There’s been a lot of confusion the past few months over Facebook’s changes to its algorithm back in the fall of 2012. Many brands swore they witnessed a jaw-dropping plunge in their overall engagement numbers and worried that this may be a result of yet another nefarious plan by Zuckerberg and Company to ease their newfound shareholders’ concerns about the soundness of their investment in the social media company.
Many agencies, including Blue Volcano Media, did see something funny, but we weren’t quite sure what it all meant.
CASE STUDY #1: Boutique marketing agency
One of our clients, a boutique marketing agency with fewer than 15 employees, works primarily in the B2B space. It launched its Facebook page about two years ago and has a small (fewer than 1,000 fans) but supportive community.
From Q3 to Q4 of 2012, the client experienced a 4.4% decrease in the number of Page Impressions. However, it also witnessed a nearly 84% increase in the amount of user engagement during that same period. (We define engagement as any interaction a visitor has with a page, e.g., sharing content, liking a post, commenting on a post, etc.). Furthermore, while the average Reach of posts declined by nearly 30%, average engagement per post more than doubled during that same period.
Needlessly to say, we were both impressed and stumped.
Consider another client of ours, a local, fast-growing nonprofit organization. While it obviously reaches a different type of audience, its numbers reveal more interesting insights into the maddening but fascinating world of Facebook marketing.
CASE STUDY #2: Small, local nonprofit organization
This client has a very loyal base of supporters, volunteers and donors. It launched its Facebook book four years ago and earned every one of its 2,500+ fans through sheer effort, good will and lots of very compelling graphics, including videos and photos. The volunteers who manage its page clearly understand its power and reach and knew how to harness its ability to generate excitement, enthusiasm, and most important for a nonprofit, the desire among readers and fans to give money.
The organization also spent a few hundred dollars a month on print advertising, however, but wasn’t sure where the money was going or if it was really making a difference. The ads generated a few phone calls a week, but almost none resulted in a conversion.
We analyzed their website analytics and found that Facebook was the second largest source of incoming traffic to their site (organic search engine traffic topped the list). Not surprising — their engagement was at 12%, and their reach relative to the number of fans they had was extensive.
The organization wanted to really leverage Facebook, however, and opted to experiment with an advertising campaign. We created two separate ad campaigns in order to compare their performances against each other and elected for a modest budget of $5 a day for both ads. They launched on November 1st.
Within two months, the number of fans on the page more than doubled. Total Reach more than doubled as well, although average reach per post increased by only about 5%. What was most surprising of all, though, was that user engagement stayed flat at around 4%. (It may also be important to note that donations during the two months of the ad campaign increased by only 1% compared to the same period in 2011.)
So is Facebook hoping to monetize its hot property by forcing brands to pay up to reach the audience they worked so hard to nurture and grow? Based solely on the admittedly small sample of these two small organizations, I’m not sure. And I’m not the only one who thinks this way, as other digital marketers working for brands of all sizes and industries have found much the same results.
If you’re just looking to grow the number of eyeballs who see your content — judged by the number of Likes, your Reach, etc., — then you’ll probably want to pay up. That, however, is the “old” way of measuring Facebook performance and tells you nothing about how effective your marketing efforts are.
If you’re serious about using social media to deepen your relationships and communications channels with your audience, however — regardless if its size — then I’m not sure that the old metrics apply.
You can have a million fans, after all, but if you’re only getting 5% engagement, how much of that is really contributing to your branding and marketing efforts, and how much is just play? Sure, you might be raising brand awareness, but that’s a harder measure to track. When someone engages with you by clicking on, sharing, or commenting on your content, they’ve added one more brick to the path that connects you to them.
Our small sample does prove one thing: content matters. It’s always mattered, and it matters even more now that Facebook has clocked over a billion users and is generating new brand pages every single day. Content is what ultimately inspires engagement and builds the impression your audience has of you and your brand. The size of your audience thus matters less than whether or not they want to interact with you, so make sure you give them content worthy of their attention and time.
We’ll continue to monitor Facebook’s evolution as a brand marketing platform and share with you our analyses and insights in future newsletters, but in the meantime, feel free to drop us an email if you have any questions!