This article is written very much with the small business owner in mind, or for a marketing person who needs to explain to a business owner how they should plan their approach to their business’s Facebook page.
Facebook is the most widely used social media platform in Australia with 17 million active users and around 12 million daily users.
Whilst YouTube is also considered a social network by many and attracts large audiences, Facebook wins in terms of the number of people logged in to the platform, isn’t limited to only video, and people’s engagement with Facebook is more two-way – people contribute content as much as they consume it. YouTube is more heavily consumption.
None of the other social networks come close. The next in size, Instagram, has less than a third of the active users of Facebook.
The Facebook “News Feed”
I also want to focus on the Facebook “News Feed” because it’s important: the News Feed is where Facebook users experience your posts.
As I’ll explain in more detail, very rarely do people visit your Facebook page to see all your posts, and only a small percentage of Facebook posts are shown to someone’s News Feed.
Thinking that all your business’s Facebook posts are seen by everyone following your page is a common assumption that highlights two ‘curses’ of marketing that I’ve found particularly prevalent since specialising in digital marketing:
- The curse of assumed knowledge
- The curse of wishful thinking
I, as advisor on social media, can assume that a business owner knows something about the importance of the Facebook News Feed and how it works (hence this blog post because I should know by now, many don’t!).
The business owner may assume they know how the Facebook works, when really they don’t!
The curse of wishful thinking: the business owner thinks the Facebook post they just wrote about their business is really interesting and/or important, so everyone who likes their page will as well.
Just look at a random business‘s Facebook page and it’s highly likely that most posts are promotional and fundamentally fail to reflect the reason people spend time in social media.
How the News Feed Works
Now store these things in the back of your mind for now, as I briefly explain what the Facebook News Feed is and how it really works.
- The Facebook News Feed is the collection of posts that Facebook shows to a user based on who their friends are, the pages they like, and some of the adverts Facebook advertisers have targeted to them. It is therefore unique to each user.
- The News Feed is where people spend almost all their time in Facebook. People don’t visit your ‘page’ very often if at all, even if they ‘liked’ it. They open Facebook and spend time looking through their News Feed. They vertically scroll through the posts, moving down from the top and usually quite quickly as there is so much to see. If you don’t use Facebook often, watch someone else do this – there are plenty of opportunities to observe someone using Facebook at home, in a cafe, on planes, public transport etc.
- People look at their Facebook News Feed mainly on their mobile. You probably set up your posts on your desktop which is fine, but make sure you use ‘drafts’ to create your posts, and be sure to preview the mobile version before you publish.
- People who ‘like’ your page won’t always see your page’s post in their News Feed. For some larger business Facebook pages, their posts might only reach 2% of the people who like that page!
This is the biggest assumption someone new to Facebook makes: “a person liked my page, so surely Facebook will show them everything I post.” This hasn’t been the case for years, but I can understand why many assume this.
Given all the above, the question I hope you are now asking yourself is: “what can I do to get my posts into people’s News Feeds?”
But before I answer, let me introduce you to your new best ‘friend’, or maybe enemy, the Facebook algorithm.
The Facebook Algorithm
The Facebook algorithm is the formula Facebook programmers have created to select the posts users will be shown in their News Feed.
It’s a closely guarded secret, so we can only guess how it works, but many try. Facebook simply state that their role is to “connect people to the stories (posts) that matter to them most via the News Feed”.
How do they know what matters to someone, given that
- any user doesn’t know in advance the content of someone else’s posts;
- Facebook doesn’t ask them;
- the amount of content produced by a user’s friends and the pages they like (and even the ads targeted to them) far, far exceeds the amount of content a user will look through when browsing their News Feed.
Facebook looks at a wide range of signals to decide which posts to display in someone’s News Feed and they do give us clues.
These include many things but the ones you should focus on, because you can influence them are:
- Did the person engage with previous posts from the same source, person or page (history).
- Did people engage with the post when it was initially shown to some of the possible recipients (sampling).
- What type of content is it? Facebook has a habit of showing more posts using the most recently launched post product. When Facebook launched video, they gave it more prominence in the News Feed. Similarly for “Facebook Live”. It is also about what a particular user tends to favour.
- What’s in the content? Is it something a user has shown an interest in before via a number of different signals, or is it about something that is trending across Facebook, part of the ‘zeitgeist’.
Facebook publish announcements on how they are tweaking the algorithm, and for the serious student I recommend bookmarking this Facebook web page.
You’ll notice announcements like “Helping Make Sure You Don’t Miss Stories from Friends” (which some see as code for “We’ll Show Fewer Posts from Business Pages So We Can Receive More Ad Revenue”), and “New Updates to Reduce Clickbait Headlines” and “Reducing Links to Low-Quality Web Page Experiences”.
How does Facebook know that its algorithm is doing a good job? Facebook have user panels who manually order what they find relevant and this is compared to what the algorithm came up with. Adjustments are then made. Rinse. Repeat.
What does this all mean for you? If you remember one word, please remember: “engagement”.
Secret to Facebook Engagement
If your ‘fans’ engage (like, react, comment, share, watch a video, click on images, click on web links) with your posts, they are more likely to see your posts again.
If your post gets a great reaction when it is first shown to a sample, it will be served to more people than if it didn’t.
How often should you post? Whilst no one suggests you should be absent for a long time, my answer would be “as often as you can create engaging content”.
Don’t feel you have to post: your Facebook fans aren’t waiting for your post.
People aren’t sitting their wondering “why haven’t I heard from XYZ business for a few days”. There is plenty of debate and research on posting frequency. The larger your following (over 10,000 fans) the more often you can post.
How do you know what is ‘engaging’. Understanding why people are using Facebook and, to some extent, their mindset whilst using Facebook helps.
Facebook users are there mainly to connect to their friends and family, not to consume advertising. They are there to be, yes, social.
So if you want them to engage with your post, most experts advise you to entertain people, help people, inform people, be useful, solve problems – as long as all these things are related to your business, or to the community your business services.
And keep in mind Facebook’s recent announcements, already mentioned, about clamping down on clickbait and links to low-quality web pages.
There are also features that let you target your posts to a subset of your ‘fans’. This allows you to target via interests or via location, so you can maintain the higher engagement. Facebook deduces the interests of users by another myriad of signals.
To take advantage of this option, you have to made an adjustment to your page’s settings – follow this step-by-step guide to turning on “Audience Optimization for Posts”.
Facebook also refer to “thumb stoppers” – usually images or video that catch people’s eye and cause users to pause their scrolling. Are you able to create arresting images? This will be easier for some businesses than others.
Understanding Facebook, its algorithm, and how that determines the content of a user’s News Feed are all important in determining your approach to this social media behemoth.
Some digital experts question whether businesses should spend a lot of time on their Facebook page at all.
I think that if you have a clear and disciplined approach to what you post, and understand the limitations of the medium, you can keep the ‘time spent on Facebook’ vs ‘promotional value of Facebook’ in balance.
You should also try to look at other business pages in your category that engage their audience well and ask whether you can learn (not copy!) what they have done. Facebook Insights allows you to “watch” five other Facebook pages.
I haven’t touched on Facebook advertising and community management. Along with using Facebook Insights, these are both important subjects that require their own blog post.
I’ll save one of these up for next time!