For virtually all social media managers, working out how to maximize your Facebook performance is going to play a big part. While other networks also play a significant role - and the significance of each will be relative to your, specific, brand and audience - studies have shown that Facebook's a more significant driver of referral traffic than any other social network, generally. This was underlined even further after Twitter removed share counts from their API, which resulted in a decline in shares through the micro-blog network. And as time goes on, and Facebook works to play a bigger part in content hosting and distribution, the traffic generated from Facebook is becoming a bigger and more important part of the puzzle for many publishers and brands.
So how do you maximize your performance on Facebook?
The basic answer is 'listen to your audience'. You have access to analytical data via Facebook Insights, and you likely already know your target market, at least to some degree. With these tools, it's a matter of testing, learning and refining, step-by-step.
But with so many Page managers asking the same questions, a lot of research has already been conducted and published on the topic - there are a heap of reports and papers on what generates the best response on The Social Network. Using these insights and best practices, combined with your own analysis, it's possible to fast-track your Facebook performance.
While individual results will vary - and there's no substitute for understanding your target market - here are some of key research insights on what generates the best response on Facebook, from headlines to captions to images.
Here are five key lessons.
1. The Best Headline Length for Facebook is 25-55 Characters
In a study conducted by Refinery29, their research team found that the optimal length of a headline for Facebook engagement is 25 to 55 characters. Articles within this range, according to Refinery29, generate about 20% more shares, on average.
The logic behind this seems relatively simple -as per the report:
"... easy to understand titles may allow readers to get the gist of an article and capture interest faster as readers scroll through their news feeds. A contributing cause may be as simple as the fact that some titles greater than 80 characters are autotruncated on Facebook mobile, thus decreasing engagement. Additionally, this could be correlated with an omitted variable such as large news events that tend to have more straightforward titles."
So making your content easier to consume in people's News Feeds, by making it shorter and more to the point, likely contributes to more people taking pause and considering clicking through.
This also aligns with what HubSpot found earlier this year - in their research, they found that the ideal length of a blog post title is now 70 characters or less. Aside from generating better response, HubSpot also notes that post titles of 70 character or less won't get cut off in Google search results (which is obviously not Facebook-relative, but an interesting consideration either way).
Interestingly, HubSpot also found that headlines of between 12 and 14 words generate the most Facebook Likes.
That data's supported by similar research from OutBrain, which found that headlines of eight words or more had a 21% higher click-through rate. Putting those two together, you're probably looking at a lot of short words in your titles if you want to reach 12-14 in 70 characters, but it does further underline the need to be as explicit as possible in your headlines - a finding further underlined by Moz in their research into what makes readers click.
In Moz's report, they highlight the way BuzzFeed uses this to best effect in their headlines.
As you can see from these examples, the content of each post is explicitly stated in a straight-forward, yet attention-grabbing way. The data suggests that using more words in your title, within the 70 character limit, is the best way to get attention - just make sure the words you choose are simple and to the point.
Which is pretty much necessary anyway, if you're going to fit 14 words into such a short space.
2. Posts with Numbers Get More Shares
Another key element to consider is numbers - in virtually every research report, numbered lists come out as one of the most shared content types on Facebook.
This is underlined in Moz's report:
And also in research from BuzzSumo, which found that "list posts with the number 10, specifically, perform better than other numbers, though all list posts appear to perform well".
Moz even found that numbered headlines performed better among female users, and was the only element which saw significant performance difference among genders in their study.
We can attest to this from Social Media Today's perspective - in our analysis, numbered posts are always among our top performers.
As noted by Neil Patel, lists posts, whether you like them or not, offer readers specificity, a definitive end point that encapsulates the data. That tends to help readers' better clarify the information on offer, which appeals to our sense of logic.
Yes, they can seem a bit cheesy - they can be a bit cheesy, of course - but readers like numbered lists. It's worth considering as you go about creating your posts - if you can separate your points into a numbered list, it could be worth the effort.
3. Emotional Titles Work Better
As per Refinery29's research, sparking an emotional response in your readers can be a key driver of share activity.
Refinery29 refers to Jonah Berger and Katy Milkman's extensive research on internet virality (published in 2012), noting that: "high arousal positive emotions (awe) and negative emotions (anger and anxiety) drive shareability".
This is reflected in Refinery29's research - as per the below chart, you can see the most shared content, at the far right of the colored dots, have either very positive or very negative qualifiers.
Now this one can be difficult to action, particularly when you're trying to appeal to a wide audience with your content, but the research shows that the more debate you can inspire, the better your performance, at least in terms of comments and shares, will be.
