As a social media strategist I often describe my job as part investigator and part analyst. Nothing stays the same when it comes to social media; algorithms change, layouts get redesigned and audiences evolve. From one day to the next, what works and what doesn’t is often in flux. For some, this can be very frustrating; for me it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to discover new strategies and uncover new ways to optimize engagement.
I manage the social media accounts of various companies and organizations, including edSocialMedia. Recently, I spent some time analyzing the reach, impressions and engagement that different types of Facebook posts generated. What started with an investigation for one organization, slowly turned into a large-scale initiative to understand if the results were wide-spread.
Facebook may be one of the most popular social media platforms, but it’s often one of the hardest to make sense of when it comes to measuring engagement. Furthermore, constant changes to the site’s algorithms make it much harder for brands to generate organic reach than it once was. While we can bemoan this, it is what it is. After all, Facebook is a business, just like any other — it needs to generate revenue; and if it can get brands to pay to extend their reach, why not? Of course, not everyone with a Facebook Page can afford to pay, which is why it’s essential that organizations understand how to make Facebook work for them. But that’s not always easy.
While digging deeper into a site’s analytics can be fun, it can also be time consuming and overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
If you look at Facebook as any other website, it’s much easier to understand its motivations. For example, like any website (including your own), you want to keep a user on the page as long as possible. As a result, you’re not going to make it easier for them to leave. In Facebook’s case, this means that they’re not going to make it easy for posts that include links to reach as many people because links encourage people to click through and leave the site.
Instead, Facebook will work harder to increase the organic reach for posts that keep people on the page — like photos, videos and status updates. We’ve all heard that visual content can be more engaging on social media, but it’s not always for the reasons you think. Sure, people like to see fun photos and watch cool videos, but chances are more people will also see the posts that include them.
Photos and videos are great, but they don’t always align with what organizations are trying to achieve on social media — namely, driving traffic to your website. Many organizations create their own content with the distinct goal of publishing it across social media so they can educate, promote awareness and drive traffic back to the original source. But just because Facebook favors photos and status updates over links doesn’t mean that you can’t ever post a link and expect broad reach.
With some experimenting, I’ve been able to demonstrate how organizations can leverage Facebook to improve their organic reach. Using insights from a variety of brands on Facebook, I’ve been able to identify a posting strategy that organizations of all shapes and sizes can implement to extend reach and impressions. Here’s how.
Use Links; Hide the Summary.
When you copy and paste a link into a Facebook post, it automatically generates a preview or summary. While this helps to give context to your link, which can be helpful for the user, a post with a link that generates a summary gets classified as a link by Facebook. As a result, the reach of that post is significantly limited.
Instead, copy and paste a link (I prefer to use shortened URLs because they look better) into your post. When the preview is generated, simply click to make it go away. Once it’s removed, either upload a photo to accompany the post or just post without the preview. (Obviously, you don’t just want to post a link — it’s implied that you’ll write something to accompany the link). If you choose to upload a photo, Facebook will classify the post type as a Photo.
If you don’t upload anything, it will be designated as a status update. Since these are among the two post types that Facebook doesn’t limit as much, you’ll likely to see more reach and increased impressions.
But don’t just take my word for it. The results speak for themselves.
For edSocialMedia, Facebook insights show that posts with an image or photo reached an average of 2.3x more fans (post reach by people who like your page) than posts with posts classified as a link. Posts that were classified as status updates reached an average of 3.1x more fans than posts classified as a link.
You can easily monitor the reach of your page’s different post types using Facebook Insights.
The same was true for total reach (the number of people overall who saw your Page post) in that photos garnered twice the reach, while status updates improved an average of 2.6x compared to posts classified as links.
When it came to impressions (the number of times a post from your Page is displayed, whether the post is clicked on or not), ESM posts with photos had an average of 2.2x more impressions than posts classified as a link. For status updates, they received an average of 2.5x more impressions.
Cool, right? But this wasn’t just an isolated event. I was able to identify similar trends across other Facebook accounts I manage for other organizations. All of them showed that posts with photos and status updates had on average, 2 – 4x more fan and total reach than posts classified as links.
But what about engagement?
While reach and impressions are important to your Facebook posts, if you’re trying to drive traffic or engage users in a discussion, it will be a lot harder. Though insights from various Facebook accounts showed that posts with photos engaged fans (people who liked your page and engaged with your post) an average of 1.5x more than posts classified as links, it wasn’t as dramatic as an increase as reach.
To improve Facebook engagement, brands need to really understand their audience and experiment with topics and content that will appeal to them. Not all social media users want to comment or like or share a post, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on social media. Rather, it may mean that you need re-evaluate your goals. If your audience isn’t quite ready to engage, perhaps driving traffic from Facebook to your website shouldn’t be a top goal, but experimenting with content and increasing reach should.
What about video?
None of the accounts I analyzed showed any increase in average fan reach, total reach or impressions when using videos in a post. However, none of the accounts made sharing videos a priority, in that video posts were few and far between. How do I explain this? Watching video on social media isn’t always conducive to the average user’s schedule. Considering that many fans, if targeted correctly, may be working during the day — watching a video isn’t always easy to do (especially if sound is needed), compared to seeing a photo or clicking a link. You may want to experiment posting video posts during the evening hours or on the weekend to see if this impacts reach or engagement. I know I’ll definitely be exploring new opportunities.
What does this mean for your social media strategy?
For the organizations I manage Facebook for, these insights help guide what types of content is shared. For instance, curating content is still a priority, as it helps to bring context to complex issues and can posit a brand as a thought leader in their industry, but when it comes to sharing other people’s links, I’m not going to care as much about reaching a large amount of people as I do about sharing original content from the brand’s website. Therefore, when curating content from other sources, I’ll continue to post a link that generates a preview. However, to ensure that original content reaches the most people organically, I’ll use photos and status updates.
But not all links are bad. In fact, when I posted a link with a preview for content that came directly from ESM, those links had more reach and engagement than links directed to other sites.
These Facebook insights serve to help me and the brands I work with prioritize content as well as give us intelligence that lets us experiment more strategically. Above all, recognizing that not all Facebook post are created equally makes it so organizations can be proactive in the face on changes we can’t control.