While social media has played a significant role in our communications landscape for the last decade, many organizations still struggle to understand the best practices, and effective versus non-effective approaches on the various social channels.
I mean, it can be complex. The platforms and their algorithms are always changing, and it can be difficult to keep up with the various best practices and shifts. But the fundamentals of each platform generally remain unchanged, and can be a solid starting point for your respective strategy.
So as a quick overview, here are some current best practice notes for three of the major social platforms, which could help to better inform your approach, in order to maximize performance in 2021.
First up is Zuckerberg's big blue beast, the most-used social media platform in the world, which provides you with the widest potential reach and distribution for your messaging. If you can get it right.
Facebook may be the most difficult to master because it's hard to be prescriptive with Facebook posting advice. A lot of what works best is reliant on audience knowledge and intuition, 'reading the room', as it may be, to determine what will generate the best response.
The basis of Facebook's News Feed algorithm, which defines how far and wide your posts reach, is underpinned by these key elements:
- Who posted it? - How often a user engages with a profile or person plays a role in determining reach. So if you regularly Like or comment on posts from a Page, you'll see more of its posts, while if someone you regularly interact with shares a link, you'll also be more likely to see it.
- When was it posted? - Timeliness remains a factor in Facebook's News Feed, so initial post response will also play a role in determining reach. That means you need to grab attention among the people who initially see it, which is why you need to understand when your audience is online (through your analytics) and what they're likely to engage with.
- How likely each user will engage with it - Facebook also works to determine what each users' engagement habits are, and will optimize its algorithm to maximize their specific behaviors. As per Facebook: “For any given story, we predict how likely you might be to comment on that story, or to share that story". Facebook will also estimate how long it thinks users might watch a video for, or read an article, as further indicators of likely engagement.
Basically, Facebook wants to keep you active on Facebook for as long as possible, so the more you're commenting and engaging - or undertaking activities that keep you, specifically, in-app - the more it can use those cues to feed you more of the same.
Those are the technical considerations, but what really gets people on Facebook engaging?
Trending news is (somewhat concerningly) now the most shared content type on Facebook, but outside of that, various studies have shown that the posts which perform best on The Social Network are those that trigger an emotional response, prompting users to Like, comment or share with their friends.
Back in 2019, Buffer analyzed more than 777 million Facebook posts from Pages and found that the posts which saw the most engagement, and subsequent reach, were either inspirational, funny, or practical.
Of course, aiming for these elements is one thing, actually creating a universally humorous, on-brand post is another thing altogether, but the main point is that you need to trigger emotional reaction. What will get users engaging with this content?
That, unfortunately, is also what's lead to more polarizing news coverage. News outlets will get more clicks by being divisive, and prompting debate, than they will via balanced reporting. It's also how US President Donald Trump has dominated Facebook - Trump's approach is entirely divisive, focused on emotional response, and designed to trigger people who see his updates. Truth can become relative in such campaigns, which is why Facebook can be a dangerous platform as well. But the bottom line, overall, is sparking emotional response.
BuzzSumo identified these post types as key engagement drivers in their 2017 study of two billion Facebook posts:
- Practical Hacks
- Inspirational content
- Food and recipes
- Cute animals
- Music videos
- Travel and Adventure
Not all of those post types will apply to your approach, but it provides some further context on what works best.
In terms of specific posting guidelines, shorter text descriptions generally work better, with research showing that the optimal length for a Facebook post is 25 to 55 characters. That's not definitive, but part of the logic here is that posts of more than 80 characters are auto-truncated in the mobile app (giving you that 'See more' prompt at the end of the initial text), which can subsequently decrease engagement.
Video is the best performing post type, with live video seeing the most engagement, while posts with images do better than straight text.
Also worth noting - when you add a link into the Facebook post composer, it will automatically generate a link preview, using the header image you've added to your post on your site. You can then delete the link from the text, and the preview will remain, which can be better for driving traffic (as your whole image is now clickable).
Also, while Facebook has more recently put increased emphasis on hashtags, the jury is still out on their effectiveness. It may be worth experimenting, but there's no clear best practice on Facebook tags.
Posting frequency depends on your audience, but Facebook has previously advised that Pages should not be overly-concerned about over-posting, as the News Feed algorithm will limit exposure from individual Pages. That's not guaranteed, and you could still annoy those who've chosen to specifically follow your Page. But as a guide, there's no definitive impact to posting more often.
