its value in 2019. That includes micro-and nano-influencers, who represent over 60% of Instagram influencers.
In many businesses, the public relations team also manages influencer relationships. Sometimes marketing, social media, and PR teams share these responsibilities. It will take hard work and experience to creatively collaborate with each influencer to make sure your brand gets the results it wants from its authority.
8. Media Relations
Media relations refers to building positive relationships with journalists, publications, and other news outlets.
This process typically includes writing press releases, organizing press releases, and scheduling interviews. Not only does this gain exposure for your business and products but it also encourages the media to market your brand for free.
9. Social Media Marketing
Social media can be both an earned and paid PR tactic.
For most companies, social media can be a helpful PR (and marketing) tool —it’s an effective way to amass followers, convert customers, share your content, and resolve crises.
Whether you’re sharing a post with your audience or interacting with a single customer, your social media activity is open to the public. That’s why it’s critical to have a social media strategy that keeps your communications consistent, positive, and accurate.
Now, let’s talk about who’s responsible for these different types of PR: your public relations manager.
What does a public relations manager do?
PR managers are responsible for building, executing, and monitoring your PR strategies and tactics. They typically handle crisis communications, write press releases, and lead a team of other PR professionals who manage your brand’s public presence. You might hire a public relations manager to handle PR for your business, or work with a PR Agency.
Let’s discuss the skills and tasks your public relations manager will know inside out.
PR Manager Skills
Successful public relations managers have a particular set of skills. Besides being flexible and open to change, these are some of the most important skills.
One primary focus of public relations is building your business’s reputation. To do this, public relations managers spend a lot of their time building and sustaining relationships.
Besides speaking about your company at public functions, press conferences, and other events, your public relations team is also connecting with reporters, influencers, and other stakeholders.
For this reason, excellent communication is a key skill for PR managers.
Public relations managers should also be able to communicate well in written form.
Since PR managers are responsible for writing press releases and company-related news, strong writing skills will help convey the right message to promote your company. This is especially useful for online PR where you’ll need to create blog posts, website content, and press releases to gain coverage.
Like marketing, creativity goes a long way in the public relations world. Great PR managers are creative and know how to create a strategy that stands out from the crowd, which is important because a unique story or perspective will drive PR coverage.
Strong Research Skills
Public relations is a social industry, and people might be talking about your brand without directly mentioning it. Good research skills will help public relations managers find and use these opportunities.
A public relations manager must stay up on trends and digital marketing updates. PR professionals can’t operate in a bubble and must stay aware of search and social media changes for their strategies to succeed.
They offer expert knowledge and a fresh perspective to maintain a presence in competitive media outlets.
Public relations managers will also need to do research when planning a PR strategy. Because they might need additional information, statistics, and data points to boost the power of their owned media, strong research skills are essential.
PR Manager Tasks
The day-to-day tasks of your PR manager can vary depending on your industry, active PR campaigns, PR team size, and other factors. However, here’s what they often include:
- Writing press releases to announce company-related news
- Creating fact sheets and media kits about the company to send to media teams for brand-building
- Giving media training to both in-house and external teams
- Attending and speaking at industry events and representing the brand at trade shows, recruiting events, etc.
- Finding and analyzing media coverage and promoting that content through owned and paid media channels
Public relations managers are also responsible for tracking and measuring their PR efforts. The following key performance indicators (KPIs) can help your public relations manager analyze and improve your PR strategies.
PR Measurement: 10 Public Relations KPIs to Track
- Media Coverage and Brand Mentions
- Share of Voice
- Pitch Interactions
- Social Media Engagement
- Social Shares
- Site Traffic
- SEO Metrics
Clear measurable goals are the only way to ensure that your PR strategy is effective. In a business world that is increasingly focused on data-driven outcomes, the right KPIs can make or break your public relations programming.
Most PR metrics gauge perception, so it can be difficult to connect company wins directly to public relations campaigns. For this reason, you should select a range of KPIs that align directly with your business goals.
For example, let’s say your business wants to improve brand awareness. KPIs like increased share of voice and website traffic alongside recent brand mentions can show a more direct connection between PR efforts and business goals.
These KPIs will help you track your PR efforts and determine the effectiveness of your PR strategy.
1. Media Coverage and Brand Mentions
Brand mentions occur when someone mentions your brand. Media coverage tracks the number of earned media stories that went live. These metrics are important because they help you measure awareness of your brand and its stories.
