In response to marketers complaining about Facebook’s diminishing organic reach, everyone’s favourite social network recently issued a response saying that it is improving its algorithms – à la Google Panda update – to promote higher quality content to the top of News Feeds.

Facebook went on to say that organic reach does not necessarily equate to brand sales. It advised businesses to treat Facebook more like TV or newspapers and use the powers of promoted posts to boost reach, but then again, I guess it would say that. With a promoted post, if you’re unaware, one pays a small fee to increase the reach of your Facebook post from, say, an audience of 1,000 to 10,000 people who can be more specifically targeted. However, for businesses thinking of bypassing creating good content only to pay for promotion, this perhaps only tells half a story.

The phrase ‘content amplification’ is abuzz at the moment. That’s when you combine the powers of content marketing with paid media. I must be honest, we don’t talk about paid advertising or paid-for promoted social media posts too much on this blog; we tend to purport the power of not paying to promote. But there’s a place for promoted posts on social media, and to use these in conjunction with a solid social media marketing strategy can indeed amplify the impact of both.

The content marathon

We always say at Southerly that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long game that, if played well, earns you immeasurable trust and a position of authority. So, why not apply that same ethos to paid social media?

The great thing about promoted posts on Facebook, as opposed to PPC or Google Adwords, is you don’t have to spend much. You just have to spend smart. Using the in-built, persona-targeting powers – Facebook’s Graph Search functionality – you can very specifically target your promotions to the people most likely to engage.

The Loving Apartments conundrum

We talked to a newfound fan of this kind of content amplification, Iain Macaulay, director of short-let holiday home company Loving Apartments.

Iain previously approached his social media strategy using Facebook ads (those adverts in the right-hand sidebar) before discovering that by applying content marketing tactics – defining his personas and targeting them specifically – and subsequently promoting that content through promoted Facebook posts – he could reach new heights.

“We’d experimented previously with Facebook advertising and it didn’t do anything for us. I don’t think people were ‘hot’ enough. When someone types in ‘Apartments for rent in Barcelona’ on Google, they’re inputting a very specific search query. With Facebook you can optimise for those keywords, but people aren’t using Facebook to look for apartments in Barcelona. We weren’t using the social network in the way it’s designed.”

This method actually did work for Iain using PPC, but that became far too expensive. Ultimately the best place to do it is on Google, but that’s also where the massive companies with huge marketing budgets have pushed smaller companies out of the mainstream marketplace.

So the company considered ways of building customers through engagement via social media. It’s a lot less immediate because Loving Apartments wasn’t looking at hot leads, but rather the aim was to engage with people. The business did this through boosted Facebook posts.

Now, as we know from content marketing experience, getting people on social media to engage is no exact science. As such, Iain did a bit of research on his audience to make the content appeal to different personas. Crucially, he found that while the majority of his audience booked standard accommodations, what they chose to engage with were hi-res pictures of ultra-luxury apartments.

“If a customer is only in a city for a couple of nights they probably won’t spend £1000 a night on accommodation. Nevertheless, promoting a quality shot of a spectacularly-designed, luxury apartment gets significantly more engagement than a simple Facebook advert for our ‘hot deals’ page.”

Iain searches for brand ambassadors among those who are not fans of his website, but are interested in a particular location.

“The people who see our promoted posts are those who, through Facebook, have expressed an interest in our destinations, but aren’t necessarily fans of our Facebook page.

“We often seen people tag their friends in the comments under the photo of the luxury apartment, saying something like, ‘Have a look at this, Joe Bloggs! Shall we book this for Paris??!!’ Their friend then replies with, ‘Yeah sure, if you don’t want to eat while we’re there!’ and they kick off a conversation.

“It’s great that people who weren’t originally our fans actually start the engagement process and get others on board.”

Measurable results of promotion

Having run the promoted posts for a month, Iain’s campaign is still in its infancy but the measurable results of his content amplification approach so far are encouraging.

“There’s much more activity and user engagement on our Facebook page than we’ve received in previous months. Our likes have gone up by about 1,000, which is close to a 14% improvement.

“Moreover, our sales are up by 36% in May from April. We are talking relatively small amounts, and there can be lots of different reasons for the difference – Easter coming earlier may have contributed to April being quite low – but of that 36%, I believe a significant proportion is down to our promoted posts.”

Despite many brands taking the paid route to digital marketing as a quick fix, there is a huge need for a content marketing strategy to back things up in the long term. And with Facebook itself saying it will be promoting only the good stuff to the top of the pile, there is no better time to get ultra-creative with your content to stand out as a business. If you’ve already applied excellent content marketing, then paying relatively little to amplify that content might just crank it up to 11.