More than half the population of the UK is using Facebook but with recent changes to the algorithm controlling who sees what is the party over for businesses and organisations using the social network?

How great a deal for organisations has Facebook been over the last few years? Loads of people you want to reach are using it (and using it a lot), you can set up a presence there in a few minutes, it’s free and well, everyone else has been getting on there, why shouldn’t you? On paper (or screens) it looks like the holy grail of communications and traffic sources.

Things that look too good to be true usually are though and recently organisations have been questioning whether Facebook is really the place for them. Sometimes this has come out of good solid evidence that their business just won’t succeed in the space (wrong business, wrong audience) and other times it’s just been a knee-jerk to having to work harder to play Facebook at the eyeballs-on-posts game.

The new EdgeRank algorithm Facebook uses to decide who sees what is geared toward individuals and making organisations pay to promote. And while this has been met by cries of ‘it’s not fair’ from those who’ve put lots of investment into pages just to see the return snatched from them it’s actually a pretty reasonable move by what is, afterall, a business.

So, now Facebook has started limiting the reach of your effort is it time to ditch the network and get your social media comms on elsewhere? I don’t think so. At least not yet.

It’s all about effort you see – and you’re probably just going to have to make a little bit more to make the network the point at which your users’ need and your business need meet.

Why are you there?

Well, apart from the reasons listed above (it’s free, everyone uses it, other organisations in my sector are) what is the business aim you’re working toward meeting or the user need you’re trying to fulfill? “We’re engaging” is a little bit woolly if we’re honest. With who? What for?

Unless you’ve got a clear aim and a plan for how to get there you’re probably wasting your (and your organisation’s time) on Facebook anyway. Sure, your plan can (and probably should) change as you adapt to a changing set of goals / circumstance, different user behaviour, or indeed the platform itself.

One page to rule them all might not be the way to go – and your digital spidey sense can tell you this as much as the data – but smaller pages serving niche interests and communities may work better.

The long-standing question has been ‘Who wants to ‘like’ their council?’. My feeling is still that a corporate page will have limited appeal but pages for services people are passionate about (countryside, libraries, civic pride), or campaign pages, will do better. To level up you have to make them all work as well as possible for the purpose they serve and know how you would utilise them to reach a wider audience with emergency, or even just a cross-issue, communications.

Brace for impact – here comes EdgeRank

So, you’ve got a few hundred people liking your page and the little number at the bottom of each post tells you that most of the time the number of people seeing that update is in double figures. Seems OK if you don’t delve deeper. But let’s express that number another way:

Take the number of people seeing a post on your page /  number of ‘likes’ for your page overall = % of ‘likers’ seeing your post

It’s probably a lot lower than the 15% of Page likers Facebook itself says will see your updates in their newsfeed under the new EdgeRank algorithm. Most page managers noticed this at the end of last year as the new algorithm rolled out. Simon Dell blogged about it here and Matthew Murray also blogged about how it had impacted on the local gov page he manages.

Around 25% would be a more palatable percentage. It can be done but you have to hit on the right formula – and that’s going to be different depending what your page is about, who your audience is, how you’re telling them about the page and what you’re putting there to interest them.

The music publication page I help manage has more than 11,300 ‘likers’, most of our posts reach 15-25% but we can see up to 70% reach on stuff that is interesting / unique. Know your audience, know your page and know what you’re doing to link the two together and increase the eyeballs each post you make gets in front of.

Time to leave or time to be better?

One answer to how local gov, organisations and businesses make the most of Facebook is, quite simply, for them to be better at using the network. Easier said than done, especially as everyone is being expected to do more with less.

And, assuming you want to be better at engaging or delivering via the social network, how do you do that?

Well, tracking and evaluating is one way. How many Facebook Page managers really know what’s working for their page, what the people ‘liking’ their page actually ‘like’ and how this fits with the bigger digital picture for their organisation? Probably not as many as should.

There are more than 200 types of data you can get from your Facebook Insights. You’re not going to have time to look at them all nevermind analyse and plan from them. That’s ok though as you’re not going to need them all.

I’d suggest you do need to get some basics in hand though – headline figures such as how many likes you have (and how much this has grown by) are fine but need some more detail to be useful. Check how many subscribers you’ve got (people who have told Facebook to show your updates in their feed), what sort of posts are getting the highest levels of engagement and reach, what day and time is busiest on your page (clue: it’s probably not during your office hours as this is a ‘social’ network for the everyman/woman).

Page managers have all this data at their fingertips and should be using it, along with some qualitative data pulled from their activity and analytics from their other digital presences, to get the most (and offer the most) through their Facebook page.

