August 13, 2012
Getting bosses, colleagues and clients to understand Facebook Marketing is hard. Really hard. The success of a Facebook Page is measured in cycles, rather than the short burst campaigns that dominate agencies – the same client who approves a $500,000 budget for the media team won’t spend $5,000 on content development for Facebook, and asks you questions about Facebook ROI. If that sounds familiar, we feel your pain. To help you out, we put together a PDF that breaks down why Facebook is different, and explains how audience, reach, engagement and growth work together in what we call the Facebook Marketing Lifecycle. We tried to keep it short, since everyone is busy, but here’s a few additional talking points to arm yourself with next time:
“Pages that optimize for the content lifecycle on Facebook reach 2x, 3x or even 4x more of their audience organically.”
“When Pages post content, it only reaches a subset of their audience, so these unqualified fans are essentially “taking up space” and wasting valuable impressions – instead of reaching the target audience, the brand’s message reaches people who will never convert.”
“Overtime, if a Page consistently succeeds at driving their target audience to engage through these three channels, Facebook displays a higher percentage of that Page’s content organically. Put simply, Facebook incentivizes great content.”
For marketers, one of the most powerful aspects of Facebook is the ability to precisely measure each stage of how content is consumed and shared – whereas even sophisticated digital marketing of the past decade has often relied on estimation and imprecise audience tracking, Facebook’s value proposition to marketers and advertisers is precision in targeting and measurement.
Facebook is still a relatively young company though, and the industry of Facebook marketing even younger – to many agencies and brands, the dynamics of engagement on Facebook look like an overwhelming flurry of activity, and success looks like a stroke of luck.
There is, however, a distinct and measurable lifecycle to how content reaches fans of Facebook Pages, is amplified by paid spend and viral reach, and defines and grows a Page’s audience.
At PageLever, we’ve seen our brand and agency customers reach millions more consumers by measuring and understanding this lifecycle.
Too often obscured by the “vanity metrics” of Page Likes and audience growth, Pages that optimize for the content lifecycle on Facebook reach 2x, 3x or even 4x more of their audience organically than the average Page. The equivalent spend, in terms of Facebook Ads, that would be necessary to reach that same audience reaches into six or even seven figures for large Pages. The incentives to optimize both content and timing are at an all-time high, and the first step towards optimization is to understand the lifecycle of Facebook Pages.
For Facebook Pages, success is measured in cycles, rather than the short burst campaigns that have dominated marketing in the past.
We’ve defined four distinct stages of this cycle – audience, visibility, engagement and growth. Each stage directly depends on the one before it – there can be no engagement without visibility, because content has to be seen before it can be consumed and shared. An outstanding marketing team uses data to determine the weakest stages first, because they understand that the success of their Page hinges upon full circle execution.
Every brand has at least one target audience for their products, defined most clearly by demographic, geographic and interest data. While the parameters of this audience are well defined, overall size is usually at best an estimate.
By contrast, a brand’s audience on Facebook can be clearly measured by the number of people who like their Page(s). This leads many to assume that, because fans opted-in to liking the Page, they are potential customers and part of the target audience.
We’ve found that for most brands, there is a discrepancy between target audience and Facebook audience. There are two primary causes:
Poorly targeted paid spend. Over the past three years, many brands and agencies have, either themselves or through 3rd-parties, spent money on Sponsored Stories to acquire new Likes, in an attempt to appear large and successful to competitors, clients and bosses. Often referred to as “unqualified likes”, many of the fans acquired through these campaigns are outside of the Page’s target audience, sometimes in emerging countries where the company does no business.
Inactivity or perverse incentive structure. Let’s face it, reaching a brand’s target audience, that actually converts into paying customers, is challenging. The more expensive the product, the bigger the challenge. Many companies that under-invested in Facebook Pages, particularly in 2009 and 2010, attracted millions of fans outside their target demographic – from aspirational window-shoppers to kids who liked Pages to enter their free iPad giveaway.
When Pages post content, it only reaches a subset of their audience, so these unqualified fans are essentially “taking up space” and wasting valuable impressions – instead of reaching the target audience, the brand’s message reaches people who will never convert.
Instead of just looking at audience growth in terms of likes, we encourage our customers to use demographics to compare their Facebook audience against their target audience, and set goals for growth only within the target. After all, for a company selling luxury cars, 15 year-old fans in Indonesia won’t drive growth, but reaching just 3% more middle-aged fans in the USA could make a big impact.
Three primary components determine the reach of a Page’s content:
Organic Distribution. Only a percentage of a Facebook Page’s fans see any given post organically, but not only can this percentage can vary greatly, it can be dramatically increased by understanding how it is calculated. Facebook uses relevancy algorithms to determine what content appears in a given user’s News Feed. Often referred to as “Edgerank”, these algorithms score content based on the user’s affinity and previous interactions with the Page – comments, likes, shares and clicks.
