Facebook Promoted Posts: Taking Away Your Fans?

October 31st, 2012 by Douglas Thomas

Facebook Promoted Posts

They Took Our Fans!

Last week, a small ripple went through the Dangerous Minds blog, crying out “I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK!” Letting out a screed of massive proportions, the piece has made its rounds on the very social network it lambasts, even having some of the 59,502 fans replace their profile pictures with the header image. But like most widely-circulated rants, the post is largely sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Facebook celebrity George Takei had been complaining about this “problem” enough to hit the Wall Street Journal this past June. And while earlier this month Facebook extended their Promoted Posts to individual users, Pages have had the option since late May, and the feature’s older cousin Sponsored Stories have been around since January of 2011. Even more striking is that as early as December 2010, only a small subset of your fans would see your posts, and Facebook was then using an impression count, which seems inflated compared to the Reach metric we see today.

If none of this seems particularly recent, then the frustration from savvy marketers about articles of this ilk is understandable. However, two notable sources, Facebook statisticians EdgeRank Checker and marketing patriarch Oglivy-Mather, show a recent decrease in reach centering around an algorithm change on Sept 20, 2012. For history’s sake, there appeared to be a much more significant drop in impressions in 2011.

Facebook Promoted Posts

We don't see the same drop in these four clients.

Why Is This Happening?

An owner of a Page might be frustrated with this, and wonder what causes the low share of meaningful impressions. Blame EdgeRank.

EdgeRank, like a variety of other Ranks in the internet marketing world, is used to show content in a personalized but algorithmic way. These Ranks are often oversimplified into cute formal models, and EdgeRank is no different:

EdgeRank = ∑uwd

where u is the “affinity,” i.e. how much a user clicks, likes, or otherwise interacts with your page’s posts; w is the inherent weight of the type of Facebook post, leaning more heavily on images and videos than text posts or links; and d is the length of time it’s been since the post was made.

With EdgeRank, you may find your fans living in a shotgun filter bubble, and you may ask yourself, “How did I get here?” Each post has an individual EdgeRank with every user; therefore, a disengaged user base may yield lower than average reach, as the posts won’t have enough affinity with the users. A February webinar with Wildfire, now part of Google’s social team, showed an average of only 16% of page fans see a given post from a page.

What Can I Do?

Facebook has increasingly been giving page owners (and, by extension, business owners) paid options to increase their posts’ reach — but before any money is spent, optimizing your posting schedule for EdgeRank goes a long way.

From Dangerous Minds:

At Dangerous Minds, we post anywhere from 10 to 16 items per day, fewer on the weekends. To reach 100% of of our 50k+ Facebook fans they’d charge us $200 per post. That would cost us between $2000 and $3200 per day…

The first thing that stuck in my mind from the original post was that they were clearly using a shotgun approach to their Facebook posting. Unlike in organic SEO, blasting a relatively large number of pieces of content has little benefit — you’re diluting the relative EdgeRanks of your posts by ensuring that few see each individual post and can’t give you the engagement needed to raise your overall affinity. This kind of shotgun approach can be profitable when a page has a large number of fans, but for most pages a more relaxed 2-3 posts per day allow overall affinity to accumulate on valuable posts. Less engaging links can be foregone in the social media strategy for organic sharing by users who click around after reading the shared post, i.e. those that will have a higher chance of viral sharing.

Moreover, Dangerous Minds posts largely links, which are among the lowest weighted edges, as they likely don’t produce the kinds of interactions that create even more high-value edges as images or videos would. They could easily follow the lead of many Facebook pages and post their links with an engaging image, increasing not only visual but algorithmic prominence in the News Feed.

Facebook Promoted Posts

See How Pretty, See How Smart

Finally, the article’s code is missing high-value social meta tags that will lead to attractive display in the News Feed, missing out on high-value placement in the News Feed. Including og:description, especially one optimized for social media, lets you control the message introducing new users to your site and regular users to that piece of content. Using meta properties that were always part of OpenGraph but a newer recommendation from Facebook, app_id and fb_admins, provide a striking, clickable, and brand-reinforcing display in the News Feeds of the most important group for expanding your fanbase: friends of fans.

Sponsored and Promoted

No matter how much you optimize your posts and website to hoard EdgeRank, you may want to spend some money. There are two alliterative ways to promote your posts to a wider audience: Promoted Posts and Sponsored Stories. The two methods are similar in effect, but wildly different in terms of management.

Sponsored Stories, now an elder statesman of Facebook advertising, runs an ad that shows in the top of the sidebar and in the News Feed. You can choose your interest and location targeting and bid for this ad, and the overall budget and duration for the campaign. This kind of ad is perfect for exposing your brand to people who might not even be aware of it, and when well-targeted can lead to click-through rates of over 5% on a reach of thousands or more. Again, a well-optimized Facebook post is necessary to make it clear to the user what they’ll be clicking on, but your strongest weapon is targeting.

There are a two types of Sponsored Stories which can be run individually or in tandem. The first is a flat ad, displayed to users in your target; the second is a “Like Ad,” giving prominence to stories created by actions taken on your posts. Which one you choose depends on your goal: expanding your reach to people who aren’t brand-aware, or pushing to your fans’ friends, who might be acquainted with your brand, but haven’t seen your content before. To make management easy, you can set the Sponsored Story to automatically update with your most recent post, and the overall monthly cost can be as low as $500 for blanket saturation of your target market.

Facebook Promoted Posts

Left: Regular "Flat" Ad. Right: Interaction "Like" Ad

Promoted Posts are the simpler, easier way to run Sponsored Stories that only show in the organic News Feed area. By running a Promoted Post, you create 3 Sponsored Stories targeted to the areas that your fans are from. Two of these ads are post ads, targeted to your fans and friends of fans; the other one is a Like Ad. You can’t edit these ads’ targeting, making them a little unwieldy if you have a broad fanbase with friends outside your target area, and the ads only run for a few days; however, the easy setup lets you get on with your day and promote only the posts you want. It’s also harder to identify these posts as ads, avoiding issues from ad-blockers and other tech-savvy users’ plugins.

If you have the time to manage it, I personally feel that Sponsored Stories are better for most pages because you can control targeting, run ads for longer, and combine with other ads to best draw traffic, interactions, and fans. However, Promoted Posts are great for those who are on a limited budget and looking to avoid losing themselves in overt advertising.

Get Your Fans Back!

No, Facebook isn’t taking your fans, at least any more than they usually did. No, you don’t have to use any paid solutions to reach your fans. No, paid ads aren’t anything more than a way to reach those who wouldn’t normally have seen your content. And no, paying for placement and reach won’t make up for content that isn’t shareable.

Your first steps to getting your fans back is to optimize your posts, schedule and strategy, and website for social media. Then boost content that “sticks” by shrewd, instead of blanket, Promotion and Sponsoring. Finally, spit-shine your boots and watch engagement, reach, and impressions climb.