Brand-building in Facebook WITHOUT the Fan Page


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The Facebook changes announced in September 2011 at the F8 developer's conference significantly impacted fan pages and the way fan page content is received in the newsfeed. Colleges who relied solely on the fan page as their foothold in social media are finding that newsfeed impressions and reach have declined due to changes in the EdgeRank algorithm.

The presentation will show extensive data on how the sharing and engagement rates of personalized content on Facebook is much higher than generic content. It will also share how these institutions are combining this strategy with their "regular" Facebook fan page strategy and creating overall reports and results to share internally and showcase social engagement.

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  • Before we dive in though, I want to tell you a little bit more about myself and my background. I’ve been with readMedia for almost two and a half years now. readMedia is a software company based in Albany, NY that’s solely focused on higher ed. About 420 colleges throughout the country, from small liberal arts colleges like Gettysburg and Colgate to big state flagships like Georgia Tech and Clemson, and everything in between, use our software to generate brand awareness in local and social networks by highlighting the accomplishments of their student bodies.Prior to joining readMedia, I spent several years in corporate communications for big manufacturing companies like Lockheed Martin and GE, in roles like employee communications, marketing, media relations and community outreach.
  • So now that you know a little about me, I want to get a sense of who’s here in the room. How many of you work here at Penn State? How many are from private colleges? Other publics? How many of you work in marketing or communications? So the rest of you are more in web or development?I’m coming at this from a marketing perspective, and really from an institution-wide perspective. I’m going to be talking about brand awareness in the broad sense of raising the profile of your institution, and not necessarily specific departments or programs or disciplines. But some of the overarching concepts should apply, whether you work in a central institutional marketing and communications office or a smaller area within a university.
  • Today’s session is about Facebook, and specifically what institutions are doing to promote their brand on the platform without necessarily relying on the fan page. I’m going to start by doing a quick Facebook history lesson, talk about some of the most recent major changes to the platform, and share some examples of colleges who are getting good traction on Facebook but not necessarily talking about themselves, on a fan page, but by getting their stakeholders to talk about them. And I’ll share strategies for doing that.
  • I think it’s most instructive to start with a bit of a retrospective of Facebook, taking a trip down memory lane all the way back to 2004. We all know the story: Mark Zuckerberg started it out of his Harvard dorm room as a way to rate hot girls. It has its roots on a college campus and it slowly spread to other Ivy League colleges and then to many other campuses. In 2006, Facebook opened up to the general public. This is what the Facebook experience looked like back then.
  • How many of you were on Facebook long enough ago to remember throwing sheep at your friends?How many of you remember days when there was no newsfeed? You had to actively go visit your friend’s profile pages to see what they were up to.And status updates were all written in the third person?
  • There wasn’t a ton of commercial interaction on Facebook in the beginning. In fact, all that early adopter brands could do was create a profile page for their company or business. Facebook moved to scrub this by creating fan pages in 2008 and really relaunching them in 2009.
  • So things were humming along, brands and universities were getting used to fan pages and how to manage them, trying their best to attract fans, and even starting to take advantage of data products like Facebook Insights to try and gauge performance. Facebook rolls out sidebar ads and allows you to target based on user profile data, and some brands experiment with things like landing tabs and more interactive content on their fan pages.
  • Then comes along September of 2011, and the F8 developer’s conference, where some pretty drastic changes to Facebook were announced. The first was the introduction of Timeline for personal profiles. Timeline was a complete reimagination of the Facebook experience, and a shift toward creating more of a “digital scrapbook” approach to one’s online life. Users can choose which events to highlight and showcase, and mark momentous life events. For a while, it was unclear whether Timeline was going to come to brand pages or not. It finally did at the end of March this year, so now brand have the ability to convert their fan page design to the timeline, complete with a cover photo and the ability to go back and add significant events.
  • The second major change was to the EdgeRank algorithm and the way content is displayed in the Facebook newsfeed. While the Timeline is pretty, all of us as Facebook users know that the crux of the Facebook experience really now revolves around the newsfeed. It’s what we see when we login, it’s what we browse and check to see what our friends and family are up to.
  • At the f8 conference, Facebook announced some tweaks to its algorithm. It would try to determine which updates it thought were “important” and display them in the newsfeed as “top stories”.This is based on a combination of frequency, recency and engagement. Certain types of content, like photos, rank higher. Status updates that get a lot more comments and likes will rise to the top. More recent posts will outrank older posts. All of these factors determine whether a piece of content makes it to the Newsfeed, front in center in front of friends or fans. And while EdgeRank plays a critical role. Facebook also continues to give users more control over the frequency with which they see updates from certain friends or pages. That annoying Aunt you have who posts BingoBlitz games all day long? You can effectively mute her, say that you only want to see important updates, block all BingoBlitz updates entirely.
