The Complete Facebook Success Formula Every Marketer Should Know

AugieRay1
Augie Ray Director - Global Voice of Customer Strategy, American Express

Posted on November 7th 2012

The Complete Facebook Success Formula Every Marketer Should Know

At the f8 Developer Conference in April 2010, two Facebook engineers shared Facebook's EdgeRank formula, and since then most marketers have misinterpreted how to apply it to their own brand challenges. Simply put, this is Facebook's equation, not your brand's. This formula reveals how Facebook determines what will appear in users' newsfeeds, but it does not tell your brand what is needed to drive business success on Facebook.

What Facebook shared about EdgeRank is important for marketers to understand, but it is merely a portion of the Facebook brand success formula. It is a little like the owner's manual for your car, which is helpful for learning how to operate the vehicle but does not tell you how to successfully, safely and efficiently get from point A to point B. Marketers must recognize EdgeRank, both for what it is and what it is not.

What is EdgeRank? 

Source: http://allisterfrost.com

EdgeRank is Facebook's secret sauce. It is designed to make the site as useful, engaging and sticky as possible. Its purpose is not to enhance marketers' experiences but users' (which ultimately benefits Facebook itself with more traffic and ad revenue, of course.)

You are probably aware that when you sign on to Facebook, your newsfeed is not simply a stream of every friend's and brand's posts in reverse chronological order. Facebook knows that you would not find a raw stream of posts very interesting--you are fonder of some friends than others, and not everything your friends post is equally appealing-- and so Facebook filters your newsfeed. Based on your past interactions on the platform, Facebook knows who and what you find most relevant, and it applies this knowledge to make your newsfeed as interesting as possible. (For the record, I think Facebook's current EdgeRank formula does a good job, but it has a long way to go before it's filtering feels as natural and accurate as it should for users.)

To understand how EdgeRank works, you first must realize that everything that occurs on Facebook is an "edge" in the parlance of Facebook. Which of your friends' edges you see in your newsfeed and which ones Facebook omits depend on three factors:

Ue: Affinity between user and edge creator: Facebook monitors how much you interact with friends and brands. Those people and brands that earn your engagement--liking, sharing, commenting and so on--are more likely to appear in your newsfeed. The people and brands you tend to ignore eventually disappear because Facebook (correctly) interprets that you simply do not find their content interesting.

Right off the bat, you can see the enormous challenge for brands: How can a brand possibly be as interesting to a user as his or her own friends? You can see this challenge demonstrated within your own personal newsfeed--you are presented with posts made by your friends much more often than from brands you have liked. In fact, many of the brands you have "liked" never appear in your newsfeed. This is not (just) Facebook's way to encourage brands to use paid sponsored posts to increase visibility; instead, it is the reality of your own Facebook habits. You find the people in your life more interesting than brands, and Facebook recognizes and reflects your authentic affinity.

We: Weight for this edge: Every one of us reacts with different types of content differently--you may love videos, I may enjoy photos and someone else may prefer text. This means each content type has a different "weight" for each user. In addition, as an "edge" gains comments and likes, it gains more "weight;" thus, as others interact with an edge, it increases the likelihood that edge will appear in other people's newsfeeds. The more your brand posts match topics and content type to users' interests, the greater the weight of your content and the higher the likelihood your content will appear in fans' newsfeeds.

De: Time decay factor for this edge: The last of Facebook’s EdgeRank attributes is a simple one: The more recent the post, the more likely you are to see it. You do not often launch Facebook and see something posted a week ago. Facebook knows that we are all real-time junkies--if a band is hot, a TV show is great, a meme is growing or our friends found a great party, we must know now!

Facebook's EdgeRank is not rocket science--the more affinity an individual has for your brand, the more interest he or she has for the types of content your brand posts, the more others find your content engaging and the more timely your posts, the greater your brand's chances of being included in a fan's newsfeed. While this all seems obvious, marketers must take note of several vital things about EdgeRank:

  • Facebook does not exist to give your brand the opportunity for free earned media. Its purpose is to give users a great social experience, which may include the brands that authentically earn their attention.
     
