Facebook as a platform has come a long way. Back when I first started using it in college - roughly 16 years ago - I remember needing to sign up with my UMass.edu account, the news feed was a few years away and friends sending other friends a ‘poke’ was a popular thing. It was a relatively new thing and a good way to keep people connected.
Fast forward to today and much has changed with the platform. While discussing all the changes could be a series of blogs by itself, there is one important point: as a social media platform, Facebook has a massive user base, both domestically and abroad. Brands have taken notice: according to eMarkerter, $29.95 billion was spent on advertising on the platform in 2019. There is good reason for that: according to Sprout Social, 74% of high income users (defined as those who earn more than $75,000 annually) in the United States are Facebook users. Only YouTube has a greater proportion of high income users with 83%.
The bottom line: if you are a brand and you aspire to grow your presence digitally, chances are you need to have some kind of a presence on Facebook.
While paid advertising is certainly one way to do that, marketing organically is a great, cost effective way to reach customers on Facebook, expand the reach of your brand and help nudge customers down the funnel. In order to do that successfully, it’s important to understand the rules of engagement when organically building your brand on Facebook.
You need to understand the algorithm, how it works and how to use it to your advantage. That’s what we will cover here. As with LinkedIn, the actual algorithm is proprietary, so we rely mostly on research done about how to work with it. That being said, Facebook is very transparent about what kind of things matter in how they rank posts, so we have a better idea of what matters here than we do with other platforms.
To get started, it’s worth taking a look at the history of how Facebook has rolled out features and updated its algorithm. Hootsuite has a nice infographic that explains some of the updates:
As you can see, the platform has undergone some significant changes as time has worn on. One that is worth mentioning a little more is when, in 2018, Facebook made changes that, in their own words, “prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people.” This initially worried brands, as they feared, and Facebook confirmed, the reach and engagement their pages previously received would take a hit as more meaningful interactions with friends and family were prioritized within news feeds.
This set the stage for the algorithm going forward, although it did have one unintended consequence: posts about blatantly controversial topics that stirred up a lot of emotion were pushed up. It resulted in a 50% boost in engagement from 2018 to 2019, but also a lot of pure noise - engagement on controversial topics that don’t add value. Within that link is a list of what headlines got the most comments; you can check it out if you want but it doesn’t add any value to this blog so we won’t do it here.
This change lined up with how people use the platform. According to a Statista survey, the overwhelming majority of people use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family:
Given that Facebook wants to promote meaningful dialogue and that, for many, friends and family are a significant source of that dialogue, it makes sense for Facebook to try to promote that type of content, unintended consequences aside.
We’ll get into some of the mechanics of that later on. For now, let’s talk about how Facebook comes up with what you see in your feed.
The Ranking Score
Every time you, your friends or a page you follow posts something, Facebook will assign it a score. This score is designed to represent the chance that you, the individual Facebook user, will interact with it in a positive way. The word positive is key here - Facebook wants to make the user experience a good one so they keep coming back to the platform.
To do that, they need to show you posts that make your experience positive - not just the ones that have a lot of engagement and reaction just for cherry picking a controversial topic. Unlike LinkedIn, which prioritizes the top comments, Facebook wants to prioritize the ones you are most likely to engage with positively.
How do they create this score? They take a look at a few factors:
The inventory of available posts
Signals that reveal what the post is. These fall into two categories: passive signals (such as the type of story, the time it was posted and how long the post was viewed), and active signals (engagement). Yes, Facebook does look at what type of emoji your audience uses if they engage and does weigh angry faces that your post should garner.
Predictions on how the post will do based on other historical posts, either from you or others. On an individual level, it will look at whom you have interacted with in the past and, when that person or group posts, promote accordingly.
Using these factors, the algorithm will calculate a score for the post and display it in your news feed accordingly. When other people you are friends with or follow post, this process is repeated and the order is re-done. Ever notice a post you interacted with earlier in the day bubble to the top of your feed later on, only with more reactions and engagement? That is this process at work.
The low hanging fruit here for marketing on Facebook is to simply say “create good content that people want to engage with and watch your posts get promoted.” In reality, it’s much more nuanced than that. If you really want your strategy to be successful, there are a few do’s and don’t you need to be aware of.
Do: Make Sure You Post At The Right Time
I’m in a few groups on different platforms pertaining to social media marketing, and this is a question I see pretty frequently. The real answer to it is to know your audience, when they are online and when they are likely to engage and to plan the timing of your posts accordingly. In general terms though, some posting times get more engagement than others. Courtesy of Sprout Social, here is an infographic that lays this out:
A quick note here: while this was published in August of 2020, it was not inclusive of the changes in usage to social media that arose from the coronavirus pandemic (namely that social media usage in general shot up as lockdowns were implemented). That said, it still gives you a general idea of when a good time - and a bad time - to post is if you are after engagement, which given how the algorithm looks at it, you should be.