  • All other updates would be relegated to the Ticker, a fast-moving feed of updates in the upper-right corner. It’s a fire hose of content and quite frankly, unless you’re sitting at your desk staring at Facebook all day, it’s impossible to keep up with.This is where your crazy Aunt and all her annoying updates go.
  • And just last week, Facebook announced a few additional features for brand fan pages, like the ability to schedule posts in advance and grant different levels of access/permission to page administrators.Facebook has continued to tweak the Insights report for fan pages to provide more data and granularity on post performance and audience.
  • And of course, all along Facebook has been tweaking and refining its paid advertising model as well. They have gotten particularly aggressive in coming out with new paid ad products in the last six months leading up to their IPO, and now with the need to please shareholders and file quarterly earnings reports, I can only imagine that Facebook will continue to drive brands to its paid products. Reach generator – Only available to big brands with big budgets. Minimum of 500,000 fans, $25K per month ad spend just to make sure that your fan page posts get in front of a higher percentage of fans.Highlighted or Promoted posts – more a la carte model; set a budget and pay Facebook to get your fan page post in front of more of the people who have liked your page.
  • The reason these paid products really start to come into play is because in reality, fan pages alone are a pretty weak way to reach people on Facebook.As you start to dig in on some numbers and research around fan pages, you start to realize that fan pages aren’t necessarily this be-all end-all marketing gift from the Facebook Gods.It doesn’t mean that paid media is the only effective way to reach people on Facebook, and in fact I’ll give you some examples of ways brands are generating exposure on the platform without having to buy Facebook ads shortly, but it also means that you need to look at your Facebook strategy as more of a blend of paid, owned and earned media. Paid media being advertisements, sponsored stories; owned media being your fan page where you share your messaging and links to your content, and earned media being other people talking about you on Facebook.All three can be effective but I’d argue that relative to the amount of time universities spend agonizing over their fan pages and how many likes they have and whether they should be posting status updates or photos or what kind of engagement they get, fan pages have a pretty low ROI.So I’ll dig in a bit now on fan page numbers and some data behind them.
  • For a while, colleges and brands were obsessed with just getting more fans. The more people who liked your page, the more people you could target and reach with your messaging, the more people who were a part of your community. So there were all kinds of crazy contests or campaigns to try and get people to join your page.The truth is that a MAJORITY of your fans: 84% on average in fact, never even see your content in their newsfeed.Among millennials, 70% said they “rarely” or “never” visit brand pages.And Noel Levitz found that among high school students, less than a third visited college Facebook fan pages as part of the search process.And here’s the kicker. We all are not the norm for Facebook users. We’re tech nerds, we’re on the web and social media platforms all day for our jobs, and we have to remember that we are not the average. A majority of Facebook users – 65% -- are fans of 5 brand pages or fewer. The average Joe – my dad, my neighbor, my friend from the gym – are not on Facebook because they want to receive brand messaging or have a lot of commercial interaction. They’re there to look at photos of their grandkids or stay in touch with old friends or post cat pictures.People on Facebook are more interested in what their friends are saying than in what brands are saying, and Facebook supports this by making sure its EdgeRank algorithm is set up to ensure content from friends is prioritized in the news feed. So if you’re a brand, your goal should be to make sure you get as much exposure in people’s newsfeeds as possible. And we know from earlier data that I shared that even just getting into the newsfeed of your fans who have opted in is difficult, let alone people who’ve never been exposed to your brand before.
  • The key really becomes getting OTHER people to talk about your brand. Data from Nielsen shows that recommendations from known people is the most trusted form of advertising. If you can get others talking about your brand, and those messages show up in front of their friends, and their friends’ friends… then you’re really starting to access the social graph of your stakeholders and you start to see a much broader, and more authentic reach.
  • But you don’t necessarily have to just cross your fingers and hope that people talk to you. Like David Armano says here, there are lots of things a brand can do to set the stage for conversation. You can create content that will get people talking and sharing. This is really using owned media: content you create, to drive earned media: which is third parties talking about you. I’ll share with you some examples now of how this is being done, and how it doesn’t necessarily rely on fan pages. 
  • One way to do this is making quirky content that people are naturally inclined to share, like viral videos. Obviously you can’t set out to “make a viral video” ahead of time – the virality happens after the fact – but if you create video content that’s appealing, surprising, interesting, cathartic – it’s a good bet that a lot of people will share it. And that means a lot of people taking that video, sharing it or posting it on Facebook, and exposing others to your brand. If you’re smart, the viral video isn’t merely goofy, but it somehow conveys your institution’s messaging and identity. One of the best examples of this is from BYU: Mathletes. This video went viral because it was super creative and fun. It probably led a lot of people to realize that “wow, BYU must have a pretty good mathematics program.” That’s important – it’s not just fun for the sake of being fun. It’s fun, which has the purpose of making it sharable, but it also has some institutional messaging baked in. Everyone who shared this video become a troubador or messenger for the BYU math brand.But, the caveat here is that this can be hard to predict, to replicate and to repeat. You can’t hang a content strategy on everything you do becoming viral.