  • The same rules apply to people as to brands. If your brand posts interesting content that gets people engaging, the content is seen in more users' newsfeeds. If not...
     
  • A brand that fails to engage fans can disappear from fans' newsfeeds. If this happens...
     
  • Your brand can become invisible on Facebook. Consumers rarely visit brand pages; in fact, Facebook reports that fans are 40 to 150 times more likely to interact with brands on their newsfeeds than going to a brand page. If you disappear from consumers' newsfeeds, you disappear from Facebook.
     
  • EdgeRank is Facebook's formula for keeping users' newsfeeds as interesting and relevant as possible, but this is far from the entire equation for brand success on Facebook. Two key components for Facebook marketing success are missing, and far too many marketers overlook these.
 

Missing Facebook Attribute #1: Fans that matter

What is missing? Well the first thing should be evident:  Fans, but not just any fans, the right fans.

Not all fans are created equal, although you would not know this given some of the relatively desperate methods brands use to accumulate "fans." EdgeRank tells us that brands must collect signals of affinity as quickly as possible, so the primary goal in your brand's fan accumulation strategy should not be raw numbers of fans but collecting the right fans--ones that arrive with some level of affinity or immediate potential for affinity.

An interested customer is likely to interact with your brand, which tells Facebook he or she wants to see more from your brand. On the other hand, a disinterested fan fails to interact, resulting in the expulsion of the your brand from the fan's newsfeed.

I have never understood why brands turn to general-interest sweepstakes and contests to earn "likes," for this seems to offer no path to Facebook success.  The theory is that a fan acquired through these means will move up the value ladder--he or she may start as a disinterested prospect, but soon this person will become so enamored with the brand's wonderful content that the individual will rise to prospect, then customer and finally loyal advocate. This is the traditional advertising funnel view of the brand journey, and applying it to Facebook is, in the words of the immortal Joe Biden, "Malarkey!"

Facebook's EdgeRank prevents disinterested prospects from gaining value. A new fan who was seduced by a contest or sweepstakes will see a few posts from your brand, and if they ignore these posts (and they will), your brand is gone. When this happens, your marketing investment will have incremented a number at the top of your fan page but delivered nothing else, least of all a prospect with an opportunity to see your brand's content within his or her newsfeed.

Brands are treating Facebook "likes" as if they are email subscription requests, but EdgeRank tells us this is not an effective strategy. Instead, you must find fans with affinity and keep that affinity to remain part of fans' Facebook experience. The path to greater brand awareness is not to collect disinterested fans and hope your content reaches them, because it won't; instead, brands achieve awareness on Facebook by collecting fans with existing or immediately available affinity and giving them content and interactions they will share with others (either purposely or inadvertently through Facebook's platform.)

In my Facebook success equation, I call this "Fans to the power of Affinity." Affinity does not grow your brand's Facebook success mathematically but exponentially. A fan with zero affinity stands almost no chance of seeing your content; a fan with modest affinity may or may not interact sufficiently to keep your brand present within his or her newsfeed; but a fan with strong existing affinity or the opportunity to gain it immediately can be a regular receiver, engager and sharer of your content.

To affinity and beyond! (Sorry, the Disney fan in me came out there.)

Missing Facebook Attribute #2: Brand Vector

The second component that we must add to Facebook's EdgeRank equation is brand vector. This means that your content and interactions must move people closer to the brand.

Engagement for engagement's sake may get your brand on fans' newsfeeds, but your brand must drive marketing value and not merely be seen. It is not enough to capture attention; you have to capture hearts and minds. If you collect "eyeballs" but fail to change perception or behavior around your brand, you've failed, no matter what your fan count or "talking about this" number says.

