What makes an engaging Facebook post?

by Luke Brynley-Jones in News

Luke Brynley-Jones is the founder of Our Social Times. He is hosting Social Media Marketing 2012 in London this Thursday, 25th October at which We Are Social’s Tom Ollerton will be discussing engagement strategies.

This month it was revealed that Facebook has tweaked its EdgeRank algorithm to reduce the organic reach of brand posts by 50%. The social network claims that this will reduce news feed overload and improve the quality of content, but the subtext is pretty clear: companies seeking to promote their services on Facebook need to combine their content with paid advertising.

When asked about the change though, a Facebook spokesperson issued a typically vague statement as to what kind of content would be prioritized, saying “all content should be as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family”. Having briefly reviewed the nonsense and claptrap shared by my own family members, I decided to search for a better yardstick.

Facebook defines Engaged Users as “the number of unique people who have clicked on your posts in the last 28 days”.  This includes anyone liking, commenting on or sharing a specific post, liking the Page, mentioning the Page in a post, checking in, RSVP’ing to one of your events, photo-tagging the Page and writing a post on your Page’s Wall, as well as clicking on a post, opening up a link, watching a video, or clicking to view photos.

But which types of content are the most engaging?
Earlier this year, Facebook conducted its own study to identify which types of posts generate the most engagement. They decided to divide posts into three types:

  1. Messages about the product or service – e.g. “Our new resort just opened! Book your trip today”.
  2. Messages related to the brand – e.g. “I decided to go on my first cruise because______.”
  3. Messages unrelated to the brand – e.g. “Hang in there everybody. Monday will be over before we know it!”

Apparently messages related to the brand generate the most engagement. But beyond their relation (or not) to the brand, posts have other, dramatically different dimensions. Some, like the fill-in-the-gaps example above, are deftly designed to elicit engagement from fans. Videos invite fans to view them and photos offer an easy opportunity for sharing with friends. Yet users react very differently to these content types.

A recent report from Wildfire! and EdgeRankChecker, which analyzed more than 1 million Facebook posts, found that photos are far and away the most engaging content type. Users can decide if a photo is worth sharing in a single glance, without having to think or click, whereas videos and links require us to click before we decide whether to share. Status updates are the second most engaging post type, since they too don’t require us to think much before we like or share.

But does better quality content produce more engagement?

Last month, fuelled by the slew of “Like the Olympics? – then Like us!” posts we saw during the summer, I wrote a blog post criticizing the often condescending and crass engagement techniques employed by companies. The feedback I received in comments was considered and clear: nobody likes cynical, valueless engagement ploys, but equally, short, seemingly pointless statements can be highly engaging. Take this post from Yorkshire Tea, for example:

This is a simple, status update (tick) that’s closely related to the brand (tick); it’s not cynical (tick); and it’s at least as engaging as my brother-in-law’s photos of his new lawnmower (tick). It also generated 356 likes, 49 comments and 13 shares – so it ought to be exactly the kind of content that Facebook is now seeking to prioritise.

I have a feeling, though, that EdgeRank is going to be more hit and miss in future and I’m keen see how the content-to-advertising ratio on Facebook shifts in the coming months. I guess we’ll all find out soon enough.

You can join We Are Social’s Tom Ollerton, Confused.com’s Sharon Flaherty and Samsung’s Toby Chishick at Social Media Marketing 2012 where they’ll be discussing Social Media Engagement Strategies this Thursday, 25th October. We Are Social readers can get 10% off using the discount code “WAS10”.

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