  • Another way to get people talking about you on Facebook is to get them talking about you on your own .edu website, but through features like the Facebook Comment Box that will pull their comments from your site back into Facebook and in front of their friends. Purdue does a nice job of this on their “Five Students Who” feature.By embedding the Facebook Comment box on their microsite, people who comment on these stories then have their comments pulled back into Facebook. Friends can see the comment and click through back to the original story, driving traffic to your .edu site.Of course, you have to make sure that what’s on your .edu site is engaging and interesting, and will inspire people to comment.
  • I haven’t seen any colleges tackle this yet, but Facebook’s new “Interest Lists” feature could be a way to curate content from a variety of sources and create lists that will appeal to various subsets of your audience, and get them engaging with content more. Right now this feature is new, and only available to individuals and not brands.Essentially, I can go in and create an interest list comprised of fan pages, subscriptions to public figures, etc. On my nav bar, this creates a separate newsfeed just for that interest. If I make my interest list public, then others can subscribe to it, too. It’s very similar to Twitter lists.Here’s one way I can see this working for higher ed: You start with a prominent figure at your institution and make sure that he or she has a Facebook profile with the “subscribe” feature enabled. Maybe it’s your mascot. Maybe it’s the president. Let’s say for the purposes of this example it’s the Dean of the College of Engineering. Then he creates an interest list full of great engineering content – maybe fan pages from key engineering publications, Wired magazine, and of course, your College of Engineering fan page. It becomes a way for you to put your content alongside really trusted, credible, valuable third party content in a controlled way. You could even do this with famous alumni. Subscribe to their pages and collate them into an interest list. Or a dean of students creates an interest list for new freshman during orientation that’s made up of local restaurants and event venues, the student affairs Facebook page, etc.
  • Here’s a breakdown of what college kids are actually doing on Facebook. This is from an analysis in February of 93,000 posts to the Facebook Timelines of 3,700 college students from 113 institutions. It found that 55% of what students post to Facebook is status updates. Another 20% is photos. About 17% of what was posted consisted of links from other external websites, by using the Share or Like button on a piece of content. The remaining 8% was a catch-all mishmash category. Things like auto-posts from Zynga game apps, etc. Interestingly, less than 1% of what college students post to Facebook are check-ins.
  • So we know what type of content people like to post, but what does that content actually contain?Well, it turns out, people love to talk about themselves more than anything else. People love to do this, and if they say they don’t, they’re pretty much lying. A study earlier this month from Harvard neuroscientists showed that talking about ourselves activates the same pleasure sensors in our brain as money and food. It’s in our nature. And when you think about a lot of what people post on Facebook, it’s about themselves.The key for colleges is figuring out how to get people to include your institution when they’re talking about themselves online!
  • One of the ways to this is to think about what students, parents and stakeholders might already be posting that’s somewhat about or related to your institution, and make sure that they have the ability to include your brand messaging when they do.So look at this example here. There are TONS of status updates like this. They are SO CLOSE to being valuable brand endorsements, but they kind of die on the vine because anyone seeing this has no idea where to go to learn more.
  • What a lot of colleges are doing is what David Armano recommended a few slides ago: they are seeding content and making it relevant and desirable – and easy – for people to share on Facebook. They’re taking activities and events that people would likely create status updates for anyway, and creating content that’s personalized, but still contains their brand messaging. Then they’re providing that content to their stakeholders and encouraging them to share it. In these examples from our clients, they’re creating stories and badges about individual students that can be shared.And these types of stories generate an average of 7 additional click-throughs from Facebook back to the story behind the badge, that was written by the university and contains the college’s story and message, and even links to their website.
  • When the student and his or her family receives an email with a link this type of personalized content, with their own name in the headline and their own details in the story, they’re much more likely to click that Like button and push it to Facebook, getting the university’s brand messaging in front of their connections.
  • And we see colleges do this for all kinds of activities and achievements of their students. Whether it’s academics like commencement, honor society inductions or making the dean’s list, or publicizing students who participate in internships, volunteer work, study abroad programs, promoting students who win scholarships, present research. These institutions personalize the story for each student so that they’ll be more likely to share the badge and story in Facebook.
  • This is really where the power of the social graph comes into play. That badge and story carry the college’s message throughout Facebook, and the people who see it never even have to be fans of the college, or have even heard of it before. This type of content sharing becomes like a recommendation or endorsement. And the potential audience for this is huge – it’s not just that tiny percentage of people who are fans of your page who happen to see your fan page post in their newsfeed because EdgeRank decided to put it there. It’s much, much broader than that. Friends of friends and so on.
