As the head of marketing and social at CMI, I was able to speak with Facebook über strategist Jon Loomer about how to improve social reach and why Facebook gets a bad rap for making your feed work better.
CM: Many are reporting their Facebook reach plummeted in 2014 because of filtered feed. Can you explain why?
JL: It’s pretty simple, actually. Facebook has always had an algorithm that serves up what’s most important to the user (or what it thinks is most important based on that user’s past interactions). The thing is, there are well over a billion people on Facebook now and so competition for visibility in the feed is way up.
A lot of people blame Facebook, saying it’s trying to squeeze marketers. Yes, Facebook needs to make money, but ultimately it can only make money if users stay engaged. Facebook’s main priority is users – specifically, giving those users a good experience. If users spend more time on Facebook, the platform is more valuable for advertisers. And not everyone has been pinched by filtered feed, by the way. I would estimate 20 to 30 percent of brands have not been affected.
The bottom line is that we are crazy spoiled with regards to reach. If you post at 8 a.m., why should you reach people who don’t check in until 6 p.m.? No one talks about what their reach is on Twitter, which I’m sure is awful. Google Plus? Come on! No other platform shows reach except Facebook.
Yes, reach numbers came down recently. Maybe now you’re reaching 5 to 10 percent of your fans per post. But if you’re posting multiple times per day, multiple times per week, you are reaching different groups of people each time. We all just have a distorted view of what to expect. At least Facebook is sharing its reach numbers.
CM: Marketers are always trying to determine the perfect time of day to post content. How do you figure it out?
JL: Time of day is often counterintuitive. Facebook will tell you how many of your fans are online at a given time of day, each day of the week. You might assume you should post when most of your fans are online. But what if your peak time is also the time of the highest competition? For me, even though I have an international audience, according to Facebook the prime time should be between 8 a.m. and noon, my time, because that’s when the highest percentage of my fans are online. What I’ve found repeatedly, however, is that if I post at 2:15 in the morning, my time, I get the most reach and engagement. My theory is that my content has less competition at that time, so it’s less likely to be filtered out.
There’s something else to consider: Facebook does what’s called story bumping. When content is getting engagement, Facebook is more likely to bump it up to the top of the Newsfeed. My fans on the East Coast tell me they see my posts in the morning when they get to work, even though I’m posting at 2 a.m. their time. That’s because my content is getting early momentum (i.e., a bump) from my international audience. I’m not implying everyone should post at 2 a.m. I am saying you need to experiment to see what works for you.
CM: I’ve noticed we get great reach when I post very early on Saturday mornings. I’m guessing many of us entrepreneurs are sitting at the computer drinking our coffee early on Saturdays. If I post at 6:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, we wouldn’t get that same reach.
JL: Your weekend example may not only show you have an audience at that time, but also that other brands are not posting then. There’s less competition.
Also, keep in mind: What you’re sharing matters more than time of day. Marketers talk a lot about gaming the system to reach more people. They used to use the text updates, then they used a link share, etc. In reality, all of that is putting the method of sharing ahead of the content. And since we’re talking about Facebook, it’s also about whether your content spurs a conversation.
CM: Buying ‘likes.’ Can you set the record straight?
JL: Oh jeez. Companies that buy “likes” misunderstand how Facebook works and what’s important. “Likes” are absolutely important, but only relevant “likes” are important. If you have irrelevant “likes,” Facebook will punish you. Yes, it looks good for a minute because you’ve got a whole bunch of “likes.” But those are fakes, and when you share content, you are either going to get spammed or get no engagement at all. That signals to Facebook that you are boring … even if you’re not, which means your content won’t get seen by the people who actually matter to you and care about your brand.
What I’ve found repeatedly is that fans convert fans. When I’ve sold something in the past, I had this test where I targeted fans. I targeted people who were on my email list who weren’t fans and people who didn’t know who I was but should be highly relevant based on some interest. My fans produced a 39 times ROI. People who didn’t know who I was didn’t buy anything.
Fans are highly valuable if they are relevant. If they’re not, there’s just no purpose even having them because if they don’t convert or if they don’t engage, you’re just wasting your time.
CM: I feel we’ve hit a point with Facebook where people don’t necessarily go to a page and look at the number of ‘likes’ they have anymore.
JL: It matters to a point. If you see that this page has five “likes” on it, most likely those users like it. If it’s 500,000 “likes” and a portion are active, there is some social proof in that. But it’s just not worth it to do anything that’s black hat to get “likes” because you will get burned one way or another.
CM: What’s the benefit of paid content (i.e., promoted posts) on Facebook?
JL: Every time I publish a new blog post, I share it with my fans and I promote it (i.e., pay for a sponsored post). I promote it to my fans and to people who have visited my website in the last 30 days. I want to re-engage those who matter most.