Paid Spend (Facebook Ads). At PageLever, we believe the most effective use of paid spend is amplification of page posts and Sponsored Stories. Let’s say we’re looking at Mercedes Benz Facebook Page – fans in affluent zip codes, age 40-60, are 10x, maybe even 100x more valuable to the company than the rest of their fans. By using paid spend to amplify reach, Pages can ensure that their content is seen by their most valuable fans.
Viral Reach. When a Facebook user sees a story about a friend liking, commenting or sharing a Page’s content, this counts as Viral Reach – the number of unique people who saw the Page’s content through a story published by a friend. Viral Reach represents the “snowball effect” that sticky, sharable content has, and is one of the strongest signals of successful content
Overtime, if a Page consistently succeeds at driving their target audience to engage through these three channels, Facebook displays a higher percentage of that Page’s content organically. Put simply, Facebook incentivizes great content.
Facebook incentivizes great content, but the but defining “great content” requires detailed analytics – for example, one of our customers, MTV India, discovered that when they posted photos as albums, instead of individually, over 1200% more people clicked on them, causing Facebook to show their content to a greater percentage of their audience. In a competitive landscape, discoveries like this, driven by analytics, represent massive competitive advantages.
It’s easy to create and curate content that your audience will consume, but clicks and views don’t generate stories on Facebook – only when a user is engaged enough to like, comment or share content are stories generated in the user’s friends’ News Feeds, and in the lifecycle of content on Facebook, the viral reach from stories is a key driver of organic growth.
At its core, driving engagement is about optimizing content for user action, and this requires community managers to shift away from asking, “Is this interesting to our audience?” and start asking questions like, “Will this video drive our audience to share with their friends?”
For many Pages, there are clear, measurable signals that their content is being consumed, but few stories are being generates through comments, likes and shares. Then, seemingly at random, some posts will take off and are shared hundreds of times. How do you use data to determine why that particular post drove more engagement than the past 10 combined?
Take the guesswork out of content development. Facebook has become too important a marketing channel to allow Community Managers to operate on instincts alone. Managers and directors need data too – clear and meaningful analytics are critical to assessing the performance of Community Managers.
Test, analyze, optimize. As a startup, we follow a fast build, measure, learn cycle ourselves, and it’s our goal to enable our customers to do the same with the Facebook Pages they’re responsible for. We believe in marketing based on the scientific method – create a hypothesis, test it, measure results, and optimize content accordingly.
Can you identify not only which individual pieces of content perform best, but which types of content, or subject matters generate the most stories? All marketers should be measuring which content drives the most engagement, and adapt their content strategy accordingly.
Instinctually, many of us are wired to look to growth as the first and only metric for Facebook Pages. Nearly everyone involved in social media marketing is under pressure for “more likes” from clients, peers and managers with little hands-on experience.
Smart marketers and leaders know that growth is only one of many metrics, and our smartest customers, with the best performing Facebook Pages, spend their time thinking about targeted growth, asking questions like:
Where is our growth coming from? For most Pages, the majority of new fans do not come from the Timeline – they come from stories that appear in users News Feeds or Ticker. For brands with a strong web presence or blog, a significant number of likes may come from the Like Box or button.
Is this growth within our target audience? Growth feels great, but it’s only meaningful to a business if the new fans might convert and become customers. Breaking down growth by age, gender and location leads to a better understanding of growth quality.
Where are the surprises in the demographics of audience growth? We’ve seen our customers make all kinds of interesting discoveries, like finding latent demand for their product in a country halfway around the world, all by looking at demographic data and asking, why do so many people in this country like our Page?
When executed well, over time this lifecycle compounds – with a larger audience comes increased reach, with increased reach comes more engagement, with engagement comes growth, and with growth comes a larger audience. Whether you’re on the brand, agency or consultant side, you’re probably already seeing this cycle in action to some degree. At PageLever, we think great analytics can accelerate and refine this cycle by helping individuals and teams understand what works, so they can create better, more targeted content.
The terminology around Facebook marketing is new and different. Instead of impressions and clicks, words like reach, stories and consumptions take center stage. While they sound similar, it is essential to understand these definitions and develop a vocabulary for talking about Facebook Pages.
Facebook marketing is based on a lifecycle that is always on. Whereas digital marketing is based on campaigns that last a specific period of time, Facebook marketing is best understood as a lifecycle where consistent content and optimization drives growth, engagement and reach within a target audience. When executed well, the impact of Facebook Pages is far greater than any single campaign can deliver.
Set goals for each stage of the lifecycle. Drive your team to focus on measurable achievements, rather than intuition or generic engagement. The most important stage to focus on should be the one where you are currently weakest, because it is a roadblock for each of the other stages in the lifecycle.
Full circle measurement is essential. The impact of a Facebook Page is far greater than simply the sum of its posts, or its total number of likes. Many brands and agencies still use tools that only measure one or two stages of the lifecycle – maybe you already measure growth & engagement, but not reach or audience. The most successful Pages measure all four stages.