You might see brand mentions in traditional news coverage, on other business or personal blogs, in reviews, or on social media. Some media outlets may tag or hyperlink their sources. Others may not link back to your brand or website, which means you have to go looking for them. Check out the PR tools section for some helpful software tools.
Note:It’s important to read brand mentions and media coverage for context. Remember, you want people to be saying good things about your brand, and it’s not always easy to understand the value of coverage until you read the entire piece.
2. Share of Voice
This is an essential KPI for PR. Share of voice measures competitive brand awareness. This metric helps your business understand the scale of customers in your industry and where your brand fits within it. It also tracks your brand reputation.
3. Pitch Interactions
Pitches are another important metric for PR. It can sometimes take longer than expected for a piece to go live. So, track the number of pitches you send and reply to. You’ll also want to track how many email opens and clicks you get from a pitch. These PR metrics can help you create a funnel for earned media mentions.
This can help you better understand which efforts are pulling in the most value, as well as the best ways to scale your strategy.
Sentiment, which is a synonym for viewpoint or opinion, measures the attitudes in brand mentions. While brand mentions and backlinks typically improve your brand awareness and SEO, sentiment is what sets apart the positive mentions from the negative ones.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Whether you agree or disagree, it is good practice to be aware of negative press.
Tracking sentiment can help you understand what your audience is saying about your brand and whether or not you need to address any problems or concerns.
5. Social Media Engagement
Social media engagement encompasses a few types of activity: views, impressions, likes, shares, and comments.
This information shows the level of brand awareness and engagement among your audience members. It also tells you when your audience is most active, i.e. when you should be posting and interacting with your followers.
6. Social Shares
Social shares are different from social media engagement. Social shares refer to when your audience shares something from your website or blog on their social media.
This is a critical metric because it tells you that your audience enjoys your content enough to vouch for it on their social channels. It’s a very clear measure of your brand reputation among your audience.
When looking at social shares, pay attention to what types of content people share most frequently. This will give you an idea of what your audience enjoys the most and what kind of content to create more of.
7. Site Traffic
Site traffic is a sign of successful PR efforts. If people are hearing about your brand through earned media and heading to your site, your PR efforts are reaching your audience.
As you run PR campaigns, track your site traffic once press releases and other efforts go live. Use your site analytics to check your visitors’ referral sources (how they made their way to your website) and aim to replicate this in the future.
8. SEO Metrics
There are a few SEO metrics that can also help you with PR measurement.
Domain authority refers to your website’s SEO ranking and how it performs in search results.
It’s ranked from 1 to 100 (with 100 being the highest) and is a valuable measure of how your website compares to your competitors. The higher your domain authority is, the better your website will rank in search results.
Domain authority is made up of three main factors: links to your site (backlinks), links from your site to other well-ranked websites, and the age of your site. While you can’t magically make your website older, you can use PR to attract backlinks and place links in your content.
Moz offers a free tool to check your domain authority, page rank, and other important website measures.
Backlinks help you find brand mentions. With backlinks, sites that’ve mentioned your brand have linked to your website, making it easy for readers to click through and visit your website.
And it’s not just new traffic you’ll benefit from when collecting backlinks — you could see a rise in your SEO rankings, too.
While the volume of new customers coming directly from your PR activity isn’t easy to measure, it’s definitely worth investigating.
You can discover where your customers came from by either surveying customers after they purchase and asking how they heard of you or by using a tool like Google Analytics to learn about your customers’ conversion paths (a.k.a. their route to purchase).
Note: While this is an exciting metric to track, don’t feel disheartened if you don’t see an influx of conversion-ready site traffic. Remember, the goal of public relations is to raise brand awareness, spread the ideas of your internal thought leaders, and communicate the ideas of your brand. Those new site visitors could always return and make a purchase in the future now that they know about your brand because of your PR.
10. Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE)
AVE equals what it would cost to buy the space for an earned media placement if it was an ad. At one point this was the only KPI for public relations. But many industry professionals feel that this is an outdated KPI and an inaccurate way to measure PR.
Depending on your business, you may still want to track this KPI. In 2021 41% of PR professionals track AVE for planning, and 34% use this metric to justify fees and budgets.
Now, let’s review a handful of PR SaaS tools that can help you implement your PR strategies and track these KPIs.
Public Relations Tools
We’ve rounded up a handful of helpful PR tools to help you execute your public relations campaigns and measure your impact and performance.
Brand24 helps you monitor online mentions about your brand, product, or service, and measure the results of your PR campaigns. Slack integrations and a notifications system will help you react in time to prevent a PR crisis.
