If they can’t see it will they come?
While I have never been a champion of Facebook as the ultimate source of outreach for libraries, I have always loved it is an informal way to reach students in an immediate manner. In the way way back days of Facebook and Myspace, I would reach students via groups and eventually the “Page”. After the mass exodus from Myspace to Facebook the fan page became the preferred method of interaction. I enjoyed thinking of new and creative ways to keep fans entertained and informed. In those salad days of the fan page, I knew I was reaching everyone who “liked” the page and could see basic statistics of who was viewing content. As Helene Blowers noted in Computers in Libraries (2012), engagement is measured by reach and influence. She astutely observed Facebook Insights as the most cost-effective way for libraries to measure these two levels of engagement.
Flash forward to the rising popularity of Facebook Pages and the establishment of corporate social media strategies. The increase in companies willing to pay for visibility on Facebook has turned out to be a mixed blessing. On one hand it lures organizations with the promise of reaching thousands of potential users, while at the same time placing unexplained limits on the “reach” of posts and appearances in timelines (unless you pay). Each attempt at engagement is unnaturally limited and basically ensures that in no way shape or form will you ever reach all of your fans who have liked your page.
While increasing reach has become more and more of a struggle for Page admins, the latest version of Insights coupled with the current News Feed algorithm holds promise. Facebook invested a significant amount of time improving Page Insights. The current algorithm makes it possible to appear in more timelines without paying for placement. There is a great increase in the ability for administrators of Pages to analyze the level of engagement created amongst users based upon factors such as time of day fans are online, high performing posts and conversely posts which have had negative feedback. Understanding the latest version of audience metrics and post algorithm can help libraries leverage Facebook to increase awareness of services.
Nailing Honey to the Bee
Since Facebook is notorious for changing algorithms and interfaces without notice, it is useful to monitor Facebook modifications by following pages such as BufferSocial and Wisemetrics . Additionally, Facebook responded to criticism from businesses and created a Facebook for Business blog specifically for announcing any changes. Kevan Lee of BufferSocial gives an explicit list of criteria Facebook values to rank posts. I am including the ones most relevant to libraries. The current algorithm favors posts with lots of likes and/or comments. Format plays an important role in placement as photos, videos and media have a higher ranking. I was surprised to learn posts which tag other pages, reference trending topics or contain external links are more likely to appear in News Feeds. Furthermore, rankings are measured by amount of time it takes for multiple likes or comments. In an effort to dissuade spammers or repeat ads, the algorithm rewards the promotion of original content and links that are not already posted numerous times on the site.
As of December 19, 2014, Facebook introduced yet another edition of Insights. This version provides valuable data in an intuitive format. While most labels existed in previous iterations of the metrics, the level of analysis provides a better representation of fan activity. You’ll find this change will make it easier for libraries to gain more insight (pun intended) into what is or isn’t working. Learning how to analyze the data available in the new Insights will directly impact your visibility on user News Feeds.
Golden Rules of Audience Engagement
Over the many years since Facebook Pages were first created, there has been a standard set of rules of engagement for anyone who markets using social media. Engagement is not a precise science but most experts agree certain types of posts lead to the most number of likes and a larger reach. Lets examine some of the golden rules of audience engagement and how the News Feed algorithm and Insights can be employed to improve Page performance.
User Generated Content: In an age of social media celebrity, individuals love to have their content retweeted, regrammed or reblogged. User content in a variety of formats is easily found via hashtags. Mining sites like Yik Yak and Twitter to find additional mentions of the library will yield additional content.
Implications for Algorithm and Insights: This is directly related to the algorithm which emphasizes graphical and new content. The more engaging and interesting the image, the more likely it is to be seen. To measure the impact, Facebook insights has an option to see which posts perform best by type. This can give actual data on how well students receive specific types of media, if they click on the post and can determine which type of post to replicate in the future.
Keep Content Fresh: A starting point for generating content has been gleaning the campus and library calendar to find annual or semi-annual events. Developing regular features in a calendar cycle in a variety of formats will keep posts interesting and current. Nothing hurts a page more than dormancy especially with the algorithm settings.
There is a fine line between posting too little and posting too much. A key indicator of posting too frequently is a mass exodus of “unsubscribes”. Not posting enough is easily measured by the drops in views on your page. It is important to recognize the “cleaning house” college students are likely to engage in during the beginning and end of the academic year. Graduation and retention should be accounted for when looking at the number of users who leave your library fan page so you don’t attribute the departures to a specific post.
Implications for Algorithm and Insights: Incorporating content found on sister campus pages can increase visibility (linking to other pages) Insights measure the response to content on your most and least liked posts. The “Reach” and “Engagement” tabs are helpful to gauge post frequency. Examine the time your fans are online (as opposed to the generic guides of “when to post” found all over the internet). It will give you data to compare to your posts from previous periods. Another new feature allows you identify similar pages to “compare post performance” to benchmark your post success.
Initiate Interaction: Feedback encourages more comments which increases the chance a post will show up in a feed. Questions don’t always have to be library service related. One of the most popular posts on our Library page was a request for feedback about our 24/7 library hours during finals. Another way to increase likes and shares is to integrate humor. See this Craigslist ad posted as an image on our page (below).
Implications for Algorithm and Insights: Students love images, funnies, and questions. This post combines all and as a result was one of our top performing posts for the semester. To evaluate your success take a look at the data for individual posts. What is nice about the current version of Insights is the direct link between unlikes- hides or likes. (Perhaps I am a fatalist but I am always a little paranoid one wrong post will result in a flurry of “unlikes” or “hide all post”.)
Implications for Measuring Engagement
I expect the latest version of insights to finally link the use of Facebook fan pages to substantive data which will help libraries pinpoint what services to market. It will also determine what type of posts yield the best results. The answers for some libraries may be surprising. While it will not directly relate the usage of library services with marketing on Facebook, it takes us one step closer to doing just that. While conducting research for this post, I found a plethora of advice on organic (read: FREE) ways to increase visibility on Facebook. Stephane Allard of Wisemetrics.com advises posting the same content more than once as it will increase reach with very little overlap. However, as of January 2015, Facebook will downgrade repeat posts which may make this particular approach ineffective. I think libraries can take advantage of the algorithm in other ways. One method is to coordinate with other campus social media sites (Facebook likes links to other pages), blend content from other social media sites like Vine, Youtube and Instagram (Facebook likes media saturated posts), mine user generated content (Facebook likes unique subject matter) and finally, pay attention to the trending topics on Facebook and include in posts as appropriate.
Additionally, Facebook announced the addition of “Call to Action” buttons which allows fans to sign up for a variety of features: Book Now, Contact Us, Use App, Play Game, Shop Now, Sign Up, and Watch Video. It will be interesting to see how these features can be incorporated to drive fans to library services.
The internet is saturated with posts discussing the best way for libraries to create a social media presence but rarely address measuring the concrete impact on library usage. Is all the time and energy we spend developing content for Facebook time well spent? Perhaps using the tools Facebook freely provides will give us a satisfactory answer. I just dream of the day when university libraries show up on a student Facebook home page like Zappos does on mine after I oggle shoes online.
Addendum: After this month, I will pass the torch onto our new Social Media Group (Gabe Gardner, Cynthia M. Orozco and Chloe Pasqual) who have been responsible for creating our other social media profiles and astutely snagging content from Twitter and Yik Yak.