The mistake a lot of people make is they think, “I already shared it with my fans. I don’t need to promote it.” Again, you only reached 5 to 10 percent of your audience organically. You need to reach them at other times by promoting it. When I promote content to existing fans, I exclude those who already read the post.
CM: Is there a rule of thumb about how much is too much or too little to post in a single day? Does it depend on audience and company size?
JL: There are a lot of factors to consider. I used to publish four or five times a day; now I sometimes go two or three days without sharing to my Facebook page. I have over 66,000 fans and I get a lot of engagement with new posts, even though I don’t post very frequently. If you think, “I have to post four times a day,” you’re more likely to post crap. As long as you have good content to share, and as long as your users are engaging with it and they’re open to it, go ahead and post.
CM: Do you think Facebook will ever divulge the right way to do everything or do you think it will keep changing the algorithms and methodology?
JL: No, and I think that’s right. We have seen brands try to manipulate everything and take advantage of the system. It just makes it a horrible experience for the actual user. Facebook gives us a little bit of information. We know a little bit. Users aren’t robots. One of the many mistakes we make is thinking there is a priority of the stuff that users like most: They like photos. They like videos, then text updates, and then they like links. Then we should always have the short description and a call to action. When it doesn’t work, we ask what went wrong? No, it’s more than the algorithm – that’s just part of the story….
CM: Can you give us the down-‘n’-dirty about Facebook Power Editor?
JL: If you are an advanced Facebook marketer, if you want to get serious about Facebook ads, you should be using Power Editor. You have access to more features within Power Editor, which gives you full control over bidding. What’s more, new features typically get rolled out to Power Editor users first.
CM: What do you say to marketers who find their efforts are lagging? Where should they start looking for answers?
JL: How are your results lagging and in what way? It all depends. Is no one engaging with your content? Maybe you need to do a better job of bringing in a relevant audience. Or, maybe your content sucks – and that’s where you need to focus. Or maybe your audience prefers a different format? Video tends to do very well, for example. There are lots of reasons why your content might not be working, and it’s usually related to audience or content. Answers won’t lie in gaming the system.
CM: We find Facebook is great for early engagement – getting people to know about our events and CMI, in general. What about reaching those further down the sales funnel?
JL: I look at Facebook as being a four-step sales funnel. The first step is to build a highly relevant audience. I do that by targeting people who visit my website or people who are on my email list, and getting those people to “like” my page. I analyze interests and behaviors to ensure I get the right group of people. Using Audience Insights on Facebook, I can review my fans (or other people’s fans) and look at demographics. How much money do they make? How many people live in the home? What kind of car do they drive? What do they spend money on? What types of pages do they like? All of those offer ideas to build a highly relevant audience. That’s the first step.
The second step – one that many skip – is providing a lot of value to build trust and authority. It’s not just about selling crap or telling fans how awesome you are. You need to share things to help fans.
Third, along the way, if possible, collect email addresses.
The fourth and last step involves selling, and if you’ve done it right, they are ready to buy because they trust you and see you as an authority.
CM: Let’s talk about headline bait. Can you share how Facebook is addressing this issue to make a better experience for users?
JL: A lot of people have seen in the last six months to a year that their Newsfeed is being overtaken by BuzzFeed, Upworthy, and content from sites like that. Click-baiting is an attempt to manipulate the Newsfeed. If a piece of content gets interaction, it’s going to be shown to more people because the click indicated to Facebook that it was a good piece of content. But it wasn’t necessarily good, it just had a good headline to get people to click. Newsfeeds were flooded with this stuff because Facebook gave the content higher priority since it thought the link meant it was highly engaging and interesting content. In some cases, it may have been. In a lot of cases, it wasn’t. At the end of the day, if people aren’t seeing what they care about, they leave or spend less time on Facebook. That’s bad for Facebook. That’s what they want.
Facebook is cracking down on bad content, and it’s not punishing people, particular keywords, or phrases. Upworthy and all those sites can still be successful if people click on the link, spend a minute or two on the article, on the website, return to Facebook, comment on the content, and share it. Those are signals to Facebook that this was a good article. When users click and immediately come back, they don’t interact with the post and that tells Facebook it was a bad piece of content.
CM: We’ve got a core group of fans who are always sharing our content. I say thank you and respond to what they post, but how can I take that appreciation a step further?
JL: You could always feature your fan of the month or fan of the week. If you ever have products or content to review, involve your top users in a beta test. There are a lot of different ways. You can’t lose those people. They share content. They make your content better because they are interacting with it. If you’ve got somebody in five seconds who has already commented on your content and adding to the discussion, that’s great for you. They are probably sharing it, too. They are very valuable people and it’s just a matter of keeping them involved any way you can.
Image courtesy of CCO magazine