2. Agility PR Solutions
Agility PR Solutions is a paid tool that provides powerful yet easy-to-use solutions for your media database, monitoring, and analytics. These solutions help identify and connect with influencers, capture coverage, and measure impact.
Anewstip is a media search, monitoring, and relationship management tool. You can use it to search media mentions by keyword or handle, reach out to journalists and influencers all over the world, and create a media database of important PR campaign contacts. It offers both paid and free plan options.
CoverageBook is a paid tool that helps you find and collect any coverage of your PR content. It’s a great tool for PR agencies who are building coverage reports for their clients.
5. Covered Press
Covered Press is a paid tool that streamlines press tracking, reporting, and analytics, combining three important tools into a single, all-in-one PR platform. It also offers white-label reporting so publicists can brand their own analytics portals and reports for clients.
Flaunter is a paid tool that gives you media access to brand content and PR samples. As a business, it’s a place to publish high-quality brand and product imagery so journalists, influencers, and bloggers can share it.
7. Google Alerts
Google Alerts is an easy-to-use, free tool that allows you to set up email alerts for certain keyword mentions. When a name, keyword, or link is mentioned online, Google sends you a digest email alerting you of the mention.
Mention helps you track who’s mentioned your brand in media and on social media. You can also use this tool to publish on your social media and manage crisis communications. It offers both free and paid plan options.
9. Monitor Backlinks
Monitor Backlinks is a free tool that helps you track who’s mentioned your brand in coverage and added a backlink to your site. It’s also valuable for monitoring and disavowing bad backlinks and keeping your website’s SEO and domain authority at their peak.
10. Muck Rack
Muck Rack is a paid tool that allows you to discover and contact members of the media who might want to cover your PR story.
11. PR Fire
PR Fire is a paid tool that helps you distribute your press release to journalists and receive a report of their performance and reach. It’s ideal for in-house teams who’re doing their own PR.
SharedCount shows you engagement data for any social media, blog, or website URL. Once you input a URL, the tool will tally its likes, shares, comments, and other engagement measures. It offers both free and paid plan options.
TweetDeck is a free tool (created by Twitter) that monitors Twitter activity. You can set up Twitter streams that track certain keywords, accounts, trends, or other filters.
These are just a few useful PR tools, and if you don’t see what you’re looking for here, there are more great PR tools to consider.
Start Building Your Public Relations Strategy
With all these tactics, tools, and strategy-building tips, are you ready to start your new PR strategy? As you dig in, remember that public relations is an ongoing, iterative strategy — not a one-off task. Like marketing, it can take a while to see results.
But with a solid strategy and a commitment to spreading the word about your company, you’ll soon see more mentions, backlinks, and general buzz. Then you’ll be ready for the next step to grow your business better.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Ascend | DigitalMarketer
At this stage, your goal is to generate repeat buys and real profits. While your entry-point offer was designed for conversions, your ascension offers should be geared for profits—because if you’re serving your customers well, they’ll want to buy again and again.
Ascension offers may be simple upsells made after that initial purchase… bigger, better solutions… or “done for you” add-ons.
So now we must ask ourselves, what is our core flagship offer and how do we continue to deliver value after the first sale is made? What is the thing that we are selling?
How we continue to deliver value after the first sale is really important, because having upsells and cross sales gives you the ability to sell to customers you already have. It will give you higher Average Customer values, which is going to give you higher margins. Which means you can spend more to acquire new customers.
Why does this matter? It matters because of this universal law of marketing and customer acquisition, he or she who is able and willing to spend the most to acquire a customer wins.
Very often the business with the best product messaging very often is the business that can throw the most into customer acquisition. Now there are two ways to do that.
The first way is to just raise a lot of money. The problem is if you have a lot of money, that doesn’t last forever. At some point you need economics.
The second way, and the most timeless and predictable approach, is to simply have the highest value customers of anyone in your market. If your customers are worth more to you than they are to your competitors, you can spend more to acquire them at the same margin.
If a customer is worth twice as much to you than it is to your competitor, you can spend twice as much trying to acquire them to make the same margin. You can invest in your customer acquisition, because your customers are investing in your business. You can invest in your customer experiences, and when we invest more into the customer we build brands that have greater value. Meaning, people are more likely to choose you over someone else, which can actually lower acquisition costs.
Happy customers refer others to us, which is called zero dollar customer acquisition, and generally just ensures you’re making a bigger impact. You can invest more in the customer experience and customer acquisition process if you don’t have high margins.
