Facebook pages can be a very strong marketing tool for businesses, but they can also be an expensive time suck. Is a Page appropriate for your company? The answer is almost always "It depends." It depends on your time, your budget, and most importantly, who you are trying to reach.
THE DREADED "A WORD": ALGORITHM
Let’s start with a little background. Unlike Twitter and Instagram, Facebook users do not see everything that their friends and liked pages post. With an estimated 1,500 possible posts that they could show the average user, Facebook has to narrow it down to around 300 per day (1). All posts are run through an algorithm (dubbed Edgerank) that decides what a user’s news feed looks like. How does the algorithm work? It’s starts with data collection. Facebook keeps an “anonymous” record of everything each user does. Think of it like a folder on all your activities, but without your name attached.
This folder encompasses the basics like age, sex, ethnicity, location or relationship status, but it also goes much further. If you engage with any post (meaning a like, click or a comment), visit a profile or a page, post about something, etc. Facebook adds that data to your folder. If you have Facebook on their phone, it is also gathering GPS information on where you go (2). It even registers how long someone views a certain post (3). All of these data points influence what content the user sees.
Pages and Profiles register differently within Facebook’s mighty algorithm. Generally, it’s easier to get content seen if a profile posts it versus a page (4, 5). At its core, Facebook is about connecting people with people, not connecting people with brands. Most people do not want their news feed filled with companies and ads, so Facebook limits how many of those posts show up. They know if users see only companies and advertisements in their feeds, people will eventually stop using Facebook.
When a Page posts an update, Facebook shows the content to a test audience of between 30 - 100 people. If no one engages with it, Facebook deems it bad content and will not show it to any more people. The more people who engage with the post, the greater the chance that it will show up in other news feeds. In many cases, the total number of people who “like” a Page doesn’t matter. I’ve seen Pages with 2,000 likes routinely beat the reach of pages with 8,000 likes. Reach all depends on how engaging the content is.
VIEWS = $$$
Now here’s the scary evil part. It’s actually in Facebook’s best interest to limit the reach of Page posts. They created a problem (“No one’s viewing my posts!”) and then offered a solution in the form of paid boosted posts (“Take my money!”). A Page can pay Facebook to bypass the algorithm and show their content to X many of their followers or to X number of people from a chosen target audience.
Facebook ads, or boosted/sponsored posts, make up a large portion of their revenue (6). It’s a pretty genius business strategy. The public freely and voluntarily feeds Facebook data in the form of what they like, where they live, how old they are, what their religion is, etc. Even if a person never posts a single thing on Facebook, their browsing habits still give the company valuable data. You know that saying “If a service is free, then you’re the product?” It’s never been truer.
This data allows companies are able to get very specific with targeting. If I had a wedding dress company in New York City, I could target women aged 18 - 45 that live within 100 miles of NYC and recently changed their relationship status to engaged. (In fact, when I got engaged to Lucas, my Facebook feed was filled with wedding related ads. It was unbearable. Lucas’ feed had no wedding ads whatsoever, leading me to believe these ads were targeted based on gender.)
It’s enticing to sink a little of money into sponsored posts. It’s cheap, and it offers extremely targeted marketing. But be careful! Target wisely. Remember, you need engaged followers to like your page if you want your unsponsored posts to be seen. Make sure your target audience actually wants to like you. I have seen pages with 40,000 likes be rendered useless because the initial targeting wasn’t set up correctly. I’ve also seen pages use them very successfully. Whatever you do, do it with intention and thought.
Additionally, be very mindful of the CPM (Cost per 1,000 impressions) or CPC (cost per link click). Just because your ad is being seen by 2,000 people does not mean that it’s an effective marketing tool.
TO POST OR NOT TO POST? THAT IS THE QUESTION
Reading this may make you think “Why should I have a Facebook page at all? This sounds terrible!” Many brands would agree with you. Trader Joe's, Apple, and Marlboro famously don’t have a Facebook presence (7). Apple’s dummy page has almost 1 million likes, despite it never being claimed by the company. These brands realize that Facebook requires a brand to cater to the audience at hand, rather than the audience it wants to reach. While it’s true that Facebook can provide useful data on a brand’s audience, what happens if the brand wants to reach a new target market? Given the way Facebook’s algorithm works, it will be nearly impossible to reach the new market without paying Facebook a pretty penny. As Elan Dekel put it in a Forbes.com article “Instead of building a database of users that you can contact at will, you are essentially paying Facebook to build a list of people that you can then advertise to.”(8)
None of this is to say that Facebook isn’t a valuable advertising tool. It is. But remember, a tool is only as good as the person using it. A firm understanding of Facebook's algorithm is the first step in a successful strategy, but you'll need a plan. With a thoughtful marketing and engaging content, a Facebook page could be a huge asset to your business or brand.
FACEBOOK PAGE + ????? = PROFIT
Before starting a Facebook page ask yourself how it will fit within your overall marketing strategy. What market segment are you trying to reach? Get specific! “Women” is too broad. “Woman age 25 - 40 with at least one child and a college education” is more informative and will allow you to reach them more effectively. By defining an audience, you can cater what platforms you use to what you know your audience is using.
You should also set targeted goals for the Facebook page. Again, specificity is key. “I want Facebook to drive more traffic to my online store, leading to a 30% increase in sales over the next calendar year” is a much better goal than “I want sales to increase.” Specificity makes the goal more achievable. A general goal (like "I want more people to buy my product") is too broad to be successful. Not only could it be achieved in a hundred different ways, the goal's success is open to interpretation. By zeroing in on exactly what you want to accomplish, your team will be more likely to succeed.
Next, plot out what the Facebook Page will look like. You may find this document helpful. It gives some general best practices for heavily used social media platforms, Facebook of course being one of them. Form a plan for what types of content gets posted, how often updates will be posted, what content doesn't make the cut, etc. Project the time commitment needed to meet your goals and make sure your business is able to devote the staffing required. Never sign up for a social media account that you don't have time for. It's better to have a strong presence on 1 - 2 platforms than a lackluster presence everywhere.
Above all, have fun and be creative! Social media is about being social, so take the opportunity to engage with your customers in new and innovative ways. Form a strong plan, check the status of your goals each week, and augment your strategies when necessary. It won't be long until your business is reaping the benefits!