What Makes Facebook Brand Posts Engaging? [Research]

Facebook has grown to 2.23 billion monthly active users worldwide. In the U.S. 74% of people visit Facebook daily and spend an average of 58 minutes on the platform. Over 80 million businesses use Facebook pages and 97% say it is a significant part of their content strategy. Research results recently published in the Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising give us insight into what types of posts could be more successful on Facebook.

Facebook’s Problem

Many academic studies and real life cases have linked Facebook to business results. Yet, achieving these results has become more of a challenge as Facebook organic reach (total number of unique people shown a page post through unpaid distribution) has declined significantly. For example, average organic reach dropped from 16% in 2012 to 6% by 2014. For large brand pages organic reach dropped to an average of 2%.

Infographic: Facebook Is Pushing Brands to Pay for Reach | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Since then, Facebook has increasingly said that brand page organic or viral reach is more dependent on people sharing posts. Facebook continues to tweak it’s algorithm to prioritize content based on whether Friends are engaging (sharing, liking, commenting) with a brand page’s post before putting it in people’s news feeds. What can help increase organic reach?

There has been plenty of research telling marketers to use videos and live video in Facebook posts to increase reach. Yet not every brand can produce video content or go live for every post. There has been little study of the words used in a post. My research colleague Michael Coolsen and I set out to discover if the text of a Facebook post alone can make a significant difference in performance. If so, what type of post text should marketers use in their Facebook posts to increase shares and engagement to boost organic reach?

The Research

We developed a content analysis of Facebook brand post text to determine which variables contributed to increased shares, likes and comments – key factors in obtaining organic reach with Facebook’s news feed algorithm. We partnered with social media metrics firm Unmetric to collect a random sample of 1,000 Facebook brand page posts. We wanted to know what type of text increases shares, likes, and comments. We also wanted to know if the number of brand page fans impacted those results.

Through a pretest and a main test we coded 18 variables including post type (link, photo, status update), number of characters, number of words, number of hashtags, number of links, number of brand mentions, new/now, promotion/price, contest/sweepstakes, social cause/corporate social responsibility (CSR), events, celebrity, question, exclamation point, call to action, fan content/user generated content (UGC), time/date, and education.

The Results

Our findings can be seen in the table below. What was most surprising to us is that promotion/contest, social cause/CSR, and education posts showed no significant results – content types that have been promoted as being best practices for increasing engagement. In fact, education posts had a significant negative impact on likes and comments. In all variables the number of page fans from thousands to millions did not change results.

Brand Facebook Posts by Text Content Type (number of fans did not impact results)

Type of Post Shares Likes Comments
New/now Increase No effect Increase
Time/date Increase No effect No effect
Education No effect Decrease Decrease
Promotion/contest No effect No effect No effect
Social cause/CSR No effect No effect No effect

What Does This Mean?

With these results it may be worth reconsidering your content marketing and social media marketing strategy. Marketers have been told to create content of value and educational posts seem to fit under that category. Promotions, contests and social cause messages have also been said to draw interest. What is happening? The difference here may be the specific channel.

Perhaps people are on Facebook to interact with friends and family and keep up to date on timely, new messages. To them Facebook is low-involvement distraction. They are not scrolling through their feed to learn. Educational posts may perform better on a channel like LinkedIn. This stresses the importance of having different strategies and content optimized not only for the target audience but also for the the social media channel.

Promotions and contests may draw one person’s interest to respond themselves, but not enough to share to get into other people’s newsfeeds organically. Similarly, corporate social responsibility messages may be important for a person to know, but unless it is a crisis, it may not be important enough to share for viral reach. These types of posts may need to be Facebook ads.

Summary of Findings

  • Facebook brand posts using words indicating something new (now, introducing, etc.) produce higher shares which can boost organic reach.
  • New/now Facebook brand posts produce higher comments increasing engagement which can boost organic reach.
  • Facebook brand posts that indicate a specific time, date or deadline produce higher shares which can boost organic reach.
  • Educational Facebook brand posts decrease likes and comments reducing engagement which could reduce organic reach.