If you deliver a preview experience, you can utilize revenue maximizers like up sells, cross sales, and bundles. These are things that would follow up the initial sale or are combined with the initial sale to increase the Average Customer Value.
The best example of an immediate upsell is the classic McDonalds, “would you like fries with that?” You got just a burger, do you also want fries with that?
What distinguishes an upsell from other types of follow up offers is the upsell promise, the same end result for a bigger and better end result.
What’s your desired result when you go to McDonalds? It’s not to eat healthy food, and it’s not even to eat a small amount of food. When you go to McDonalds your job is to have a tasty, greasy, predictable inexpensive meal. No one is going there because it’s healthy, you’re going there because you want to eat good.
It’s predictable. It’s not going to break the bank for a hamburger, neither will adding fries or a Coke. It’s the same experience, but it’s BIGGER and BETTER.
Amazon does this all of the time with their “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought …” But this one is algorithmic. The point of a cross sell is that it is relevant to the consumer, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be aligned with the original purchase. What you don’t want to do is start someone down one path and confuse them.
You can make this process easy with Bundles and Kits. With a bundle or a kit you’re essentially saying to someone, “you can buy just one piece, or you can get this bundle that does all of these other things for a little bit more. And it’s a higher value.”
The idea behind bundles and kits is that we are adding to the primary offer, not offering them something different. We’re simply promising to get them this desired result in higher definition.
The Elements of High-Converting Revenue Maximizers (like our bundles and kits) are:
If you’re an e-Commerce business, selling a physical product, this can look like: offering free shipping for orders $X or more. We’re looking to get your customers the same desired result, but with less work for them.
If you’re a furniture business, and you want to add a Revenue Maximizer, this can look like: Right now for an extra $X our highly trained employees will come and put this together for you.
People will pay for speed, they’ll pay for less work, but they will also pay for a look behind the curtain. Think about the people who pay for Backstage Passes. Your customers will pay for a VIP experience just so they can kind of see how everything works.
Remember, the ascension stage doesn’t have to stop. Once you have a customer, you should do your best to make them a customer for life. You should continue serving them. Continue asking them, “what needs are we still not meeting” and seek to meet those needs.
It is your job as a marketer to seek out to discover these needs, to bring these back to the product team, because that’s what’s going to enable you to fully maximize the average customer value. Which is going to enable you to have a whole lot more to spend to acquire those customers and make your job a whole lot easier.
Now that you understand the importance of the ascend stage, let’s apply it to our examples.
Hazel & Hem could have free priority shipping over $150, a “Boutique Points” reward program with exclusive “double point” days to encourage spending, and an exclusive “Stylist Package” that includes a full outfit custom selected for the customer.
Cyrus & Clark can retain current clients by offering an annual strategic plan, “Done for You” Marketing services that execute on the strategic plan, and the top tier would allow customers to be the exclusive company that Cyrus & Clark services in specific geographical territories.
2023 Facebook Algorithm Guide: Overview & Best Practices
Every month, 2.7 billion people use Facebook, Meta’s globe-dominating social network. For marketers, this is an un-ignorable audience. However, reaching that audience isn’t always easy – to get content in front of a relevant user, they need to make the Facebook algorithm work in their favor.
Unfortunately, the algorithm can feel very mysterious. Why do some posts go viral with engagement while others wither and disappear without so much as a few courtesy likes?
The good news is that while the technical rules governing Facebook’s algorithm may be in a black box, there are plenty of guidelines and common-sense tips that can help ensure your content gets prioritized and seen. Facebook has published many explainers and tutorials over the past few years to break down how its algorithm ranks and distributes content to users’ Feeds.
Here’s how Facebook’s algorithm works in 2023 with ten expert tips on increasing the impact, performance and lifecycle of your Facebook content.
Table of Contents
- What is the Facebook Algorithm?
- A Recent History of the Facebook Algorithm
- How the Facebook Algorithm Works in 2023
- 10 Best Practices for Working with Facebook’s Algorithm
- Final Takeaway
What is the Facebook Algorithm?
The Facebook algorithm is the set of rules and formulas that determine what content users see in their Feeds. Its goal is to make the posts that “matter most to the user” highly visible to that user. To do this, it analyzes each piece of content eligible to be displayed and ranks them according to a set of criteria.
As Facebook explains, the algorithm is actually “not just one single algorithm; it’s multiple layers of [machine learning] models and rankings that we apply to predict the most relevant and meaningful content for each user.”
