That’s the reach of the average Facebook post.
Even if Facebook distributed all posts evenly, your followers would only see one of your posts for every 240 others they skimmed through.
But there’s hope.
Facebook Pages successfully make their way into your feed every single day. These no-name Pages are completely dominating major brands on reach and engagement.
First, some perspective. According to SocialBakers, the brand with the highest engagement rate on Facebook was Evolution Fresh back in March. Their engagement rate was 7.05 percent. Seven actions per week for every 100 Likers. These no-name Pages are going to make that engagement rate look absolutely laughable.
Now, Facebook defines “Engagement rate” as “the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it,” i.e. reactions/impressions. However, there isn’t a way to see the number of people who actually “saw” a post, unless you’re an admin of that page. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, let us measure a new metric that we shall call “Post Reaction Rate” and define it as the number of shares or clicks on a post divided by the total page likes.
1. Divorce Court – Post Reaction Rate: 73 percent
This random page that showed up in my feed is getting 73 people to respond for every 100 Likers in its audience. And we’re just getting started.
So, what’s making this Facebook Page tick? Here’s one of their most successful posts.
The first thing I’d like to point out are the stats on this post. It’s been Liked over 30,000 times, sure. But here’s the clincher. It’s been shared over 500,000 times. For some perspective, here are the stats for the entire Page:
That’s right. This single post has been shared by almost half as many people as those who actually Like the Page.
This is the secret to actually reaching people on Facebook. It’s not about EdgeRank. It’s not about getting people to Like your posts. It’s about getting people to share your posts. When actual people share actual posts with their real friends, you expand your reach.
This is a pattern you’re going to see repeat itself throughout this blog post.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the content of the post itself. What makes it tick?
- Nostalgia – Charlie Brown is instant nostalgia for a huge portion of the people who will see this post. Scientific research demonstrates that nostalgia isn’t just associated with the past. It actually creates positive feelings about the future, and improves self-esteem. Perhaps more importantly (especially for us), it “fosters social connectedness.” In short, it’s a feeling we want to share.
- Inspiration – I can guarantee that you’ve seen posts like this on Facebook before, and often. “Inspirational messages” thrive on Facebook. These kinds of “carpe deim” messages cut right through the meaninglessness of everyday life and demand to be shared. In fact, social sharing activity is so good at filtering everything else out that these kinds of posts are almost mundane these days. It’s the truth though. This is what gets shared.
- Relatability – People don’t just share things because they are inspiring. They also share them because they say something that they strongly agree with. People treat the messages they share almost as if they played some role in the message’s creation. Messages that remind us who we want to be, and what we want to say, are messages we want to pass on.
It’s also worth pointing out all kinds of things that are “wrong” with this post that didn’t seem to hinder it in any meaningful way:
- It’s blatantly “borrowed” from somebody else’s Facebook Page.
- From a design standpoint, the colors, the typesetting, and the image clarity are just…let’s go with “amateur.”
- It’s completely unrelated to the subject of the Facebook Page.
These are all important from a branding (and possibly legal) perspective, but they are completely irrelevant when it comes to social sharing. In fact, if it had been more relevant, it wouldn’t have been shareable. If it hadn’t looked so amateur, it might have been less relatable.
This post immediately makes a few things clear:
- Engagement isn’t the only meaningful metric when it comes to Facebook
- There is a tradeoff between shareability and branding. The more shareable your content, the less relevant it is to your target audience.
- Liking or sharing a piece of content isn’t necessarily the same thing as actually liking the brand that posts it.
But even with all of these downsides in plain view, it’s clear that we need to understand why posts get shared if we want to actually reach anybody on Facebook and fight the tide of dwindling organic reach.
Let’s move on.
2. Stanton Warriors – Post Reaction Rate: 227 percent
Hey, I told you we were just getting started, right?
Yes, post reaction rates higher than 100 percent do happen, and they actually happen way more often than you probably think.
