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

Paid Social Media: Why You Need It And What Is Available

Paid social media, sometimes known as social advertising or native advertising, is simply paying for distribution or views in social media channels. This can take the form of promoted, sponsored or boosted posts and other types of ads that appear in people’s news feeds or other places in social media channels. Two general terms have emerged to describe paid social media. Social advertising is advertising that relies on social information or networks in generating, targeting, and delivering paid marketing communications. Native advertising is paid marketing communication that delivers useful, interesting and targeted information in a form that looks like the site’s native, or non-ad, content. Some social networks offer other forms of paid such as display ads, text ads, pre-roll, or filters in the network.

The need for paid social has been increasing as organic reach, (percent of followers or fans that see your posts) has been decreasing significantly. Organic reach is the number of unique people who saw a social media post through unpaid distribution. Paid reach is the number of unique people who saw a post as a result of paid distribution. Organic reach is often calculated as a percentage by dividing the total number of users reached by the total number of posts. This is usually collected within a specific time frame such as 30 days. Then the average number of users reached per post is divided by the total number of followers or fans (page Likes). Getting someone to “Follow us on Facebook” doesn’t deliver nearly as much guaranteed exposure today. Below are the average organic reach rates for some of the top social channels:

  • Facebook Average Organic Reach: 2.27%
  • Twitter Average Organic Reach: 3.61%
  • Google+ Average Organic Reach: 0.09%
  • LinkedIn Average Organic Reach: 20%
  • Instagram Average Organic Reach: 20%

Of course, these are averages and there are strategies to get above average organic reach. Some manage to maintain amazing organic reach with high engagement or other methods. A recent study found that some smaller Facebook pages are managing to get average organic reach of up to 11% on Facebook. Yet that is still low and for most paid social is becoming a necessary part of the social media plan.  The good news is that paid social can be one of the more effective forms of paid advertising. eMarketer reports a survey that found nine out of the top 10 most effective marketing tactics included sponsored social media messages. TV commercials were the only nonsocial marketing tactic in the top 10.

Organic is still very important. As the Adobe blog points out, organic (non-paid) social has the benefits of branding without a budget by lowering marketing costs, building loyal brand communities (measured by engagement rates), and taking advantage of new social networks, early adopters and niche audiences. But adding paid social media to organic posts helps extend your message by increasing reach. Paid social also provides customized targeting, retargeting and improved insights with advanced analytics and testing. Another way to consider the use of organic social media posts is an influencer marketing program, which can take many forms on many platforms.

As established social channels grow more crowded and move towards algorithms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the number of paid social opportunities are growing. For a quick guide to the top social channels that offer paid options see the free downloadable chart below:

Here is the current list of the top social media paid options (click on each link for more details of each offering).

In social networks Facebook Business offers Boosted Posts and ads that can appear as Sponsored Posts, Suggested Apps or Display Ads. They also now offer Facebook Messenger ads and WhatsApp ads are on the way. LinkedIn Marketing Solutions offers highly targeted Sponsored Content, Sponsored InMail, Display Ads and Text Ads. LinkedIn Talent Solutions also offers specialized options for hiring such as Recruiter, Job Posts, Job Slots, Career Pages, Referrals and Work With Us Ads.

In blogs and forums Tumblr Business offers Sponsored Posts and Carousel Posts, Sponsored Video and a Sponsored Day that pins a brand on the dashboard with an Explore Page tab with exclusive brand content. Also consider Sponsored Blog Posts which is paying for a post to be written on blogs. Sponsored Post Companies or Communities connect companies with bloggers.

In microblogs Twitter Business offers Promoted Tweets for Clicks, Followers, Engagement or Apps Campaigns. And Pinterest for Business offers ads by Promoted Pins to build awareness, increase engagement and drive website traffic. TikTok Ads offers full-screen ad placements and hashtag challenges.

For media sharing social channels YouTube offers in-stream Pre-Roll Ads, Video Ads and In-Video Overlay, plus Display Ads, and Video Mastheads. Instagram for Business offers Sponsored Posts as Photo Ads, Video Ads or Carousel Ads to increase awareness, visits or downloads. Snapchat Advertising offers Snap Ads, Sponsored Geofilters and Sponsored Lenses. Brands can also sponsor LIVE or DISCOVER stories with publisher partners. Periscope offers Sponsored Live Video Broadcasts through Twitter Amplify that include partner names in broadcast titles and branded video highlights with Pre-Roll Ads.

For geo-location or geo-social Foursquare for Business offers ads to Promote Listings, Existing Messages or create Custom Messages based on location, time or action like a check-in. Nextdoor offers Sponsored Posts that appear in users news feeds and daily digest emails. Snapchat Geofilters could also come under this category. Google also now has Promoted Pins for Google Maps.

In ratings and reviews Yelp for Business offers ads to feature businesses first in Relevant Searches and Competitor Business Pages and incentives such as Yelp Deals or Gift Certificates. TripAdvisor offers Sponsored TripAdvisor Custom Content, Pages, Sweepstakes, Advertorials, Maps, Forums and Display Ads. Angie’s List offers Magazine Ads, Newsletter Sponsorships and dedicated product and category Emails.

For social bookmarking Digg Advertising offers Native Advertising by working with brand partners to display and co-created content to be featured on the platform. Buzzfeed Advertise offers “custom content worth sharing” through Custom Social Posts, Video, Promotion and Story Units plus Social Discovery. The newest option is Reddit which offers advertisers the ability to boost organic content already shared by fans with promoted posts.

In social knowledge channels Quora Advertising offers ads that appear below relevant questions as “Promoted by” with a “Learn More” link. Ask.fm for Partners offers many options for advertising in Apps, Mobile Web and Desktop. Also consider Podcast Advertising which is Sponsoring a Podcast and the host of the show usually reads Promotional Messages for the brand and/or has Special Offers for listeners.

How can you use paid ads to support your social media marketing? Social Media Examiner reports native ads can help build brand awareness by attracting new audiences to new content or gaining a larger audience for previously published posts. Marketers can also create specific campaigns to grow followers, increase engagement and drive website traffic or app downloads.

Unlike traditional online ads, paid social ads have the advantage of building social proof (likes, comments, shares) which increases credibility and trust. Promoted or sponsored posts can also improve SEO generating more awareness which equals more authority (links and social signals) to produce better rankings. Marketers can retarget native ads to people who have come to their website to view a product or service or boost reach of content that was already successful for further exposure to a larger audience.

An added benefit of paid social media is that in most channels marketers only pay for the first interaction. If someone chooses to share your paid post subsequent views and shares are free. Yet, to get those initial interactions that lead to free organic exposure content must relevant, enticing and valuable. Most channels also offer highly targeted audience reach that can deliver native ads based on demographics, search interest, behavior, lists, lookalike audiences, job titles, industry, groups, geographic area, etc. This targeting also helps in creating content that is relevant and meaningful to that specific audience.

Many of the channels also have robust advertising dashboards to create ads, manage campaigns, set up budgets, and track results. These dashboards like Facebook Ads Manager or other third party options can make it easy to set up A/B split tests to test different aspects of ads including offers, visuals, headlines, call to actions or target audience. Detailed analytics helps to optimize paid efforts over time. Also social media monitoring platforms like Hootsuite are now adding social ad integration so brands can create and manage new ad campaigns on major networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest all within The Hootsuite dashboard.