Jul 27, 2011

Facebook for Marketers

A quick heads up: This is a pretty old post. You’re welcome to read it, but MailChimp has since integrated Facebook ads into the platform, so you may want to take a look at that too. It’s no secret that Facebook doesn’t believe in email, but despite my previous research, I don’t have a clear picture of how their vision is shaping the company/customer relationship. Perhaps I should say the company/fan relationship.

To help clear things up, we called Jeff from PageLever. His site provides really cool Facebook Analytics to all kinds of businesses, so he’s in a position to have a uniquely informed perspective.

Jeff was boarding a plane as we spoke (the life of a busy man, er, businessman), so our conversation isn’t something I can just cut and paste. However, he did provide a lot of solid insights that I want to pass along.

Open Graph

You’ve probably heard this term discussed in various blogs and videos, but what is Open Graph and how do you use it?

The answer to the first question is simpler than you might think. Open Graph is just a way to connect the friends people have with the things people like. The underlying assumption is that what your friends are a better measure of your interests than, say, your demographic.

To start using Open Graph, just add Facebook’s Like button to your webpage, videos, songs, restaurant menu, or just about anything online. For all I know, you can QR code a Like button on physical objects as well. As people “Like” the object, they strengthen their relationship to you as a company. If they comment on and share your object, they strengthen that relationship even more.

You’re not limited to the Like button, by the way. There are all kinds of social plugins you can associate with your content. Some plugins enable comments, while others focus on finding connections between friends and content. Personally, I think some of these plugins make your website look as cluttered as my facebook page, but they each encourage a different type of engagement with your fans.  Keep that in mind, because it’s very important.

Edge Rank

So great, you’ve integrated with Open Graph, and you’ve targeted the content you want your fans to engage with. Now, how do you optimize this experience? Jeff had a lot to say about this (it’s what he does), so let’s dig in.

First of all, Edge Rank is the algorithm Facebook uses to determine what content, updates, posts, and suggestions to show Facebook users on their wall. Much like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, Edge Rank looks at the salience of an item to determine placement. In other words, Facebook will only show your posts to engaged fans.

If a Facebook user isn’t a fan of your company, they won’t see your posts on their wall. If they’re a fan but not sufficiently engaged, they won’t see your posts. In fact, you can have an engaged fan who happens to be slightly more engaged with a lot of other content, and they still may not see your posts. It’s all about the rank.  Facebook is a middle-man between your content and their users. Remember, Facebook’s goal is to promote Facebook, not you.  So how does Edge Rank work?

Time Decay

The math itself is a mystery, but we know the basics. Edge Rank has three main elements. Let’s start with time decay. Over the course of time, possibly just hours, everything you share on Facebook becomes less and less visible to your fans. There’s really nothing you can do about this, so you might find that you need to post several times a day to stay relevant.

Affinity Score

The next element in Edge Rank is the Affinity Score. This measures the relationship between a particular fan and a particular content author. This is why no one can honestly tell you what your Edge Rank is. Each fan is going to have their own Affinity Score based on how many times they’ve Liked, commented, and shared your content. Oh, and remember when I told you there were different plugins? This is where it becomes important.

All actions were not created equal. Likes, comments, and sharing don’t all count the same. While we don’t have the exact equation, just keep in mind that Facebook is looking for engagement. I would imagine that comments and sharing count more the Likes and page visits, but that’s just a guess.

From what I can tell, Affinity is a one-way street. You can’t artificially increase the Affinity Score between you and your fans by visiting or commenting on their pages. On the other hand, if you can get them to revisit your page, the effect will be profound. Apparently most fans only visit your Facebook Page once.  Revisits are rare, so if you can get a fan to come back, you’re way ahead of the game.

Native Edge Score

This brings us to the final element in Edge Rank. I’m talking about the Native Edge Score. It turns out that some kinds of content are worth more than others. It’s easy to speculate that content with video and images is worth more than text-only posts, but Jeff assures me it’s technically a mystery. The way he explains it, photos and videos are just naturally more compelling than plain text. They come with an intrinsic social weight that is difficult to distinguish from any native score Facebook assigns.

That being said, you may not care about the philosophical nuances. The fact is, photos and videos should play a key element in your quest for Facebook domination. When I asked Jeff about the salience of videos, he confirmed they were rather hit-or-miss. The ones that make it big often get shared over and over, and that’s incredibly good. However, there are far more videos that were just good attempts. I guess a certain amount of luck is involved.

Focus

With all this subjective scoring, it can be easy to think Edge Rank is out of your hands. Fortunately, Jeff has tons of data on how effective brands use Facebook.  He had a few suggestions for marketers to focus on.

Visibility

The number one thing you can do is to encourage users to take action. You can do this directly by asking for likes and comments, but you can also create the kind of content that compels people to respond. This is an area where your creativity is definitely going to be rewarded.

Another cool way to increase visibility is to encourage connection between your fans. Getting your fans to Friend each other has a multiplying effect on the actions each fan takes. Think of your content like infectious laughter. People tend to laugh more in groups than when they’re all alone, so if your fans can see each other and talk to each other, that laughter is going to spread very quickly.

Growth

Fans beget fans. Starting out, you might struggle to get each new Facebook fan, but you’ve got to persevere. Jeff said the largest organic source for new fans is the list of Facebook Suggestions found on every user’s home page. The more fans you have, the more likely you are to be suggested to the friends of those fans. There’s a tipping point here, and with enough determination, you’ll make it.

Your Fan Page

Your fan page can sit around and collect dust, or it can actually do some work for you. Your fan page should have a singular focus. It needs to create engagement. A great way to do this is to segment your page into two tabs.

The first tab will be your landing page. Make this look nice, but keep the bulk of the content away. The landing page should focus on Likes. Everyone who visits should immediately see your brand and a Like button. I mentioned this before, but revisits are rare, so this might be your only chance to get that Like. Make the most of it.

Your second tab should focus on deeper engagement. This is where you put your content, your contests, your requests for feedback, and all that jazz. Get fans involved with your company on a more meaningful level than the Like. Remember, if you’re not focused on engagement, you become less relevant and less visible to your fans.

Does It Work?

The value of a Facebook page is that it lies somewhere between Twitter and email. The social network is a powerful tool for customers and companies, but the messages you can send have to be concise and focused. Email is more forgiving, more persistent, and allows for greater depth in your message than other social media outlets. Despite what Facebook says, I believe Open Graph encourages, possibly even requires, email. The two are complimentary.

The truth is, I’ve been fairly skeptical about the concept of branding and marketing solely through Facebook. Then I read an article about Chris “Drama” Ptaff and his company Young & Reckless. Drama specifically says, “We don’t do print ads, we don’t do commercials. We haven’t even considered that because our reach is so much better with social-media outlets.”

That’s a powerful endorsement, and it obviously works for them.

I asked Jeff if he thought social media was truly for the young, or if focusing all your marketing energy there was just reckless (I’m sorry, it’s been a long post). He said the effectiveness of Facebook stems from the social salience of the product and the marketing. It’s the difference between having a website that plays music and a website that lets you play music for your friends. Ultimately age isn’t the barrier. If you can add to the social experience your customers are already having, you “get it.”