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Brands aren't on Facebook to catch up with old classmates. They're on Facebook to attract new customers and tighten loyalty of current customers. Brands are there to make money.

That's why inspiring meaningful Facebook engagement is so critical, and why a recent study published in AdWeek showing a turn around to declining engagement numbers is encouraging. Encouraging – but not entirely rosy. The nature of Facebook engagement is changing and still yet caught up to 2015 levels. Here's what you need to know:

 

Finding #1: There are three main inflection points that ended the recent seven consecutive months of declining Facebook engagement. They are:

  • Increased promotion of live streaming
  • Pushing clickbait links out of News Feeds
  • Prioritizing content posted by family and friends

Facebook made these three changes to its News Feed algorithms over the course of the spring and summer of 2016. Each change was followed by a jump in user engagement. The algorithm change intended to reduce clickbait links measured the time users spent on a page after clicking the link to it. Fast bounces away from the page raised the flag that the link was clickbait, resulting in the algorithm devaluing the link.

What we learn from this: Well, we already know the world loves video. This study of 25 million Facebook posts by one million users confirms video, and live video, rocks. It also justifies Facebook's reasons for making these algorithm changes in the first place. Users want relevant content from trusted sources.

Takeaways: Clickbait has reached peak performance with this court filing; it won't get any better. So if you're still using clickbait headlines, stop it. As for the reach and impact on content posted by family and friends, the study has a lot more to say about that, which I'll get into below. For now, keep in mind that running campaigns designed to encourage user-generated content (UGC) should be a top priority for your Facebook strategy.

 

Finding #2: Likes per post increased 30.7% in 2016, while comments increased 19.84%. Yet shares continued to decline, dropping 4.81%.

What we learn from this: Finding "increased engagement" doesn't tell you enough about whether you're getting valuable, bottom-line impact engagement. Likes are easy. Seeing an increase isn't bad, but it's not where the reach is. Sharing is what spreads the word about your brand. Don't be content that other engagement metrics are rising, if your shares aren't. There's still work to do.

Takeaways: Make sure you're tracking the metrics that translate into real world impact. Don't get distracted by vanity metrics.

 

Finding #3: User-generated posts earned 6.9X more engagement than brand-generated posts. People the study termed "micro-influencers" generated 3.5X more engagement per post than the average Facebook user.

What we learn from this: The greatest type of Facebook engagement is organic UGC about your brand. If you want shares and to expand the reach and impact of your Facebook marketing, you need to motivate the right users to create their own content about your brand. We saw that engagement was boosted after Facebook prioritized promoting content from people's families and friends in their News Feeds. Even if people know and like your company, they still like and trust their own community more.

Consider these other data points from the study: The content you publish on your company page reaches one to two percent of your fans. Content your customers share reaches roughly 35% of their family and friends.

This means that user-generated posts have a broader reach and inspire greater engagement than what you publish on Facebook for yourself.

Takeaway: Change the strategic objective of your Facebook posts. Don't focus on likes and shares. Don't focus your content on announcements or even just informational content. Publish content intended to motivate a response from users.

Run a give-away for the best customer posts showing why they love or how they use your product. When you publish some "how to" or tip content, explicitly ask customers to post their photos or videos trying out this advice and tagging you in it. Conduct some research to find out what your customers are already sharing organically about your company, products, or industry. Use that to spark ideas on how to trigger new UGC about your brand.

 

Finding #5: There was 29.49% less UGC posted per user in 2016. Yet engagement with UGC is up 26.06%.

What we learn from this: There are two opportunities here. The first is the numbers game. Increase UGC, you'll increase engagement. But there's also a qualitative component here. Increase engagement with the right users and you may well see more impactful engagement. Remember the earlier finding noted, that the "micro-influencers" generated 3.5X more engagement per post than the average Facebook user.

Takeaways: Incorporate influencer campaigns into your Facebook strategy. In fact, running targeted UGC influencer campaigns may provide the most bang for your buck. Analyze your current engagement metrics to see who's most active on your behalf and has a community of a certain size. Look at what makes them share and design a campaign around that. Do some research to find influencers in your space but who aren't yet talking about you. Reach out to them directly or through a campaign, to encourage them to create UGC about your brand in their timelines.

 

Despite growing upstarts and some saturation, Facebook remains the granddaddy of all social media. It means to stay that way, hence buying Instagram and its current targeting of Snapchat.

Understanding how Facebook adjusts to changing user preferences and adapting your campaigns to the results of its adjustments is key to staying fresh and profitable with your Facebook marketing.

Topics: facebook marketing