If that sounds complex, that’s because of the sheer volume of content on the Facebook platform. There are over 2 billion Facebook users and trillions of posts they can see; the algorithm needs to be sophisticated to sort through all that content in an instant between launching the Facebook application and the population of each user’s Feed.
A Recent History of the Facebook Algorithm
Since 2017, Facebook has been increasingly transparent about significant changes in how it ranks and distributes content. That also means the algorithm is constantly evolving. In general, those updates have favored user input, posts friends and family over publishers, and content personalized to a user’s interests… all geared toward generating more “meaningful interactions.” These updates include:
- Meaningful Interactions Update (2018) – This update signaled that the algorithm would predict which posts a user might want to interact with their friends about and show these posts higher in Feed. These posts inspire discussion in the comments and posts that users might want to share and react to.
- Updates to Video Rankings (2019) – This update boosted the rankings of video posts that users sought out and returned to, watched for more than one minute at a time, and were original creations and not repurposed content.
- Addressing Sensational Health Claims (2019) – This update applied some of the existing “clickbait” rules specifically to posts making medical or health claims in an effort to reduce misinformation. Exaggerated or sensational claims were deprioritized, as were posts promoting products that advertised “miracle” cures.
The past three years have seen additional updates, and since they’re more recent, they deserve closer examination.
2020: Key takeaway from 2020
In 2020, Facebook modified its algorithm again to give more weight to original, credible news sources and create more personalized advertising encounters for users based on their interactions. Additional updates this year included changes designed to comply with Apple’s iOS 14’s privacy guidelines.
- Prioritizing Original Sources: In response to users continually reporting a preference for “news stories that are credible and informative,” Facebook announced that it would make ongoing updates that “prioritize articles in News Feed that we identify as original reporting on a developing story or topic.”
- Personalized Ads: The Facebook algorithm serves advertisements to a user’s Feed based on the posts and pages they have engaged with previously. Businesses are also given the option to share information about the actions that users take on their websites and apps so they can show the most relevant content in users’ Facebook Feeds. To balance this process of information gathering and sharing, which also lays the foundation for personalized advertising on the platform, Facebook instituted the “Why am I seeing this ad” feature and the “Ad Preferences” dashboard for users (and to address privacy concerns).
- Retargeting Limitations: Even with expanded personalization, Facebook had to respond to the significant privacy and permissioning guidelines i=within the Apple iOS 14 update released in 2020 (Tinuiti’s Liz Emery takes a more detailed look at this topic here). When Apple users install or update to iOS 14, they will be prompted to opt-in or opt out of data sharing. While Facebook has other variables that can be used to identify devices, such as the associated email address and phone number, targeting that depends on users sharing their data at the device level is restricted based on this update.
2021: Machine Learning and User Control
In 2021, Facebook released new details about how the algorithm governing users’ Feeds works and increased the amount of control users have over what they see.
- Favorites: A new tool where users can control and prioritize posts in their Feeds from the friends and Pages they choose. By selecting up to 30 friends and Pages to include in Favorites, their posts will appear higher in ranked and can also be viewed as a separate filter.
- Revealing the algorithm’s machine learning mechanics: In 2021, Facebook published an in-depth post explaining how the Feed predicts what users want to see. For the first time, it detailed the machine learning processes behind predicting what users see in their Feeds based on various factors, including what and whom they’ve followed, liked, or engaged with recently. These mechanics are largely still in place today.
2022: From ML to AI
Last year, the Facebook algorithm evolved further in the direction of user control and augmented its use of machine learning tools with more sophisticated artificial intelligence systems. These two updates went hand-in-hand. Users were given a new function on each post they saw, the “Show More/Show Less” feature. Selecting “Show More” would increase the ranking score for that post, increasing the likelihood of a similar post or a similar user appearing in the user’s Feed. The inverse would happen when “Show Less” is selected.
These per-post user inputs are simultaneously helping the AI system generalize how relevant future content will be for that user. Or as Facebook puts it, “by offering more ways to incorporate direct feedback into Feed ranking, we’re making our artificial intelligence systems smarter and more responsive.”
Facebook’s AI model generates what the company calls user and content embeddings, which help predict the types of content a person wants to see more of or less of in their Feed. Another Facebook blog post from 2022 explains that a “user embedding captures a person’s tastes, while the content embedding captures the essence of what a post is about.”
