The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem

How I temporarily cut my mom out of my social media life to reach a larger audience.

POSSE

For quite a while now, I’ve been publishing most of my content to my personal website first and syndicating copies of it to social media silos like Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook. Within the Indieweb community this process is known as POSSE an acronym for Post on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.

The Facebook Algorithm

Anecdotally most in social media have long known that doing this type of workflow causes your content to be treated like a second class citizen, particularly on Facebook which greatly prefers that users post to it manually or using one of its own apps rather than via API. [1][2][3][4] This means that the Facebook algorithm that decides how big an audience a piece of content receives, dings posts which aren’t posted manually within their system. Simply put, if you don’t post it manually within Facebook, not as many people are going to see it.

Generally I don’t care too much about this posting “tax” and happily use a plugin called Social Media Network Auto Poster (aka SNAP) to syndicate my content from my WordPress site to up to half a dozen social silos.

What I have been noticing over the past six or more months is an even more insidious tax being paid for posting to Facebook. I call it “The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem”.

Here’s what’s happening

I write my content on my own personal site. I automatically syndicate it to Facebook. My mom, who seems to be on Facebook 24/7, immediately clicks “like” on the post. The Facebook algorithm immediately thinks that because my mom liked it, it must be a family related piece of content–even if it’s obviously about theoretical math, a subject in which my mom has no interest or knowledge. (My mom has about 180 friends on Facebook; 45 of them overlap with mine and the vast majority of those are close family members).

The algorithm narrows the presentation of the content down to very close family. Then my mom’s sister sees it and clicks “like” moments later. Now Facebook’s algorithm has created a self-fulfilling prophesy and further narrows the audience of my post. As a result, my post gets no further exposure on Facebook other than perhaps five people–the circle of family that overlaps in all three of our social graphs. Naturally, none of these people love me enough to click “like” on random technical things I think are cool. I certainly couldn’t blame them for not liking these arcane topics, but shame on Facebook for torturing them for the exposure when I was originally targeting maybe 10 other colleagues to begin with.

This would all be okay if the actual content was what Facebook was predicting it was, but 99% of the time, it’s not the case. In general I tend to post about math, science, and other random technical subjects. I rarely post about closely personal things which are of great interest to my close family members. These kinds of things are ones which I would relay to them via phone or in person and not post about publicly.

Posts only a mother could love

I can post about arcane areas like Lie algebras or statistical thermodynamics, and my mom, because she’s my mom, will like all of it–whether or not she understands what I’m talking about or not. And isn’t this what moms do?! What they’re supposed to do? Of course it is!

mom-autolike (n.)–When a mother automatically clicks “like” on a piece of content posted to social media by one of their children, not because it has any inherent value, but simply because the content came from their child.

She’s my mom, she’s supposed to love me unconditionally this way!

The problem is: Facebook, despite the fact that they know she’s my mom, doesn’t take this fact into account in their algorithm.

What does this mean? It means either I quit posting to Facebook, or I game the system to prevent these mom-autolikes.

Preventing mom-autolikes

I’ve been experimenting. But how?

Facebook allows users to specifically target their audience in a highly granular fashion from the entire public to one’s circle of “friends” all the way down to even one or two specific people. Even better, they’ll let you target pre-defined circles of friends and even exclude specific people. So this is typically what I’ve been doing to end-around my Facebook Algorithm Mom problem. I have my site up set to post to either “Friends except mom” or “Public except mom”. (Sometimes I exclude my aunt just for good measure.) This means that my mom now can’t see my posts when I publish them!

Facebook will let you carefully and almost surgically define who can see your posts.

What a horrible son

Don’t jump the gun too quickly there Bubbe! I come back at the end of the day after the algorithm has run its course and my post has foreseeably reached all of the audience it’s likely to get. At that point, I change the audience of the post to completely “Public”.

You’ll never guess what happens next…

Yup. My mom “likes” it!

I love you mom. Thanks for all your unconditional love and support!!

Even better, I’m happy to report that generally the intended audience which I wanted to see the post actually sees it. Mom just gets to see it a bit later.

Dear Facebook Engineering

Could you fix this algorithm problem please? I’m sure I’m not the only son or daughter to suffer from it.

Have you noticed this problem yourself? I’d love to hear from others who’ve seen a similar effect and love their mothers (or other close loved ones) enough to not cut them out of their Facebook lives.