  • This type of content is also far more engaging than a lot of what gets posted to university fan pages. A lot of brands will calculate an “engagement rate” for their fan pages and use that as a key score or metric. Essentially, it’s the number of people who like or comment on a certain piece of content divided by the total number of fans. So not just people who saw something, but people who were moved by it enough to take some sort of action.The benchmark number that’s thrown around as being “above average” when it comes to Facebook engagement rate is 0.5% - 1%. Less than 1%!!!Despite results like that colleges are still investing a ton of resources in managing this giant web of Facebook fan pages.Now in that same analysis I mentioned earlier about what college students are posting to Facebook, it also looked at what content is most engaging. Again, this isn’t fan page content, it’s what students themselves are posting to their own timelines. What do they and their friends engage with? The analysis showed that across all posts, just under half of them generated some type of engagement – a like or a comment. The average was 3 likes or comments. But the student achievement badges and stories, 92% of them received some type of engagement, and the average was 12 likes or comments – that’s 4 times higher!So this idea of giving people personalized content to take and share into their own timelines can be really powerful. It’s still a way to get your university messaging out there, but you can do it via the power of the third party endorsement and expose people who don’t necessarily want to fan your page. And you can do it via content that’s incredibly engaging.
  • So just wrapping up – I’m of course not saying that all colleges should just abandon Facebook fan pages. They can be an important part of your strategy in social media. But my goal today was to show you that fan pages alone are not necessarily an effective way to reach people – even if those people have opted in to be your fan. So much of what people do and read on Facebook comes from their friends. So if you can leverage the network effect and get your stakeholders posting about your institutions, they’ll become your brand ambassadors. Whether that’s by creating really fun, engaging content like a viral video, or making sure that existing Facebook tools are implemented on key areas of your website to encourage easy sharing, or taking the accomplishments and activities of your students and creating personalized content so that each one of them is inclined to post your stories into Facebook, none of these require a fan page at all.
  • With that, I’m happy to take questions or just hear more about how some of you are using Facebook at your institution outside of the fan page.
  • Brand-building in Facebook WITHOUT the Fan Page

    1. 1. Brand-building in FacebookWITHOUT the fan pagePenn State Web, June 12, 2012Amy Mengel, Head of Marketing, readMedia@amymengel
    2. 2. About MeHead of Marketing & Research at readMediaAdvise clients on best practices in communications, social mediaBackground in corporate communications
    3. 3. About You• Penn State?• Two-year or Four-year?• Public or Private?• Responsible for marketing?• Work closely with institutional marketing?• Totally independent from institutional marketing?
    4. 4. AgendaFacebook: a retrospectiveChanges from the F8 ConferenceEdgeRank and the news feed: the key tobrand impressionsStrategies for getting people to talk aboutyou on Facebook
    5. 5. Facebook: The Early Years 2004 2006Facemash: ‘Hot or Not’ at Facebook open to anyone Harvard 13+ 2005 Expands to Ivy League and Boston-area colleges
    6. 6. Facebook: The Early Years
    7. 7. Facebook: The Early Years
    8. 8. Facebook: The Early Years
    9. 9. F8 Conference: Timeline
    10. 10. F8 Conference: Newsfeed
    11. 11. F8 Conference: TickerFast-moving Ticker:a fire hose of content
    12. 12. Today: More fan page tools
    13. 13. Facebook: Driving toward ads
    14. 14. Truths about Facebook• Only 16% of fans of your page see your content in their newsfeed, on average• Among millennials, 70% rarely or never visit Facebook fan pages• 65% of Facebook users are fans of 5 brand pages or less
    15. 15. Setting the Stage for Conversation ―The people talking about your products and services are never compensated by an agency or network—however they can be set into action by triggers youve put in place. This could mean establishing a relationship, sharing news, seeding content, talking to, and in general interacting with the people who actually care about your product or even better the topics associated around them.‖ David Armano, Edelman
    16. 16. Encouraging Social Discussion
    17. 17. Facebook Interest Lists
    18. 18. What do college students share? 8% 17% Content Type Status Updates 55% Photos 20% External Links Other
    19. 19. We like to talk about ourselves!
    20. 20. Provide context for bragging! To where? For what? How can I win one?
    21. 21. How do you access the “social graph”?• Supply students with personalized content infused with brand messages• Students share college’s messages in Facebook via their own news feeds• Members of a student’s social graph more likely to see and engage with this content
    22. 22. % receiving some type of Content type Avg number of engagement likes/comments 47% All posts 3 92% Student achievements 12
    23. 23. What does it all mean?• Fan pages are just one part of a Facebook strategy, and often the return isn’t as great as the effort to maintain them• Facebook users are driven by what they see in their newsfeed, and this is most often content from their friends – infiltrate!• Get people talking about you. It’s more trusted, more authentic, and EdgeRank likes it more
    24. 24. Questions?Amy