One last update from 2022 – what was once called the Facebook News Feed is now just the “Feed.” That’s how we refer to it throughout this article, except where relevant due to historical discussion.
How the Facebook Algorithm Works in 2023
That’s the state of the Facebook algorithm in 2023 – it has evolved to become an AI-powered, user-centric model designed to present users with relevant, welcome content in their Feeds. Even though Meta will admit that the algorithm isn’t perfect (and may never be), Facebook has demonstrated a willingness to modify its processes to give users what they want.
Despite the Facebook algorithm’s complexity and integration of new technologies like AI and machine learning, understanding its core functionality boils down to four ranking factors.
The Four Ranking Factors Fueling the Facebook Feed Algorithm
Prioritizing what “matters” to users has been one of the most consistent purposes of the Feed and all of its previous iterations. The goal of Facebook’s algorithm is to “show stories that matter to users,” according to Adam Mosseri, VP of Facebook’s News Feed Management. That aim is reflected across the platform’s many updates and tweaks to its algorithm, from more user control to increased personalization on advertisements.
With that in mind, you should know how Facebook’s different algorithm factors work together to determine which stories “matter” to a user. And Facebook made these factors easy to understand in its published help center post.
Inventory represents the stock of all content that can display to a user on Facebook’s News Feed, which fluctuates based on user activity once scrolling has begun. This includes everything posted by friends and publishers.
Signals represent the information that Facebook can gather about a piece of content. Signals are the single factor that you have control over.
These are your inputs that Facebook interprets; type of content, the publisher, its age, purpose, and more.
You want your content to signal to Facebook that it’s meaningful and relevant to your target audience.
Predictions represent a user’s behavior and how likely they are to engage with a content piece. Will a user watch a video to completion? Will they select the “Show More” feature on the post?
Predictions take authentic engagement like comments, likes, and shares from real profiles into account.
4. Relevancy Score
Relevancy Score is the final number assigned to a piece of content based on the likelihood that the user will respond positively to it. It also accounts for whether a post is “clickbait,” whether it links to a low-quality webpage, or if it’s misinformative in some way.
10 Best Practices for Working with Facebook’s Algorithm
So how can you tailor your content to ensure a high Relevancy Score and a strong enough ranking to appear in your target audience’s Feeds? Most of the following tips will be common sense if you currently produce content for social audiences, but many are specific to the sophisticated Facebook algorithm.
Here are some guidelines and best practices for keeping your content meaningful in Facebook’s eyes, based on our research, Facebook’s recommendations, and Matt Navara and Paul Armstrong’s coverage of Facebook’s News Feed webinar.
1. Keep posts relevant to your audience
Your content should always be relevant to your core audience — the people you want to build a community around. If your content is relevant to a user, the Facebook algorithm is likely to interpret that content as “meaningful,” a key consideration in ranking.
Stories should be compelling enough for a user to want to share with family and friends. Content should be informative and interesting… and, of course, accurate.
Products, education and lifestyle imagery, should reinforce your post’s meaningful and informative nature and build on your identity as a brand answering to a specific audience.
2. Engage readers and encourage interaction
Facebook’s News Feed algorithm favors content that fosters positive interactions between your followers and others.
Any piece of content, from products to education to entertainment — should provoke conversation. Remember that conversations can’t be one-sided; you want your audience to respond, but you must also respond to them when possible.
You want your content to prompt people to stop their scroll, interact, and share. Interaction is a crucial weighting factor for the Facebook algorithm, so all your content should be tailored to maximize engagement.
3. But don’t use clickbait or engagement bait
Remember all those “like if…” and “share if you are…” posts?
This is considered engagement baiting; it doesn’t add value or interaction for users. It may not entirely be clickbait, but the Facebook algorithm will penalize it as though it were.
Avoid asking people to “please comment, like, and share.” Your content should inspire them to engage without having to ask.
Facebook penalizes brands that encourage comments, likes, and shares on organic and ad posts. Keep this in mind when developing content for Instagram and Facebook.
4. Expand your post reach with employees and brand advocates
Because the Facebook algorithm gives preference to posts from users’ friends, families and the pages they interact with, your company’s Facebook page will have naturally limited reach. This is where enlisting employees and brand advocates can have a real impact.
Facebook represents your widest audience, but to reach them, you need to engage the audience closest to home. Encouraging your work team to share your brand’s content with their networks broadens the reach of the post or piece of content and your brand. Directly engaging with Facebook users who are already devotees of your brand and asking them to share content with their friends and family can have a similar effect.,
5. Or put ad dollars behind content with organic momentum
The new Facebook algorithm values content that performs well organically, and you can build off that momentum by boosting or promoting that content with ad dollars.