Hootsuite breaks it down a little further according to the type of customer you are selling to. Generally, B2B brands do better when posting between 9AM and 2PM Tuesday through Thursday, while B2C brands do better around noon from Monday to Wednesday. So while this gives you a general idea of when to post, do some testing of different times on different days to see what sticks with your audience.
Don’t: Make Posts That Beg For Engagement Or Act Like Clickbait
This morning I woke up, got dressed, checked my phone….and you’ll never believe what happened next!
Ever see a post that starts out like that? That’s clickbait. It’s a blatant attempt to get clicks and elicit reactions from readers. There are thousands of posts that start like that everywhere on the internet. If you’re like me, you scroll right past it.
Facebook. Does. Not. Like. That. Those posts do nothing to add to the user experience and turn the platform into a junk factory. Fortunately, their algorithm is pretty good at recognizing phrases that are typically associated with spammy, clickbait posts and will pull down the ranking score accordingly.
Another thing not to do is make posts that beg for engagement. This is a problem I’m having with a group I’m in; I’ve lately seen posts like this go out to the 338,000 members:
There is no problem with the group and they are not removing anyone. I have seen posts that start like this for a little while now to the point where it’s obvious it’s a low rent tactic to bump engagement. Don’t do it, your audience will get annoyed - and some may ever report you to Facebook.
Do: Post External Links If Appropriate
A common question I looked into when I reviewed LinkedIn was the impact of using external links. On that platform, I found that it ultimately was better to use them in the comments of a post rather than right in the post.
I looked into the same thing on Facebook. While I did see some sentiment that the algorithm punishes posts with external links, I’m not sure I buy it. In fact I found some pretty strong evidence against that as Big Z himself uses them:
His post seemed to do alright in terms of engagement (as an aside, the idea of Facebook’s algorithm deciding a post from its founder was spammy and demoting it, while remote, is downright hilarious). So while your brand may not have the reach of Big Z, don’t be afraid to use links - provided they are on point with your brand and its message.
Do however make sure that when a user clicks a link, their experience on the website is a positive one - particularly if it is your brands’. If websites take too long to load or are hard to navigate, the page’s bounce rate will jump and you likely will lose an opportunity to convert.
Don’t: Consistently Repurpose Or Share Content In Lieu Of Original Content
It is true that if a post does well you can use it in other ways on the platform and be ok. For instance, if your brand also does paid social on Facebook, you can take a well performing organic post and repurpose it as an ad. That helps you twice, as on Facebook they serve ads to however many people you specify based on budget (unlike say Google, which is more SEM and serves it to people searching your keywords, which may be a smaller audience).
But consistently repurposing or sharing posts has been found to not do well with the algorithm. The algorithm wants the experience to be valuable to the Facebook user - it’s what keeps them coming back. Consistent posts on the same topic, but spun differently or shared, are not what the algorithm is looking for, and it will hit your post accordingly.
The lesson here: be original in your posts as much as you can.
Do: Use Videos - Correctly
Videos can be a pretty powerful tool when used properly. In fact, it is the top performing type of post on Facebook. According to a survey done by Influencer Marketing Hub:
96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product/service
84% of people say they were convinced to buy a product/service after watching a video from that brand
74% of people were convinced to buy or download piece of software/app by watching a video
Clearly, videos have value to consumers. But what does this mean for the algorithm? Well, it turns out the algorithm will surface quality, original videos that get posted. Facebook uses 1 minute as the line of demarcation - that is, if people tend to watch it past the 1 minute mark, that’s a signal the video has some value. They recommend the videos be about 3 minutes total in length, though in reality there is some wiggle room, as a study by NewsWhip showed when looking at top performing videos by reaction:
Finally, let’s close out the blog with a few quick hitting insights in general about Facebook and awareness:
Groups matter, a lot. Chances are if you are a brand, or selling a product, you already have one, but if you don’t it’s time to get one. Facebook has said that groups are a very valuable piece of their platform, as they bring people together (the entire purpose of the thing) around a topic that’s important to them. As such, group posts tend to get elevated in user feeds.
Don’t feel like you have to do paid ads if you don’t want to, or don’t have the budget for it. They are certainly a great way to build awareness and consideration, but according to Hootsuite, only 24.6% of pages use paid ads. So it’s not the only way to reach people.
Facebook will tell individual users why they see certain posts if the user wants to access that. On mobile at least, users can click on a post and see an option that explains why they are seeing the post. It will then say things such as you’re a member of a certain group, that you’ve interacted with this type of post more often (i.e. text vs. video), or that you interact with this person or group more frequently than you do with others. The main point: Facebook is aiming for transparency, and this is a way to provide it.
Facebook, for all its faults, still remains a fruitful place for brands and companies to build out a presence. Using the insights from this blog should give yours an edge when you try to build your brand on the platform.
Oak Moon is a consulting agency based out of Columbus, OH that helps companies market their brands, define value propositions and uncover customer insights, among other services. If you are interested in hearing more or have questions or comments about this blog, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.