The bottom line is that if you use all of this quantitative and qualitative data to inform your efforts and you’re still not getting people engage with you on the network, it’s probably not the right channel for what you’re trying to achieve. There’s no shame in that – you just have to adjust your expectations and your business plan accordingly.

Give it to me quick

In summary then:

  • EdgeRank is limiting the number of people seeing the posts you make on your page in their newsfeed: Fact
  • Review why your organisation is using the network, and how you’ve established your presence (one page for your whole organisation or many pages for services or niche communities).
  • Get to grips with your data. Learn how to use Insights and use the data to track activity, understand the platform and audience. Then be better.
  • Don’t forget your qualitative data too. Insights give you the numbers, you need to gather the qualitative info to balance it out and give context.
  • Try to stay away from knee-jerk reactions. Like any communications, engagement or service delivery activity you should investigate why you’re going to use a certain channel, and likewise you should know exactly why you’re going to stop. Don’t forget to compare the ‘success’ of your page with your ‘success’ in other channels.

The title of this blog post is taken from the Blur track Death of a Party. See the video here.

Sarah also writes about music at Louder Than War and is a local music promoter at Noble and Wild. You can also follow her on Twitter.


8 thoughts on “Death of a party

  1. Really interesting stuff. I guess an issue for local gov coms people would be whether they are hitting the right socio-economic groups by using Facebook. Or maybe that isn’t something they factor in (I don’t know as I don’t work in local gov comms). But let’s say that Facebook offers them a route to a particular group that Twitter didn’t (perhaps more C2DE than ABC1) then it would be worth persisting with and putting effort into. If it didn’t, then time to ditch.

    Surely what authorities need to invest in is the research I cite here:

  2. Yes – I’ll be at #ukgc13. Or at least I plan to be at the moment. Would hope people would be talking about understanding / measuring / improving digital engagement at GovCamp even if we don’t get down to the nitty gritty of a specific platform like Facebook. Be good to catch up with you either way!

  3. Hi Dave,

    Glad you found this interesting. I admit I didn’t get my thinking as far as the socio-economic split but it’s definitely a valid point to be considered when evaluating a channel. I suppose it fits (sort of) with the mention of niche groups I make – similar line of thinking anyway! That the target audience of a group may be specific, may even be small, but if it successfully engaged 50% of users and your bigger, general page didn’t manage the 15% which one would be considered more successful.

    I remember also your post about the local usage research and I think I was one of the people who said they’d welcome such a thing. I’m not really using this blog to talk specifically about the post I hold or organisation I work for but I’d stand by what I said then – that it is vital research and I would welcome it! Worth considering changes to research that already happens in authorities such as citizen panel questionnaires etc in order to build in this sort of questioning and track the answers over time – might not be a quick way to gather the info but should be an achievable and sustainable method for most authorities?

    I definitely see research, data and analysis as key to local gov digital now and in the future.

  4. Top blog, Sarah.

    I don’t disagree with your conclusions, but they are predicated on service managers being in a position to take part in, and influence proper debate about which social media outlets a local authority will embrace. My view is that the majority do not, and are usually herded towards Facebook by nothing more scientific than a senior comms person (usually this) saying “People are there. We must be there too.” Few have had any more discussion about why they “need” a particular social media presence than some cursory skirmish under the heading of “Return on investment”.

    I do think your comments about exit strategies are important. It’s early days perhaps, but this is going to become an increasingly important issue. Identifying tipping points in that respect when the social media platforms themselves constantly morph and commercialise will also be hard.

    Hope you’ll pitch a session about when to get out of social media, at #ukgc13? See you there!


  5. Thanks Tom.

    The JFDI approach which was very much needed a few years ago to ‘break’ social media as a business / organisational channel means that not many people have the evidence or deeper knowledge of why they’re in a certain online space. I picked on FB because I’d read a few posts recently basically saying ‘we must leave because FB have stopped people seeing our posts’. While in a very broad way this is true it’s a bit lazy for the response to be ‘I’m closing the page because FB have stopped people seeing our posts’. Yes, the algorithm has changed, and yes that cuts the automatic eyeballs you were getting but if you get better at managing your page you can make that number rise again (basing that on my direct experience with the music publication page). The whole situation for me seems like a perfect time to evaluate why you’re on FB and what you’re trying to achieve.

    My deeper point, somewhat convoluted perhaps by the practical aspects of the post, was that Facebook has been taken as a solution to an unidentified problem for a long time. Under JFDI ‘go where the people go’ was the standard advice. But times and, as you rightly say, platforms change. The reasons for using them need evaluation regularly just like any other channel / means of communication or delivery an organisation uses.

    I’m not planning on pitching a session at #ukgc13 but I’ve said that in previous years and still found myself sticking post-it notes to the board! Will be good to catch up with you anyway 🙂

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