Content that already has strong organic traction means lower CPCs which, combined with ad dollars, can act as a snowball effect for your content.
Identify opportunities for ads based on organic post engagement and tap into Facebook Ads Manager tools by leveraging these posts in ads.
Conversely, don’t waste ad dollars on poor-performing organic content. It will have higher CPCs and cost you more while offering less in return.
“If a post performs well with engagement, likes, and shares, there’s an opportunity to place additional ad dollars to drive that performance even further.”
— Nii Ahene, Chief Strategy Officer at Tinuiti
6. Create compelling, original video content
2019 was the year that Facebook began leaning into its video offering in earnest, and it hasn’t stopped since. Today, the video formats available on Facebook have expanded to include Reels and Stories (shorter clips), Video on Demand and Live video. Reels, in particular, is Facebook’s fastest-growing content format “by far.” s video continues to be the top-performing content type across all social media networks, focusing on video should be a central part of your Facebook marketing strategy.
For your video content to perform best in the Feed, Facebook recommends that it be original, capture the audience’s attention, spark engagement, and inspire users to seek additional video content from the same source.
To create original and authentic Reels, Stories and full-length videos, make sure they capture your brand’s voice and avoid duplicating content. To retain attention, ensure your creative and copy is optimized towards mobile viewing (i.e., shortened copy, readable overlays, shortened headlines). And to generate engagement, encourage discussion and genuine interactions (but like always, avoid engagement bait).
7. Inspire audiences and evoke emotion with storytelling
Just as videos should be original, engaging and attention-grabbing, so should any content you post on Facebook. Understand the kinds of stories that resonate with your audience and craft your posts to tell those stories in an exciting way.
You can create connections with your audience through authenticity, interactivity and accuracy. But the surest way is by listening. Ask for feedback. Learn their interests. Take cues from their activity on other platforms. When you know what your audience cares about, you have a better chance of inspiring them… and a better chance of rising to the top of their Feeds.
8. Post authentic and truthful content
Facebook says that “authentic stories are the ones that resonate most” and that users want to see accurate information. After the controversies surrounding “fake news” and the spread of dis- and misinformation on the platform in recent years, the company has made promoting truthful content central to the Facebook algorithm’s function.
To signal that your content is genuine and accurate, write clear headlines free from exaggeration or sensationalism. Use well-sourced, reliable information, and avoid sharing content from sources you need clarification on. And above all, don’t lie or try to mislead with your content.
9. Schedule content when readers are likely to engage
The Facebook Feed is no longer chronological, but timing can still impact post performance within the algorithm. You want to post content when your audience is likely to engage with it, which is likely in the evening or overnight, but it can vary widely by the user. There is some research exploring the objectively ideal time for posting, but the ultimate best practice is understanding your audience and when they are most likely to be on the platform.
10. Learn what works by tracking content performance
After you’ve published your content, remember to use Facebook Insights to track the performance of your content. This will help you understand how your different content pieces are performing in terms of engagement, which is the key ranking metric.
Facebook also offers a variety of tools designed to help you measure both organic content and paid ads. Choose the best tools for your brand, and track performance regularly. Learn from your own Insights data and the tools you use, and optimize your content from there.
The Facebook algorithm is sophisticated and constantly evolving. There are few shortcuts and no way to “hack” it. But the steps outlined in this article can help make the algorithm work for you and help you get your content in front of the Facebook users who need to see it.
Want to work with our team of Facebook experts? Reach out today!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Greg Swan in April 2020 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
Five questions for our new CMO, Shafqat Islam
Alex Atzberger: Now that you’ve stepped into the CMO role, what are you looking forward to?
Shafqat Islam: It’s amazing to take on this role at both a category creator and leader. How many brands can be a leader in almost every category–think Experimentation and CMS–that we play in?
And we have so much to look forward to and build on. We have an exceptional team of marketing leaders and practitioners. They are fiercely intelligent, optimistic, and care deeply about what our products can *do* for our customers. Not just for the people who will encounter the marketing, retail, and product experiences that we support, but for the people who build them. As somebody who has both built products and been deeply immersed in marketing, I love the perspective that our team has.
Alex Atzberger: What makes Optimizely unique?
Shafqat Islam: First off, we’re category creators in experimentation and content management, both CMS and CMP. Marketers know this, and analysts know it, as something like 7 major analyst reports will tell you.
