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The trouble with Facebook? Most brands don’t know how to define success or failure

Brands are being swindled into spending money, time and effort on Facebook because of the hype and encouragement spread by ‘social media gurus’ as well as the world’s infatuation with this sexy medium.

However, the reality of brands’ performance in this space shows that many are wasting their money and should reconsider their investment in building, maintaining and boosting their Facebook presence.

The problem, when it comes to Facebook, is that most brands do not know what should be regarded as ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’.

Numbers are often cited by the gurus to substantiate why brands need to be on Facebook, but let’s look at an emerging markets example like South Africa and two important numbers that are never mentioned:

  • South Africa’s top 100 Facebook pages have a combined fan base of approximately 14 500 000 local fans; but these are not unique users, rather users who have liked multiple pages.
  • Of the 14 million multiple fans, there are only 324 000 fans engaging with brands; a miniscule 1.8% of the total SA Facebook community meaning that 98.2% of Facebook fan likes are not actively engaging with brands (this is down a full 1% from November 2013)

These figures illustrate a critical error that brands make: success = number of likes. It’s equivalent to measuring how socially popular a person is by counting the amount of people they have met in their lifetime.

What would be a more reliable of social popularity would be to measure the number of people with whom that person has a relationship with.

Similarly, on Facebook. If the relationship is equated to those who comment, or respond when prodded, or share posts, you’d get a more meaningful picture of engagement, or relationship.

So, for a Facebook page, you’d divide the Talking About This figure by the total community size to obtain percentage engagement.

Most South African Facebook pages sit at just under three percent engagement, with only six pages of the top 100 currently and consistently achieving above five percent. The majority languish way below acceptable norms.

Those that pass and exceed the target benchmark of 10% are mostly boosted short-term through advertising and competitions which drive new likes, directly affecting the Talking About numbers, and falsely inflating engagement. This makes the activity seem positive when, in fact, actual engagement within the community is low and hidden from inspection.

Furthermore, Facebook’s Edge Rank (which doesn’t actually exist but we use the term to identify a combination of algorithms which Facebook uses to control its content philosophy) ensures users do not get bombarded with information from brands or people who they have friended or liked, but do not engage with often. It sends them content from those people they interact with more often.

Each Facebook post is actually only exposed to between 3% and 14% of your community. This is why it is important to ensure higher engagement on posts, as well as posting more than once a day. To boost exposure, there should be between two and three posts a day, depending on content and community. Before November 2013, most South African brands posted only once a day, if that. Today, the average is at 1.9 posts a day; an improvement in my opinion.

Importantly, brands need to push less brand advertising and become more content creators around lifestyle issues related to the brand. If the content is right, it will be shared – which is the ultimate viral objective, yet too much of the content being produced is weak and non-engaging.

Oh, and Likes growth averages six percent. However, 58% of pages are growing at five percent or under, showing fewer brands are putting budget behind growth.

Here is a list of five questions everyone should ask to determine how well (or not) their brand is doing on Facebook:

  1. How good is the content and is it producing engagement rates of no less than 10%?
  2. How well is the content being published (post length, post time, visual aids, etc)?
  3. How well are the administration basics being handled (response rate, milestones, about sections, competitions, and so on)?
  4. Is the page being measured, tracked and evaluated – what reporting tools are being used, what insights are being pulled and how is what is and isn’t working being evaluated?
  5. Does the brand keep in touch with new developments on Facebook and in social media, and are social media practices being adjusted accordingly (for example, three major shifts have taken place over the past 12 months)?

So, the question going begging is, is social media a waste of time, or is it a viable communication channel available to brands for achieving real tangible business objectives?

The answer is most certainly no to the former and yes to the latter. However, there is a science to social media, one that the vast majority of the marketing community seem blissfully unaware of.

There needs to be more accountability for performance and more informed brands demanding more acceptable levels of performance. If not, there is no point for brands to be on social media, as merely having a presence doesn’t generate the business results which brands need.

Author | Jason Stewart

Jason Stewart
Jason Stewart is Managing Partner of HaveYouHeard, South Africa’s first specialist Word-of-Mouth marketing (WOMM) agency, representing brands seeking to develop lasting and intimate relationships with their consumers. After matriculating from the Diocesan College (Bishops) in 1997, Jason spent three years travelling and working in the UK, with trips... More
  • Nick Paul

    Hi Jason, thanks for the great article, it was a great read. I’m curious about your mentioning that brands should be producing content which generates engagement rates of no less than 10%. I have a question as to how a) realistic an expectation that is and b) how valuable that actually is.

    With regards to a) If I look at social media giants the world over – those who quite frankly are regarded as very successful on social media – many of them have engagement rates (PTAT/total fans numbers) which are quite low. For example KLM, who’s seen as a regular leader in the travel space if you check sites like socialbakers, have engagement rates of under 2% a lot of the time. Redbull, another giant with a giant budget and strategy hover under the 1% mark. If pages with such an immense budget are not able to get anywhere near the 10% mark, is that a realistic target.

    This brings me to point b), it seems if you’re chasing high engagement rates as your KPI, you’re likely to do anything to game Facebook into generating you engagements. For example: “Like if you xyz!” “Share if you abc!” or “Comment to win!” These would surely drive up your engagement but it’s not an indication of your page generating valuable content.

    My belief is that you won’t please all of the people, all of the time, your content needs to be varied and, as you put it so well, it will build relationships with the most important people to your business. For me I’ve started shifting from relying on engagement as a gauge for success and started looking at the traffic I’m able to generate from social media. Sure, engagement can be an indication of how likely I am to succeed with a piece of content, but the vast majority of viewers don’t comment or even like a post, but they sure do click on it. THAT, for me is the true indication of success.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

  • PJ

    There are exceptions to using click count as a measure of success I think:

    eg someone may click on the page because they find the link intriguing, but then hate the actual page, and return a few times before they learn not to click on those links again.

    eg2 someone may click because intrigued, love the page, come back over and over, then get bored or lose interest, stop coming back so much, stop coming back entirely.

    Like me in this page. I was interested in the link for a moment, but there’s too much text on here so I didn’t bother reading – if there were more colours, pictures, simplicity, etc I would have paid more attention. So the click count mostly only measures the success of the link – the more clicks, the more effective the link to the page, but it doesn’t necessarily show the value of your actual page – ? thoughts ?

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