When I think of Mark Zuckerberg, the first person who comes to mind is 80s pro wrestling bad guy “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper once boasted about his opponents, “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.”
Zuckerberg could make the same claim. Facebook changes the rules every few months, tweaking their algorithm and policies regularly, often without warning or explanation. Once you’ve set your strategy, you can’t go on autopilot, because the rules are likely to change quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be wrestling with your Facebook strategy again.
But there’s no need to submit to Zuck’s stranglehold on your page. Here are five tactics to help you pin down your 2015 Facebook strategy.
Forget Engagement, Start Tracking Reach Rate
There’s a ton of information inside of Facebook’s Insights tool, and if you export the raw data files, there’s even more that you’ll likely never examine.
Three Facebook metrics tend to get the most public discussion: Likes, Comments and Shares. But the first two of those are basically worthless. Post likes are meaningless. OK, not completely, as a post’s likes do impact its organic reach, but realistically, a like is a one-second long, one-click engagement. How valuable is that? Do you remember the last post you liked on any platform?
As for comments, they’re typically considered a “deeper” engagement, since people actually have to start typing (and presumably thinking, but that’s debatable), but most comment numbers are skewed by comment spam. When automated comment spam is peaking (seemingly every other week), it can easily account for a large percentage of the comments on a given post. Facebook is constantly fighting off comment spam bots; as soon as they wipe one out, another one pops up quickly.
On its Insights dashboard, Facebook shows you “Engagement Rate” which their Help Pages define as, “the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it.”
But since I’ve convinced you that likes and comments aren’t valuable, “Engagement Rate” is at best a specious number with little insight, and at worst a flawed formula that’s misleading social media managers.
Instead, I think the most important number to track is Reach Rate, which isn’t an official Facebook metric. Facebook only shows raw reach numbers in their reporting, presumably for an obvious reason – reach rates are typically in the single digits when reach is expressed as a percentage of your audience. They conveniently neglect to show you that math.
Still, the number is easy to derive. For each post, divide the organic reach number by your total audience number to arrive at a reach rate. This number will tell you how much of your potential audience you’re reaching, and it serves as a strong indication about how algorithm-friendly your post is.
You’ll realize quickly that certain types of posts, specifically videos and photos, wildly outperform status updates and links. This November, Facebook announced on its own marketing blog that they’ll be cracking down on “promotional” posts in 2015, and if your “content” is really just a blatant advertisement (“Buy now!” or “sign up here”) with little context or relevance to your fans, you can expect that content won’t reach much of your audience.
Track your own custom Share metric
Sharing is caring, as they say. In other words, your fans actually care about your content if they’re willing to share it with their friends. So you should be tracking how many people do this. The numbers won’t be overwhelming, but they can be telling if you give them context.
Share numbers on their own aren’t typically very large, especially as they relate to the size of your overall audience. For the Celtics, since we’ve got 8.7 million fans, 18 shares on a post may not seem like much. But again, it’s not about your audience, it’s about your reach. Fans who never see your content can’t share it.
So it helps to put shares in context with regard to the size of your reach and the content of your post. For the Celtics, with the size of our audience, we’re reaching hundreds of thousands of fans per post. With that in mind, we’ve started tracking “Shares per 10k Reached” to understand what content resonates and what’s getting ignored. We’ve found that content that does better than 1.0 shares per 10k reached is pretty successful. Content that over-indexes can often do 3-4 shares per 10k reached. We consider a post that does under 0.5 “Shares per 10k Reached” to be underperforming on our page.
Want more reach? Upload video directly to Facebook
Facebook made an important sweeping change over the summer. They started auto-playing videos on mobile devices. So when users scroll past timeline posts with embedded videos, the video starts up and entices users to click and play them. Mobile is a massive piece of the Facebook audience; a report from Q2 of 2014 revealed that over 1 billion of their 1.32 billion monthly active users (> 80%) access Facebook from their mobile device, and 30% access it exclusively from their mobile device.
One of the results of this shift is that embedded videos are reaching people in the timeline at a 2-3x greater rate than links to content or typical status updates. At least that’s what the Celtics have seen. And that’s why you saw so many random people’s Ice Bucket Challenges in August, whether you wanted to or not.
Simply put, Facebook is rewarding publishers by giving video more regular placement in your audience’s timeline. The results have been staggering for us. Celtics videos are reaching about 650,000 fans per post and averaging ~75,000 views since we started uploading them directly to Facebook in August. That reach rate (7-8%) is much better than links and status updates that consistently get a 2-3% reach rate. Prior to this change, if we linked off to a video on our own website or YouTube, we were lucky if it was generating a few thousand views based on the referral traffic Facebook was generating.
Recently, we posted a tribute video to former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo upon his return to play in Boston with the Dallas Mavericks. This video reached over 6.1 million fans (that’s a Reach Rate of over 69%) and was viewed over 1 million times. Obviously, this video is an outlier, but had we simply linked back to our website, the post never would have generated anywhere near that type of referral traffic.
There’s a couple of factors at play here, but the important dynamic to understand is that Facebook is trying hard to keep users on Facebook longer and is incenting brands to generate content to do that. According to comScore, this August, for the first time ever, Facebook beat YouTube on desktop videos delivered. So, here’s the question: Do you care about generating an audience for your that carefully crafted video content, or simply driving referral traffic back to your website?
Tag other fan pages to enhance your reach
Want to reach new fans? Here’s a quick tip: Start tagging relevant entities with large followings in your posts. By tagging other fan pages, you can often reach people who are fans of those pages but not fans of your own. It’s a great way to reach new fans. We regularly tag opposing teams in our posts, opposing players and the NBA itself.
In some cases, small Facebook pages have been able to reach 2-3x their entire audience with posts by using this technique.
Spread your posts out
You can only post so many times a day before your fans will tune you out. What’s the magic number? It’s different for every brand. We’ve tried to stick to four or five posts per day on average. But for each of your posts to reach their largest potential audience, they need time to hit people’s timelines before being replaced by something else from your fan page. If you post at 10:03 am and then again at 10:31 am, that first post is likely to wildly underperform in terms of reach.
I’d recommend separating posts by at least two or three hours each, and preferably, much longer than that. Segment your content calendar into day parts, and give your posts as much time to breath as they can get. Check Facebook Insights to understand when your fans are actually online, and use that to map out when you’re going to post. If your brand has a national or international fan base, don’t be afraid to schedule posts for the wee hours of the night. Just because you’re not awake doesn’t mean your fans aren’t on Facebook.