What does this look like in real examples? Below are three brand posts from the study that included new/now, time/date, and educational messages. As you can see the PlayStation post had both a new/now and time/date  message and performed the best of the three. The M&M’s post had a time/date message and had significant shares. The XFINITY post was an educational post and received very limited engagement.

What Do You Think?

Do these results surprise you? How would you explain them and how might they change your thoughts on social media strategy? For details on the study including the background research and theories considered see the full  article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising on October 29, 2018, available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10641734.2018.1503113

Does Your Social Media Plan Tell A Story?

A social media plan is a strategy document but also a selling document that usually takes the form of a written report and a presentation. One of the most effective forms of written and oral communication is story. Before a social media plan can help a brand sell, it has to be sold.

Below is an outline of the main parts of a social media strategy placed on a dramatic arc to ensure you are telling a compelling story to your client or boss. Take them on a journey of discovery of how your solution will help them overcome a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Make their brand the hero against competitors to meet real business objectives.

Social Media Plan Outline Template Strategy Story and StorytellingAct 1 Introduction/Exposition: This is where you introduce the background of the brand, their history and mission. The client or your boss obviously knows this, but you are letting them know you know and making sure you are all starting from the same setting such as, “Open on a hundred year old company founded on the values of …”

Additional context comes in explaining the industry including latest trends and main competitors. Identifying the main competitor establishes the antagonist. Most businesses have someone they are trying to catch up to or keep from catching them.

Complete the exposition of the story by describing who the brand is trying to reach. A well-defined target audience is a key to success. Understanding the perspective and motivations of the target is important as most clients are not themselves in the target market.

Act 2 Rising Action/Conflict: This is where you spell out the conflict of the story. There is usually an inciting situation – the reason they need a new strategy. Often the incitement is something getting in the way of business objectives or something that can help the brand reach those objectives.

Clearly identifying the problem or opportunity ensures that you and the client are working towards the same end goal. Making this a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound objective ensures from the beginning that your plan will be able to be measured for success against what the client cares about most.

Reporting the results of a social media audit adds additional context but also adds complications. The results of the social audit often reveals unexpected insights that conflict with current beliefs and/or strategies. The truth of these complications can raise tensions and anxieties as anticipation builds for a solution.

Act 3 Climax/Turning Point: This is where the climax or turning point of the plan happens. The high point of the plan and your presentation should be the reveal of the big idea that is going to solve the problem or seize the opportunity against the competitor.

Don’t just reveal it – sell it. Explain how the idea is more than creative. Point out how it is also a strategic solution. Describe how the research insights from everything before this part of the plan led to the big idea as the solution. This is the turning point, because the solution has been revealed and everything after this is result of that solution.

Act 4 Falling Action/Results: This is where the results of the research and insights and the big idea play out in specific social media actions. Recommend how the brand’s social media presence should change. Which social media platforms are ideal for the big idea, message and target audience? Which social media platforms need to be left behind? How does paid social media play a role?

Also explain how the social media idea integrates with current marketing efforts and other forms of traditional marketing promotion such as advertising and public relations. Show the full potential of the solution by explaining how social media can integrate with other areas of the business such as operations, R&D, human resources, customer service or sales.

The last action of the big idea should be examples. Paint a picture of what the strategy will really look like. Show the client sample content posts in each of the selected social media channels. Prove the solution works with a multi-channel social media strategy.

Act 5 Resolution/Denouement: The conflict is resolved. The client can now see the victory over the competitor. The final resolution is given and any remaining tension of not knowing how to solve the problem is released with a tying up of loose ends.

The final outcome includes a content calendar that shows when, where and how the plan will take place across the various social media platforms. A sample social media content calendar can be a great start.

Complete the path to their goal by explaining how success will be measured. This can be demonstrated through a social media metrics table that clearly links social media specific platform metrics to the business objectives established in the beginning of the plan.

The last loose end is cost. Let them know a how much the solution will cost. A social media budget template can help estimate these costs. The solution is made clear as the story ends and you have told the story of their future success. What is the unique plot of your plan?