Brands have long fallen into the trap of settling for mere likeability and engagement. One of my favorite pre-social-era examples of this is Taco Bell's Chihuahua. For years, Taco Bell ran ads with the popular pup telling people “Yo Quiero Taco Bell.” The dog abruptly disappeared from airwaves because the Chihuahua was more effective at selling T-shirts and plush animals than he was at selling tacos. In the language of the social era, Taco Bell settled for engagement but lacked brand vector.

For a more recent example, look at Progressive's recent social media PR event. Angry customers flooded into Progressive's fan page to protest the company's handling of a claim. Progressive has the most popular fan page in insurance, at least as measured in simple metrics--4.7 million likes and 30,000 people talking about the brand--but despite those amazing numbers, Progressive saw little to no advocacy in the midst of the company's negative PR event. It is easy to see why: Flo posts lots of fun and games, but where is the discussion about risk, protecting families, the value of insurance or why Progressive is worth consideration? There is little brand vector evident in the engagement Flo creates, so Flo is just another popular character. That's great if Progressive produces sitcoms but is of dubious value if Progressive wishes to change awareness, consideration and intent around its financial products.

Here, in its complete form, is the entire Facebook success equation for marketers. Not just Facebook's EdgeRank formula, but also the inclusion of the right fans and the right messaging. What do you think? Have I missed anything? Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

 

 


AugieRay1

Augie Ray

Director - Global Voice of Customer Strategy, American Express

For six years, I have researched, analyzed and blogged about Customer Experience (CX), social media marketing, social business and the collaborative (or sharing) economy. I welcome your feedback on my posts here on Social Media Today or my blog at ExperienceTheBlog.com.

My background includes more than 20 years of experience in digital, brand, customer experience and social business. Currently, I am the Director of Global Voice of Customer at a Fortune 100 Financial Services firm. Prior to this:

  • I led social business at USAA, a firm recognized for its innovative use of communities and social customer care within the financial service industry.
  • Consulted and published analysis as a Forrester analyst covering digital marketing and social media in the Bay Area.
  • Led a diverse $9-million agency team with specialties in digital development, digital experiential marketing and community strategy.

I am passionate about monitoring current trends and understanding what they mean to marketing, product development, customer care and other corners of the enterprise. I continue to evaluate how new mobile and social behaviors and technologies are combining to change fundamental attitudes about the way we select, purchase, consume and share products and services. The future will bring a great deal of innovation that offers opportunities to organizations that are agile and willing to cannibalize their own business models (but it will severely challenge those organizations that cannot.)

See Full Profile >

Comments

AmyFowler
Posted on November 7th 2012 at 3:53PM

Nice article, and I agree with most of what you've said. 

I do disagree somewhat with what you've said about competitions not being a good way of gaining fans.

In my opinion, a competition executed correctly is a good way of raising brand awareness and simultaneously, gaining fans on your social media channels. 

The fact is that most brands hold a competition at some point or another, some do it many times, meaning that they must be getting something out of it, or why would they keep doing it?

I know of one company in particular, who built their Facebook page largely through competitions, and now they have a pretty loyal, and active, fanbase. 

I think they key is in the prize - don't give away something *everyone* wants. Give away an iPad and you'll get 1 million + likes on your Facebook page, but how many will have an interest in your products?

However, give away one of your products, or if you don't have a product to give away, something that only your customer base would be interested in, and you're going to be targeting people who *do* have some sort of interest in what you do.

I think you also need to milk the brand buzz that forms during the competition for all it's worth. People are going to be more responsive to your Facebook page during this time, so be sure to make the most of it, and get your edgerank up. And don't abandon your page once the competition finishes - keep posting daily to ensure you don't drop of the edge of the newsfeed planet. 

Either way - running a competition doesn't have to cost much, and I can't see any way in which it would do harm (unless you start breaking laws or something). I'd always tell a company to go for it.