This finding is further supported by recent research published in Harvard Business Review which found that articles which evoke high-arousal emotions, like anger and happiness, generate a larger number of comments - yet at the same time, social sharing was very connected to feelings of "high dominance", where the reader feels in control, such as inspiration or admiration.
"This explains why your Facebook News Feed may be flooded by friends sharing feel-good stories."
In this sense, sparking either anger or happiness can help fuel indirect shares via comments - as Facebook's algorithm will spread the reach of your post further based on interaction - while inspirational-type posts are better for generating direct shares from users.
How you use that information is relative to your brand and purpose. On one hand, it can be a risky strategy to post divisive, debate-worthy content, as you can alienate sections of your audience. But then again, such actions can also solidify your brand presence by appealing to your most committed fans.
Definitely one you'd need to take caution with - inspirational/admirational posts are the safer option of the two.
4. Consistency Matters
This one's probably a little harder to action in an immediate sense, but a recent study from Facebook into how news content spreads throughout their network looked at the various elements at play and which had a more significant impact on shares and comments. Facebook found that timeliness of coverage was a factor, but that it wasn't as significant as people might think.
As highlighted in the chart, shares and comments on news articles surge on announcement, then they see a secondary lift around half a day later, when other outlets get on board. When looking at what caused readers to share more or less, Facebook found few relevant markers:
"The only major factor that does matter is the prior number of shares of other articles from the same news site."
So the only consistent element they found in their analysis that lead to increased sharing was the prior number of shares from the same outlet. This means more reputable, known resources are generating more shares, and the only way to get to that position of trust is through consistency.
It's a longer-term strategy than the other tips included here, but relevant either way - Facebook factors in past engagement with a Page, and that can be significant in generating more shares. It may be something of a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: the better relationship you have with your audience, the better your Facebook performance.
5. Posts of Less Than 50 Characters Generate the Most Engagement
As per BuzzSumo's analysis of more than a billion Facebook posts from 30 million brand Pages, short-form posts of less than 50 characters generate the most engagement on the platform.
Again, Facebook users want you to get to the point - they already have the link preview for context, so the more succinct and focussed you can be in your update text, the better. This also aligns with the need to ensure your headline lays out the content as clearly as possible.
Now that might seem way too short, but another report from Buffer suggests that 40 characters is the optimal length for a Facebook post.
According to HubSpot, the text in your status update itself is not as important as the meta title or meta description that gets pulled in when you insert a link into your post.
"Often, people look at the image of the article and then directly down at the meta title and meta description for context clues"
In this context, it may be that even if you do write great Facebook posts, no one's reading them anyway.
Forty characters is very brief, so it's worth testing with your audience to see if this resonates. But the data suggests it will.
Also, don't use hashtags on Facebook. BuzzSumo found that posts without hashtags get more engagement than those with them. They just haven't ever resonated with Facebook's user-base.
But wait, there's more - I didn't even get to images. I read somewhere in my research that odd numbered lists resonate better than even numbered ones, and since I'm not going to make it to 10 points, I opted to stick with five - but here's the lowdown on images within your Facebook posts.
- Facebook prefers posts to use the link preview, rather than uploading your own image and including the link in your update - link previews are the auto-generated details that Facebook pulls from your website when you paste in a link. You can read more about it here, but it was part of a News Feed algorithm update that came into effect in August 2014. This, to our knowledge, doesn't impact you if you use the link preview and upload a different image to that which comes up as the auto-generated picture.
- BuzzSumo found that posting images to Facebook via Instagram leads to a 23% increase in engagement. That means using the 'Share to Facebook' option via Instagram on mobile (you can't use this option via desktop). The theory behind why this is the case is that Facebook's keen to promote Instagram wherever it can, so they give those posts a reach boost.
- Including multiple images in your post may increase reach. Maybe. There's no definitive evidence on this, but some Pages have seen significantly more reach when including multiple images on a post. Jon Loomer, a man whose Facebook knowledge I greatly respect, wrote a post some time ago about this, saying that it may be effective, but that you should consider your user experience in all cases. It may help you get more engagement, but you need to measure what that engagement means and whether it's actually leading you closer to your actual goals. Also, now that video posts generate the most organic reach, it may be that this 'trick' doesn't work at all anymore.
While the Facebook landscape, and the social media landscape more generally, is constantly evolving, it's worth taking research like this into consideration as you go about formulating your own Facebook strategy. Not every tip's going to work for your brand, not every bit of advice will be relative. But by knowing the general guidelines and best practices, you can start your experimentation from a more firm footing, by understanding what others are seeing. And that can help you make more informed choices about your own Facebook process.