Martech is a crowded field, so it’s true that there are a lot of firms whose territory overlaps with some of ours. But show me another company that can handle the entire content lifecycle like we can. Or show me another company that can do both feature flagging and experimentation.
We also have a legendary legacy in the martech world. Before I joined, I knew that A/B testing and Optimizely were synonymous, and that the company’s roots go all the way back to the origins of the practice. And that’s something that is like common folklore in marketing and technology.
And more than anything, the 1500 people who work here are world-class.
Alex Atzberger: Being a CMO talking to other CMOs and marketing leaders is an advantage. You know the customer. But you’ve also built tech products. How does that affect your work now?
Shafqat Islam: I’ve spent the majority of my adult life building products for marketers. So I’ve been lucky to spend so much time talking to CMOs and marketers in almost every type of company all over the world. As the founder/CEO of Welcome, my approach was to solve marketer challenges by building products. But now as CMO, I get to use the products we build.
We’re practitioners of all of our own solutions, so in addition to the natural empathy I have for marketers, I am also close to the job’s unique challenges every day. There’s nothing like that to keep you sharp and keep you close to the customer.
As a product builder, I knew we must always speak to business outcomes. But as CMO, I love that we aren’t just talking about the solutions – we’re living them, too.
Because I was an entrepreneur for so long, I also bring another unique view – my willingness to take smart risks. I love to try things, even if (especially if?) the results are sometimes surprising. When it comes to experimentation, there are no failures, only learnings.
Alex Atzberger: What are the biggest challenges you’re hearing from our customers, current and future?
Shafqat Islam: Growth, especially given how tough it is out there for so many industries. The stakes are very high when it comes to creating experiences that will win and retain customers. That’s what all of our customers–especially the retail heavyweights-are thinking about.
And marketing and technology leaders need to do this with leaner budgets. Efficiency matters a lot right now, and that means not only reducing the costs you can see, like the price tag attached to software, but also the costs you can’t see right away, like how much time and money it takes to manage a set of solutions. With that said, in tough times, I think the strongest brands can not just survive but also thrive. I also think when others are fearful, that may be the time to invest aggressively.
And in the background of all this, there is still the ever-expanding list of customer touchpoints. This is simultaneously an exciting challenge for marketers and an exciting opportunity. More data means more effective storytelling– if you can use it right.
I also hear marketers when they say there’s a need for a shared space for collaboration among us. The role of the marketer is expansive, and it’s only getting more complicated. Building a community where we can come together and appreciate our shared goals is difficult, but I’m optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction.
Alex Atzberger: What is next in our space? What will marketing and technology leaders be talking about six months from now?
Shafqat Islam: Looking around now, it’s clear that 2023 will be the year that AI-generated content goes mainstream. We’re just starting to see the uses and the consequences of this. There’s already buzz about ChatGPT and its capabilities, and platforms are already making space to integrate AI functionality into their offerings. It could be an exciting way for users to become better equipped to create and share high-quality content.
Customers also have gotten very used to personalization. Every screen they see daily is personalized, whether it’s their Netflix account or social feeds. So, when I see a site that isn’t personalized, I kind of scratch my head and wonder, why? With personalization now the norm, expectations for digital creators are sky-high.
Read the official press release.
11 Email Marketing Design Tips to Drive More Revenue
MarTech’s marketing operations experts to follow
OpenAI Introduces ChatGPT Plus with Monthly Subscription of $20
(Re)Introducing your favorite Optimizely products!
9 Non-PPC Questions Your PPC Clients Will Ask (& How to Answer Them)
Your Quick Guide in 2023
5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers
Google Search Result Snippet Scrollable On Some Browsers
27 Best About Us and About Me Page Examples [+Templates]
How to choose a content marketing automation platform
MARKETING5 days ago
11 Email Marketing Design Tips to Drive More Revenue
MARKETING7 days ago
MarTech’s marketing operations experts to follow
NEWS2 days ago
OpenAI Introduces ChatGPT Plus with Monthly Subscription of $20
MARKETING3 days ago
(Re)Introducing your favorite Optimizely products!
PPC4 days ago
9 Non-PPC Questions Your PPC Clients Will Ask (& How to Answer Them)
WORDPRESS6 days ago
Your Quick Guide in 2023
MARKETING4 days ago
5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers
SEARCHENGINES6 days ago
Google Search Result Snippet Scrollable On Some Browsers