If you want to see it for yourself, just take a look at your own Facebook feed. Look at the posts your friends are sharing with you. Check out the Pages they’re sharing them from. There’s a pretty good chance there’s at least one Page in your feed right now with an post reaction rate higher than 100 percent:
Let’s take a look at one of their most successful posts:
As you can see, this one post has been shared over 350,000 times. That’s higher than the number of people who Like the entire page. When you start to notice things like this, it becomes immediately obvious that the number of people who “Like” your Page is essentially a meaningless metric. What actually matters is how many people you can reach with your posts. They aren’t correlated very well.
Now back to the post. Why did it do so well?
- It’s unexpected. This is the big one. Facebook craves novelty. It’s not so much that the information is actually new. It’s that users haven’t heard it before, and that they will be surprised by it. We don’t expect a cop to accept a dance battle, much less to nail it.
- It’s unexpectedly positive. The top comment on the post drives this point home: “This is how cops suppose to be interact with the people not against us .If we had more cops lile this we would have a wonderful place to live .” Research by Jonah Berger has shown that content is more likely to go viral if it is positive, even if it isn’t surprising. With so much news and so many videos of cops being abusive, this is an unexpected and positive twist.
- It tells a story. Like any good Facebook post, this doesn’t take up too much time, but in that short period of time it does manage to tell a very simple story. The human brain is wired for storytelling, and stories do well on Facebook for this reason.
- It’s funny. The video might not make you burst into uncontrollable laughter, but there’s undoubtedly humor in it. Humor is an intense, positive emotion, and Jonah Berger’s research above has shown that both positive emotions and intense emotions are more likely to get shared.
Alright, let’s kick things up another notch.
3. Rebel Circus – Post Reaction Rate: 403 percent
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you:
Before we dive in and take a look at one of their posts, there’s something I’d like to point out about this Page. Take a look. This clothing retailer isn’t just killing it because their posts are really shareable. They’re killing it because they post a lot of content.
Here’s where you have to be careful.
The number one reason people unsubscribe from Facebook Pages is because they “posted too frequently.”
But this survey answer is written in code. What they really mean is they saw too many boring posts trying to sell them things and they couldn’t take it anymore.
Rebel Circus doesn’t suffer from this problem, because they don’t overwhelm their users with calls to action. They sprinkle calls to action in between shareable posts, not the other way around.
If your posts are getting shared and receiving positive attention, posting more often is rarely a bad idea, unless it would hurt the quality levels. In fact, it’s the only reliable thing you can do to increase reach and overall engagement.
With that in mind, here’s one of their most successful posts:
To draw attention to what I was just saying, this post has been shared over 50,000 times. That’s a lot. But the video from Stanton Warriors was actually shared a lot more often, even though their overall audience was smaller. This really hits home just how useful it is to increase your posting frequency.
Still, this post undoubtedly did well. By now, most of the reasons for this should be obvious:
- It’s funny.
- It’s relatable, assuming you know somebody who loves caffeine.
- The image is unusual. “Surprising” might not be the right word to describe it, but it’s certainly novel. The Tarsier is an uncommon animal.
And there’s one more element at play that you probably already knew plays a big part in viral sharing:
- It’s cute. Facebook loves its cats, dogs, and babies. Maternal and paternal instincts undoubtedly play a huge part in what gets shared. But I’d like to point out that cuteness alone is rarely enough these days. Cuteness is a spice that accents posts and can push them over the edge. It’s not enough to carry a post.
Finally, there’s one more thing I noticed:
Rebel Circus clearly shared the post directly with a fairly large initial audience. I can’t comment on whether this made much of a difference, or whether they specifically targeted these people for their influence or how much they would relate to the post. It begs the question, though. Is this an effective way to reach more people when you first post?
4. Renegade Radio Nashville – Post Reaction Rate: 561 percent
Have I completely recalibrated your idea of what a healthy Facebook post reaction rate is yet?
This Page is successfully engaging more than 5 times as many people as they have subscribed.
Remember, these are engagement figures. I’m not even touching on reach, because those numbers aren’t out in the open. One thing’s for sure. None of these Pages are feeling the impact of “6.15 percent organic reach.” I wouldn’t be surprised if every single one of them had a reach of over 1000 percent.
