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

Social Media Icon Quiz: Test Your Social Media Knowledge.

A major part of any social media strategy and plan is selecting social channels and that can be overwhelming with so many options. Some report thousands of social media sites and apps, Wikipedia lists over 200 and Brian Solis’s Conversation Prism has just under 200 social channel options in 26 categories. To simplify the selection of social channels I divide social media options into 9 categories by key characteristics. In a previous blog post “Social Media Update: Top Social Media Channels By Category” I list the top 3 or more channels in category. Here I go deeper with the Top 100 social media icons to test your social media knowledge.

How social media savvy are you? Take a couple of minutes and write down the names of the social media icons you know from the list of 100 top channels and tools below. How many can you name? (Don’t scroll down for the answers until you are done.)

Social Media Icons

Once you have written down the names, you can scroll down further to check your answers. First, let’s consider why social media is so important to any organization with some of the latest statistics. According to Pew Research Center, as of November 2016, 77% of all online adults use social networking sites with 87% of 18-29 year-olds on social media, 83% of 30-49 year-olds, 72% of 50-64 year-olds and just over half (51%) of 65+ active on social networks.

From “Social Network Use” (2017) Pew Research Center PewResearch.org Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/data-trend/media-and-technology/social-networking-use/

How many social media icons did you know? Add up how many social media names you had right. That is your percentage out of the 100 social icons listed here.

Out of the 100 social media icons you knew __%. Congratulations! As a marketer, advertiser or public relations professional for any brand you need to go where your customers are active. Recent reports indicate 30% of all time online is spent on social media with global adults spending nearly 2 hours a day on social media up from only 15 minutes in 2012. Shockingly teens spend up to 9 hours a day on social media.

Do you have a social media strategy?