References

[1]
R. Tippens, “Drop the Autobot: Manual Posting to Facebook Outperforms Automated,” ReadWrite, 01-Aug-2011. [Online]. Available: https://readwrite.com/2011/08/01/manually_posting_to_facebook_significantly_outperf/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
[2]
“How to Increase Your Traffic from Facebook by 650% in 5 Seconds,” WPMUDEV, 02-Aug-2011. [Online]. Available: https://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/how-to-increase-your-traffic-from-facebook-by-650-in-5-seconds/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
[3]
J. D. Lasica, “Demystifying how Facebook’s news feeds work,” SocialMedia.biz, 11-Feb-2011. [Online]. Available: http://socialmedia.biz/2011/02/07/how-facebook-news-feeds-work/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
[4]
D. Hay, “Will auto-posting stunt the reach of your Facebook posts?,” SocialMedia.biz, 26-Jul-2011. [Online]. Available: http://socialmedia.biz/2011/07/26/will-auto-posting-stunt-the-reach-of-your-facebook-posts/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
Syndicated copies to:

Author: Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

417 thoughts on “The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem”

  1. My article The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem hit #1 on Hacker News this morning (a first for me)!
    Sadly, due to some quirky bugs last week, I’d turned caching off for the first time in 3 years, so my server has tipped over. If you’re having problems reading it, here’s an archived version. http://web.archive.org/web/20170712042021/http://boffosocko.com/2017/07/11/the-facebook-algorithm-mom-problem/

    Note to self: Don’t read the comments.

  2. Since my post hit #1 on Hacker News and blew up the article in a whole different way, I thought I ought to change the audience setting on Facebook to public so mom could finally see it.

    Sure enough it only took about 10 minutes from the time of the change for my mom to not only “like” it but to “heart” it. This time she went over-and-above and also wrote a note too.

    Sure enough, mom likes it!

    I love my mom!

    Syndicated copies to:

  3. Great post! You’re not the only one.
    I remember once I posted a article about robots or something and my dad liked and commented: “Son, congratulations on your engagement!”

  4. If you care about user engagement, you should probably disable pingbacks in the comment section. (1) You’re not going to impress anyone for getting lots of pingbacks — we all know the web is large. (2) This makes any kind of discussion of your thoughts impossible.

    1. I wish that pingbacks or trackbacks looked this good or worked from social silos like Facebook and Twitter!!!

      What you’re seeing are mostly webmentions. Apologies that I still haven’t finished the UX/UI on them to facepile the likes and simple mentions from other areas of social media to make the actual conversation more readable/usable. What I’m ultimately trying to do is collect as much of the conversation about and interaction with my posts across the web here in one central location on my own site as I can instead of allowing it to be sadly fragmented in various silos where it’s harder to pay attention to everything and respond appropriately. There’s also the strong likelihood that these social sites won’t last forever and I’d like to keep a record of what was said in one location that I control. This particular post is more egregious than most because it was #1 on Hacker News for most of the day yesterday, so it drove vastly larger amounts of traffic than my poor little blog typically sees.

      Thanks for your thoughts! Hopefully the UI will improve in the near future as I have time to build/implement it.

  5. Nice post.

    I solve the problem by having 2 FB accounts. One (max private) for personal friends/family who don’t care about my niche SQL Server DevOps content and the other (max public) for my professional networks who I’d prefer did not have access to all those embarrassing uni pics.

    Seems to work quite well.

  6. YES!! You’re definitely not the only one. My mom’s too busy for Facebook but my mother in law, who btw works like crazy!, seems to be on Facebook 24/7 as well. I don’t know how she does it, she’s like a magician or something, the second I hit “post”, she likes it lol Most of the stuff is in English which she can’t read but she shows her love anyway. I’m totally gonna start using your tactics. Thanks for the informative post.

  7. “In general I tend to post about math, science, and other random technical subjects…” On Facebook?? You might have expertise in engineering, but clearly you have a thing or two to learn about marketing. People in Facebook-land generally don’t care about the things you’re posting and that’s why you’re not getting Likes or Shares. Don’t blame it on Facebook’s algorithm, or your improper assumptions about how it works.

  8. Curious if you were posting on your personal page or a business page. My mom knows I am the social media person for the company I work for and I created the page. I know she is not into Fantasy Football so dear old mom is doing this to support me. Now that our audience has grown we are testing posts without boosting but now I am worried she is messing up the reach? She is on the list of followers for the page but does FB still consider her my mom through the business page? Any insight would be appreciated.

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