Small Business and Facebook: A Common Sense Approach to EdgeRank and Business Pages I really didn’t want to write this post. I was hoping to avoid a post about EdgeRank, Promoted Posts, and all the the other things people are currently complaining about in all the blogs in terms of Facebook.

But, I’ve recently been seeing a number of blog posts being shared by a lot of friends on Facebook that seem to fall into the, “The Facebook sky is falling” category, as many business owners and marketers wring their hands over the fact that their fans may or may not be seeing their Facebook updates. People are sharing some of these posts on Facebook, and quite a few of them have posted them on my wall asking for my thoughts. There’s a few reasons why I dislike these types of posts:

First off, I try to avoid the knee-jerk, reactionary stance that many seem to take when Facebook or another social platform doesn’t seem to work the way they expect it to. When I see that sort of “sky is falling” reaction, I get really uncomfortable.

Second, I think they include a lot of misinformation about how Facebook and EdgeRank work, and that misinformation is being perpetuated as it spreads across the web

Third, the solutions offered in these posts, and by many others, require us to reach out to our fans and ask them to jump through some hoops and do a lot of work in order to get them to see more of our posts. We shouldn’t put the burden on our fans.

Fourth, and most importantly, I think this approach to Facebook that focuses on the numbers so closely is a fundamental flaw in the way most businesses approach social media in general, and is rooted in a faulty mindset.

As for EdgeRank, the metric that Facebook uses, I won’t try to explain it here, because better people than I have died trying. The best explanation I’ve seen is at What is Edgerank? But in general, it’s an algorithm that determines who sees which of your updates. Much of it is based on engagement (and previous engagement), as well as the nature and depth of the relationship between your business and the customer. This will be important later on.

A few notes, based on comments and statements that I hear often, and which were alluded to in the aforementioned posts:

1. “People aren’t seeing my posts on Facebook” – This has always been the case. Very little is new here. Every user has made different choices in their settings as to whether or not they see the posts from various individuals and businesses. Additionally, we all have different behaviors. If I log in, I rarely scroll down on my newsfeed, but if an update from a business loads on my page, below the fold, they still get credit for me having seen their post. And I log in a lot. What about someone who only logs in once a day, or every few days? Even if your update theoretically appears in their feed, will they scroll through several days of updates to stumble on your posts?

When Facebook tells you a post has been “seen”, it’s not what you think. They don’t know if I actually saw it. They just know that it appeared on my page at some point and I had the ability to see it. This is what impressions are. Think of it as a billboard. When selling outdoor advertising, billboard companies do traffic studies to determine how many cars, and people, pass those billboards over a given period of time. Now, how often do YOU look at the billboards as you are driving and really digest them? Just because you had the ability to see them, doesn’t mean you did. You might ignore them, not know they are there, or even be distracted by something else happening at that time. So even if you find a way to bump up the number of people who “see” the posts, it doesn’t mean they will really see it.

Add to this the fact that some have hidden your updates. We all have different habits, different numbers of friends, and different settings. You can kill yourself and waste a lot of time trying to figure the system out and be seen by everybody. Oh, and by the way, promoted posts won’t do that for you either, but more on that in tomorrow’s post.

2. “People aren’t coming to my page” – Again, this has always been the case. The majority of views on your posts, and engagement with those posts, happens in the individual user’s newsfeed. I rarely click through to a page. I have no need to. Clicking through to the page doesn’t change any of the analytics or engagement. Engagement is engagement, regardless of where it happens. If they come to your page, great! But it doesn’t change anything. While the Timeline gives you a way of building up a nice visual presence, you should always treat each status update or post as a unique event, even if it is related to, or built upon, previous posts.

Don’t worry about whether people are coming to your page or not. Help them to find your content wherever. Links on website, blog, Twitter, etc. When they check on mobile phones, they are not going to your page.