AugieRay1
Posted on November 7th 2012 at 5:05PM

Thanks, Amy.  You and I agree.  A contest CAN be done right.  So can a sweepstakes.  Most that I see, however, are not.  As you point out, it's about the award, the targetig, the interaction, etc.  Giving away virtual Farmville crap is the way to do Facebook wrong; offering a prize that would be uniquely interesting to the brand's unique audience is tougher, probably smaller, but definitely more valuable.


Thanks for the feedback!

Bill Prescott
Posted on November 7th 2012 at 6:29PM

Great Article.  Is it possible to pay Facebook to be included in all your fan's newsfeeds? 

Wesley Picotte
Posted on November 7th 2012 at 7:44PM

Contests are a great way to bring people to a brand, but don't seal affinity and I think that's one of the key points this post makes. If running a contest is your way, be prepared to back it up with an ongoing stream of intersting, engaging content. Frequency, as Amy suggests, is probably a factor in not dropping out of streams but the meta point is about substance.

I think the missing piece here is understanding what your customers care about and creating content that speaks to this. That's how you grow and maintain engagements on Facebook and other online touchpoints.

ChrisSyme
Posted on November 7th 2012 at 9:01PM

The only problem I have with this is that we know Facebook has changed this algorithm at least twice (maybe more since 2010). A couple things--Edge Rank is now different for brands. We know that sometime in the last two month the algorithm was changed to allow brands only a percentage of their true reach, no matter how well they hit Edge Rank.. This has been well documented all over the net. We even have a Facebook VP on record as saying, "the free ride for brands is over." Facebook is forcing brands to buy Facebook ads and Promoted Posts to reach the fans they have worked to build. It's time to explore other strategies--particularly Advocacy strategies--if your brand does not have a budget for ads on Facebook. The crunch is now on small brands and those of us that help them market must put our thinking caps back on and figure out how to help them engage all over again. 

AugieRay1
Posted on November 7th 2012 at 9:05PM

Chris, I agree that there are additional complexities to EdgeRank than I address. My primary interest was expanding on EdgeRank with the discussion on Brand Vector and quality fans. Moreover, even with the changes, brands can succeed by building true engagement that move fans closer to the brand rather than just create chatter.  Obviously, a book could be written on EdgeRank (and some have been), but I feel too many brands obsess with fan count and comments when they should consider whether or not they are building authentic relationships.

Thanks for the comment!

pjjclarke
Posted on November 8th 2012 at 9:32PM

I'd be very wary of competitions, sweepstakes etc. There are rules for minimum levels of prize value. If you breach them in the wrong state or country, you could end up with a Court summons. 

About Town Marketing
Posted on December 25th 2012 at 7:49PM

For me as a Facebook (FB) user with 400+ pages I follow I am really struggling to keep up with the volume of content in my newsfeed.  Edgerank is good and I can see how it benefits me but I think all marketers must consider that FB users like me can be very hard to connect with unless you start paying for sponsored stories and advertising.

ChrisSyme
Posted on December 26th 2012 at 9:15PM

Sorry to disagree but as a marketer for small business I never recommend sponsored stories or buying Facebook advertising unless a client is running a campaign, event, or coupon. Data shows us that users are more likely to engage with friends than they are with brands so the goal of advocacy (getting people to share and recommend to friends) is much more desired than advertising.  Our strategies are working more towards developing the kind of content that engages super users and advocates who share and recommend products and brands through a number of different strategies. The data on return is much higher. Ron Fugetta's new book, Brand Advocacy, has a ton of great info on advocacy strategies and data to back it all up. I would recommend taking a look. Reach is a small part of the total Facebook picture anymore.

Touch Point Digital
Posted on January 1st 2013 at 5:33AM

Well, it seems like there's a little disagreement as to how to go about using Facebook for marketing, but we all at least know that we should.  I think one problem that many businesses get into when using social media is combining it for business and personal use.  A business' social media profiles should be separate from personal social media profiles, and a business should not use it to comment on things that are of a personal nature.  Not that you should be dull and dry; you should show that you are personable and human.  But lines must be drawn to keep things on a professional level when using social media for business.