Facebook Seeks to Help Brands Maximize Post Performance with New Audience Optimization Tools

If you only have time to focus on one social media update this week, this is the one. Facebook has today announced a new post-specific audience targeting tool which enables publishers to add in specific qualifiers to ensure that each of their posts reaches the most relevant audience.

It works like this:

So, first off, let’s begin by composing a post as normal – here’s a Facebook post for the Social Media Today Page for the most recent Focus on Customer Service podcast, an interview with Danu from Indonesian online retailer Berrybenka.

Facebook Seeks to Help Brands Maximize Post Performance with New Audience Optimization Tools | Social Media TodayAt the bottom of the post, you can see Facebook's prompting me to utilize the new Audience Optimization tools - click on the targeting option as advised and you’re taken to a new selection screen where you can refine the intended audience for this post.

Facebook Seeks to Help Brands Maximize Post Performance with New Audience Optimization Tools | Social Media TodayAs you can see, the first tab in this sequence is ‘Preferred Audience’. In this field, you can set specific interests related to the content of the post to ensure it's delivered to the most relevant audience. This doesn’t mean your post will reach everyone on Facebook who's interested in these topics, but it increases the chances of your post reaching the most interested members of your Facebook audience based on their behaviors and preferences.

For example, right now when you post to your Facebook Page, your post is not going to reach all of the people who’ve liked your page – in fact, you’ll be lucky to reach even 10% of them, according to some reports. The people who are shown your content will see it based on various factors, including their past interactions with your Page and interest in the content you produce.

Facebook Seeks to Help Brands Maximize Post Performance with New Audience Optimization Tools | Social Media TodayIf the people who are served your post like it and/or interact with it, Facebook uses that as a signal of audience interest and post relevance, which will then see your update spread further based upon those actions. The problem with this system is that you have no real control over which people within your audience see your post, and thus, your ability to maximize subsequent distribution is limited - this is particularly relevant for Pages that post a range of subjects.

To solve this, last year Facebook introduced a tool called ‘Interest Targeting’ which enabled publishers to select interests that each post related to. Facebook would then analyze your Page audience and the listed interests and show your update to people who were interested in your Page AND these added variables.

Facebook Seeks to Help Brands Maximize Post Performance with New Audience Optimization Tools | Social Media TodayBut Interest Targeting had its own issues – effectively, by adding interests, that meant that anyone within your audience who wasn’t interested in those added qualifiers had no chance of seeing your post, which could actually limit post reach. It acted as an eliminator instead of a qualifier, and given you’re already only reaching a portion of your audience anyway, no one’s too keen on restricting it even further.

Preferred Audience solves this by ensuring members of your audience who are interested in these added topics will be more likely to see your post, while at the same time, post reach is not restricted by them, meaning you’re getting maximum reach value, but you’re able to target your posts more specifically to the members of your audience most likely to be interested in each specific post.

As you can seen in the SMT post interests, I’ve added in ‘Berrybenka.com’, ‘Hijabenka.com’ (an affiliate company within Berrybenka), as well as some more generic targeting in ‘customer service’, ‘Twitter’ and ‘social media marketing’. Probably the ‘social media marketing’ qualifier is not very useful – if you’re following Social Media Today, you’re no doubt interested in this topic either way – but as an example, this is how you can target your post and ensure you’re reaching the audience most likely to engage with this, specific, content.

The other element added to the new system is ‘Audience Restrictions’ – in this section, you can add in qualifiers to eliminate members of your audience who definitely won’t be interested in this post.

Facebook Seeks to Help Brands Maximize Post Performance with New Audience Optimization Tools | Social Media Today

This is more in-line with the previous Interest Targeting option – when you list a restriction here, you’re disqualifying anyone in that category, within your Facebook audience, from the reach of this post.

In effect, what you’re able to do with these tools is hone in on the people within your Facebook audience who are most likely to be interested in the content of each specific post. On this, Facebook’s also released a guide which outlines their recommended best practices for tags, with tips including:

  • Ask yourself: What types of people are most likely to engage with your story, and what are their interests?
  • Don't worry about capturing every single subject entity mentioned in the story. Readers' interests don't always align perfectly with a story's subject matter. The goal is to define an audience, not to list keywords
  • Use direct tags for stories about public figures, like “Kobe Bryant,” “Adele” or “Barak Obama.” With public figures, there's a direct correlation between an article's subject and audience's interest, so direct tags are effective.
  • Employ tags indirectly related to an article's subject, in addition to specific tags, if it makes sense to connect a breaking news event with people interested in its larger significance.

By adding in tags and qualifiers, you’re ensuring that your content reach is being maximized by hitting the audience most likely to be interested in each post - which, in turn, should have an impact on overall response and spread. It is important to note, however, that these Audience Optimization tools are not a cure for organic reach declines. Facebook spells this out clearly in the accompanying documentation:

“In tests, we've seen that organic reach stays about the same while engagement goes up. Interest tags help Facebook better match content with audiences, prioritizing posts on particular topics for the users who are most likely to be interested in those topics. Interest tags don't limit a post's distribution — they just help it reach the most relevant subset of an audience.”

So how, then, do you know if you’re on the right track and assigning the correct tags to maximize audience reach? Facebook’s got you covered on that front also, adding in another new feature which provides insights and data on each posts’ performance.

Facebook Seeks to Help Brands Maximize Post Performance with New Audience Optimization Tools | Social Media Today

“Once a post is published, insights for preferred audience help publishers understand how different subsets of people are responding by showing reach and engagement metrics for each interest tag that the publisher set. Publishers can keep their finger on the pulse of their audience's expanding interests on Facebook by watching how particular tags perform over time.”

Pretty impressive, huh? Facebook’s giving publishers all the tools to maximize Post reach. While it won’t reverse previous reach declines and take you back to a time where all your posts reached all your fans, it’s probably the closest you’ll get to the next best thing. Over time, by analyzing your post analytics, you’ll get to know which segments of your audience respond better to each interest and category, and then, which audience cross-sections are driving the most clicks.

In support of the new targeting features, Facebook's outlined how some brands have seen success with Audience Optimization in testing, including Bleacher Report, MTV and The New York Times, who had this to say on their effectiveness:

“Our stories generally find a wide audience on Facebook, but some stories can take off thanks to especially strong engagement from niche Facebook communities such as TV show fans, sports fans, etc. The vibrant discussions taking place on some of these posts suggests that this new tagging feature is helping to attract the readers who are most passionate about specific topics.”

If nothing else, Audience Optimization is an interesting tool, and one which all brands should consider testing. The important element here is that adding in interest tags will not limit the reach of your posts, so you can experiment and not suffer any ill-effects. But by targeting more specifically, and honing in on the audience segments most likely to be interested and to respond to each post, you may be able to boost your engagement rate, and generate better reach as a result.

Given the size of Facebook’s audience, and the increasingly significant part it now plays in people’s media consumption habits, there’s little reason to ignore such an opportunity.

Audience Optimization's being rolled out to all English language Pages over the next week – if your Page has more than 5,000 likes, the Audience Optimization features will be automatically turned on and you’ll be able to begin adding tags to your posts. If you’re audience is smaller than 5,000, you’ll have to turn the feature on under Page settings (in the ‘General’ tab there’ll be a new option called ‘Audience Optimization for Posts’ which needs to be switched on).

Further information and best practices are listed here and here.

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