3. “These changes mean that Facebook isn’t working for me. I should go elsewhere” – Well, that depends. What are your goals? What are you trying to get people to do on Facebook? What and how are you measuring? There are three truths about Facebook that I keep trying to hammer home, that are inherent in having a proper mindset when dealing with social media.

a) Facebook is not marketing – That might be a small part of it, but if you approach it as a marketing and advertising tool, in the same way you approach traditional media, you will fail. Approach Facebook in the same way that you approach the day to day activities in your brick and mortar office or store. Think in terms of customer service before you think in terms of marketing. This will change your approach, as well as how you measure your success. Just because Facebook provides all these analytics and engagement numbers, and wants you to buy ads and promoted posts, doesn’t mean you have to approach it from that perspective. We seem to be holding Facebook to higher standards than we hold much traditional media when it comes to ROI, and other analytics. Fact is, it is a very different animal, and needs to be interpreted differently.

b) Facebook does not exist in a vacuum – If you are doing it right, you shouldn’t just be looking at the Facebook numbers. Integrate your online and offline. Integrate your social and other digital properties. If I looked at the level of engagement on my own Facebook page, I’d go nuts. But remember, what are your goals? For me, while the numbers ON Facebook are not great, I can point to other numbers that show Facebook is working for me. For instance, after organic search, Facebook is the top driver of traffic to my website and blog. By far. It out performs all other link sources including links from other sites, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google +, etc, combined. And by my accounting, that’s huge. And most of that traffic doesn’t come from my page, but from the newsfeeds of those who see and share my content.

To isolate Facebook as a discrete element, particularly in terms of numbers, is a mistake. We talk about ROI until we’re blue in the face, but don’t forget that historically, true ROI under the DuPont model was meant only as an overall analysis, and was never meant as something that you calculate for each smaller portion of the big picture. If Facebook and social media are predicated on the concept of word of mouth, you cannot easily isolate it from the rest of what you are doing across all media.

c) Facebook and social media results don’t happen overnight – Too often businesses micromanage their Facebook presence, and when they don’t see the results quickly, they have a negative reaction. Again, they are approaching it from the wrong mindset. If in fact social media is social, and it is predicated on the word of mouth concept, we need to remember that it is a nurturing process that takes time as we build relationships. Worrying about every little post or update on its own won’t get you anywhere. It is the cumulative effect of what you do on Facebook over time, combined with my statements in point b.

Ask the right questions

As you move forward, make sure you ask the right questions.

  • What are your goals for Facebook? Are you tying your efforts directly to sales via a call to action? Or do yo have other goals?
  • What are you measuring and how are you measuring it? And more importantly, do you understand the metrics you are using?
  • How does Facebook fit into your overall efforts, across the Internet, as well as offline?

Suggestions for moving forward

1. Keep creating and sharing great content – This discussion reminds me of the whole SEO discussion, where we talk about tips and tricks vs. just creating good content. Organic is always better than using “tricks”. Create and share good content. Period.

2. Examine the types of posts you are posting, and the timing of those posts – Your Facebook insights can tell you a lot ab0ut which posts get more play, and how the timing of the posts fits into that. People ask how often they should post on Facebook. Some say it should be a few times a week, while others say once a day. I still believe that if our content is strong enough, we can post updates on Facebook several times a day, and this will help us

3. Understand what EdgeRank is really about – Not to further buzz a buzzword, but it’s the relationship, stupid. Use your social platforms, particularly Facebook, to build and deepen relationships. That is the key to determining both engagement and affinity, and increasing your EdgeRank numbers. It’s not something you “game” or “beat”. It just happens as you work to build relationships, the same way you do in real life. Don’t spend time worrying about the numbers, and wondering who is or isn’t seeing your updates. In short: be social.

One final note.

My friend Kat Krieger of Brand Connections was telling me about a little experiment she was trying in terms of posting updates on her Facebook page. Like me, she normally has her blog posts sent to Facebook via a third party app. In fact, we both use the Networked Blogs app, which I often recommend to clients. But Kat started toying with reposting them manually. One of the things that she noticed, and I have since noticed with my own experiments, is that the manual posts seem to do better across the board in terms of exposure and engagement numbers, when compared to the ones posted via third party apps. Much better, in fact, to the tune of 3 or 4 times the number of impressions.

So if you post content to your Facebook page via a third party app, including management software like Hootsuite or PostPlanner, try some manual posts and compare the results. It might take a little more time (but really not that much more), but you’ll like the results. And now that Facebook allows you to schedule posts, it makes the process much easier.

Tomorrow I’ll take a quick look at Facebook’s Promoted Posts with a little bit of a case study, to determine how they work, and whether they are worth the investment.

What are you doing to make sure your fans are seeing the content you post on Facebook?

Special thanks to Liz Jostes for talking through some of these points with me, and giving me the kick in the pants I needed to write this post.