04/02/2013

By Jonny Rosemont, head of social media DBD Media

It’s well established that Facebook is a powerful marketing tool for all types of businesses. But Facebook’s potential as a marketing tool stretches way beyond the basic ‘Like’ button.

Facebook ‘Likes’ have long been recognised by savvy marketers as a misleading objective because users frequently ‘Like’ a company’s page but never return or engage with its content. So the best way to make sure your company remains visible on Facebook is to get prominence in users’ ‘news feeds’.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it, to encourage people to engage with your business by providing something of genuine interest? The game, however, got complicated when Facebook introduced EdgeRank: an algorithm that determines what does – and doesn’t – appear in users’ all-important news feeds. Pages with high EdgeRank scores are more likely to show up in people’s news feeds. Ones with low scores are less likely.

EdgeRank has made many marketers feel anxious. To the uninitiated, this algorithm can feel like an unknowable filter that businesses have no control over. But rather than seeing EdgeRank as a threat, it should be interpreted as a positive initiative because it helps businesses ensure their Facebook messages are relevant and engaging.

In order to score well with EdgeRank, you firstly need to understand how you can influence it. There are three ingredients of the EdgeRank algorithm:

1. Affinity – the user’s relationship with the content in the newsfeed – prior interaction or relevance

2. Weight – the type of object in the newsfeed – photo, video, link

3. Time Decay – the older the post, the lower its influence

Affinity x Weight x Time Decay = EdgeRank

Put simply, the overall take-out is that businesses need to regularly publish engaging content to increase their EdgeRank performance.

EdgeRank scores are improved when a user is engaged with your business by liking, commenting or sharing your content or updates. If you offer more engaging and explicit visual content (photos, videos etc.), rather than just the straightforward text updates, this too will improve your score.

Another way to encourage engagement is through a regular flow of activity. This can be achieved by developing a content and editorial calendar of regular updates, incorporating key dates throughout the year. For example, if you’re in the business of selling something which appeals to mothers, make sure that Mother’s Day content features prominently in your editorial calendar.

If you really want to hone (or ‘optimise’) your EdgeRank performance, you need to continue to analyse your impact. This is the only way to truly identify what is and isn’t working… and therefore enhance your content programme accordingly.

So EdgeRank optimisation boils down to: ‘good content = good score’, right? Well, sort of. Actually, thanks to Facebook itself, it’s now become a little more complicated than that.

Firstly, Facebook has tweaked the EdgeRank algorithm to account for negative comments and feedback. So if Facebook users decide to hide content, report spam or un-Like a page, your EdgeRank score will decrease. The key here is to address negative feedback through prompt responses and efficient customer service, making sure you don’t offend your Facebook community. This needs to be balanced against the requirement for engaging and relevant content. That is to say, being inoffensive shouldn’t necessarily mean being safe or bland.

Without doubt, one of the best ways to boost your EdgeRank score is by investing in Facebook advertising. In fact, Facebook’s recent changes to EdgeRank also mean that it gives preference to paid-for, or ‘sponsored’, Facebook status updates. This left many in the digital marketing community up in arms, sensing that Facebook was backing its business users into a corner by forcing them to advertise, rather than relying on organic ‘viral’ ways to improve Facebook visibility.

But that’s naive. It’s important to realise that effective Facebook marketing, like any marketing for that matter, requires investment in terms of time, resource and money. The opinion that social media should be free is a fallacy.

The fact is, Facebook marketing and engagement activities are unlikely to succeed without advertising programmes. ‘Sponsored Stories’ are messages within news feeds that are paid for by businesses, to promote the fact that a user’s friend has engaged with the business’s page, updates or content. They go a long way towards increasing a campaign’s reach and page ‘Likes’. But, crucially, Sponsored Stories will also increase overall visibility by enhancing your EdgeRank score.

It’s also important to understand that the reach of page updates will decrease as the number of page ‘Likes’ increase. This is designed to encourage smaller businesses to exist on Facebook, a platform that is sometimes perceived to bring value only to big household brands. The way to combat this EdgeRank phenomenon is to advertise more as your audience grows. This is a watertight way to ensure you remain front of mind.

Although the basic premise behind Facebook marketing is simple (engaging content = high visibility), the social network is introducing site changes and innovations on a regular basis, with the most recent launch being ‘Graph Search’. The result is that Facebook marketing is becoming as much a science as it is an art. Remember the Facebook ‘Like’ is only the start of the journey.

About the author
Jonny Rosemont is head of social media for search marketing and social media agency, DBD Media (www.dbdmedia.co.uk / @dbdsearch). Prior to joining DBD Media, Jonny was responsible for devising, implementing and managing social media for John Lewis.

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