So, what kinds of posts are working for them?
For starters, this harks back to the first post I shared above. It’s inspirational, and relatable. Virtually anyone can relate to a time in their life where this advice would have applied, and the message might even inspire us to reconnect with somebody after a fight.
But there’s one more thing I’d like to touch on here: values. This message isn’t just inspirational. It’s almost a manifesto, or a mantra. It’s a declaration of a belief. If somebody shares this, they are declaring that belief for themselves.
These kinds of declarations can be very powerful, especially if you know your audience and what they stand for.
Unlike some of the other tactics we’ve talked about today, this one also relates directly to branding. Values and ethics have always been integral to brand. This is a rare example of a tactic that makes the best of both worlds. This single post has been shared over 100,000 times, on a page with 30,000 Likes.
5. More FM Philly – Post Reaction Rate: 1,650 percent
Yes. You read that right:
And what exactly were they doing that got them in front of so many eyeballs? Let’s take a look:
Surprisingly, there really isn’t anything new going on here:
- It’s funny
- It’s relatable (who can’t relate to needing a vacation?)
- The message takes at least two unexpected turns.
So what is “More FM Philly” doing that’s making their post reaction rate go through the roof compared to the other Pages?
The only honest answer? Nothing.
I could argue that it’s because it manages to be relatable and unexpected at the same time, and that might be true, since it’s difficult to accomplish both at the same time. But I think the real takeaway here is the role that luck plays in Facebook exposure.
While we can look at popular Facebook posts and notice that the most viral posts tend to have elements like humor, surprise, and relatability, we can’t predict how well a post will do based on those elements. All we can really say is that it’s probably going to do better than a post without any of those elements.
At the end of the day, we can never know which posts are going to be a home run.
Putting it Into Action
Looking at these posts, we can point to certain elements that make Facebook posts engaging:
- Surprise (and novelty)
- Declaration of values
And we’ve seen a few things you can do that help:
- Posting (non-commercial) updates often
- Sharing directly with an initial audience
To increase the size of your initial audience, I also strongly recommend embedding Facebook posts in your blog posts and leveraging your email list. This ensures that your Facebook posts have an initial audience, no matter what changes Facebook makes to their algorithm.
We’ve also seen that engagement isn’t the be-all end-all for businesses, for a few reasons:
- The most shareable posts appeal to almost everybody. This is the opposite of relevance.
- A post can get shared even if it has no positive effect on the way people see your brand. In fact, a post can get shared even if it’s blatantly “borrowed” from somebody else’s Facebook Page.
- The most shareable posts are bite-size visual pieces of content, as opposed to the kind of in-depth content that creates a repeat audience.
Needless to say, you actually need to compromise shareability in order to increase more meaningful business metrics. Here are a few things you can do:
- Share relevant takeaways from your blog posts as bite-size pieces of content on Facebook.
- Link back to your blog posts from your relevant Facebook image and video posts (instead of just sharing links to your blog posts).
- Start with the message that matters to your core audience, and look for a way to skew it more mainstream, as opposed to doing this in reverse.
- Facebook is the cocktail party version of your business. It shouldn’t change your core values or message, but the change in context should change your attitude. Be “yourself,” but don’t be a buzzkill.
- “Irrelevant” content is okay in small doses because it gives your brand personality and allows your posts to reach a wider audience. This should be done in a way that won’t alienate your core audience, and it should be used in moderation.
- Don’t compromise your brand’s image with crappy looking image macros. Captioned images work very well on Facebook, but they should be done in a way that matches your brand’s image. They shouldn’t look “amateur” unless that’s the look you’re going for.
- Recognize that Facebook is not a good platform to retain an audience. Email is. Use Facebook to reach people. Facebook is always secondary to email as a way to stay in touch with your audience.
These changes mean you’re probably not going to see a 1000 percent engagement rate anytime soon, but the relevance is worth the tradeoff.
As long as you understand why posts get shared on Facebook, you will have an easier time striking the right balance, instead of pushing people to unsubscribe with excessively commercial posts.
Screenshots taken in May 2014