Twitter is all about short-sharp messaging - a couple of hashtags, and away you go, right?
Not necessarily. In fact, more recently, Twitter has been advising brands against the use of hashtags, as it can distract from your focus goal - i.e. getting people to click on your links. If you're adding hashtags, that's more things for people to potentially tap through on, and you really only want them focused on one CTA. So maybe, no hashtags is the answer, dependent on your goals.
If you are looking to tap into trending discussions via tags, then you need to research the hashtags relevant to the discussion (apps like Hashtagify can help), and ensure you add capital letters into your tags for clarity (e.g. #WednesdayWisdom). This also ensures screen readers can better communicate the relevant tags for vision-impaired users.
Twitter's algorithm is less sophisticated, and influential, than Facebook's, which is why organizations have traditionally relied on hashtags to increase their reach, especially when starting out. It can be hard to get that initial following required to then boost your tweet distribution, but engaging with other profiles within your niche, either by following or replying, will help early on. You can also look to engage in relevant Twitter chats, and partner with leaders in your industry to boost initial awareness.
In terms of tweet content, Twitter adheres to a 'three C's' approach for optimal tweeting:
You've only got 280 characters, so you need to be concise, but it's important to also be clear, and to look to prompt discussion among your audience.
In terms of content formats, tweets with video see the most engagement, followed by tweets with GIFs, photos than plain text.
Also, when you add a link to a tweet, if you put your link right at the end of your text, and your website has Twitter cards enabled, it will automatically generate a link preview and remove the link text from your tweet, giving you a broader link click area in your message.
The tweet stream moves fast, so frequency has generally been considered less of a concern on the platform, but this will be informed by your audience and how much you have to share. You can use apps like Tweriod or Followerwonk to get insights into when your followers are active, and use that as a guide as to when to post, relative to the amount of updates you're looking to share.
LinkedIn is the professional social network, where business folk go to learn about the latest happenings in their industry, and career developments among current and former colleagues. And while you've likely seen an increasing number of Facebook-like posts on LinkedIn, some of which end up seeing big engagement, that's probably not the approach you want to take for a business or organizational account.
LinkedIn posts can be a little longer than on Facebook and Twitter, but it is again worth noting that your LinkedIn post will be cut off at 140 characters in the mobile app. As such, shorter is likely better, but LinkedIn's audience is a little more ready to read longer updates, if they're relevant.
Hashtags are now also a bigger deal on LinkedIn. Over the past couple of years, LinkedIn has been working to increase the usage of hashtags on posts as a means to better categorize content, and highlight relevant posts to each user. There's no definitive, optimal number of tags per post, but a couple of the most relevant tags may help with distribution, without impacting readability.
Focusing on professional and industry development will likely see better response - though as noted, there are a number of light-hearted, comedic type posts that have also done well. How you approach this will come down to your own branding approach, and how you want your organization to be seen - and also what types of people you want responding to your updates.
'But reaching more people is better, right?' Yes, casting a wider net will mean getting your message in front of more potentially interested users, but where you draw the line on such will come down to your own brand guidelines. It is possible to get good response from an inspirational story or update, but that may not be as closely related to your overall branding and approach.
LinkedIn users are 20x more likely to share a video on the platform than any other type of post, with again, image posts coming second ahead of plain text, so it's worth considering your posting practices. Like Facebook, LinkedIn will also generate clickable link previews when you add a link into your post text in the composer, which will remain even if you delete the link text, which can make your updates look cleaner.
LinkedIn's algorithm is a bit more unpredictable than others, with some older updates re-surfacing weeks behind time, which can relate to posting frequency. Posting more than twice a day could be too much, but relevant content will still work, if you have a steady stream of updates.
More recent additions like LinkedIn Stories and polls can also help foster engagement, though Stories seems like less of a focus in its initial stages. Also, you can now attach documents to your LinkedIn posts, and they'll generate as preview images, which means you can also create organic, swipeable carousels within LinkedIn posts by adding PDF documents that are visually focused. Another option to consider.
Engaging with the comments is also key - if people respond to your post, respond to them to help foster community engagement.
These are generally the key platforms that organizations start with on social, before considering Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, etc. Instagram is also hugely popular, but at a basic, general level, these are the key platforms you're likely looking at, and seeking to master to build your core social presence.
Hopefully these tips provide some guidance.