Ever wondered what drives Facebook “likes” and comments?
Over the summer, researchers published the results of their analysis of a huge body of Facebook page updates
determining just that.
The researchers—from the Graduate School of Stanford University and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania—content-coded more than 100,000 unique messages from 800 different pages and compiled the results in a 41-page study.
For reference, the average post in their sample received 10,000 impressions, about 50 “likes,” and five comments. (The variance was pretty wild: The most viewed post had 45 million impressions
We extracted some of the more surprising insights:
1. Emotions: good. Emoticons: bad.
Emoticons are great for driving retweets, but on Facebook, an emoticon seriously cripples your chance at obtaining “likes” and comments.
You can check the difference in this image:
Though emotional content (left
) on average got more than 150 “likes,” content that used emoticons (next to it on the right
) barely made it to 50 “likes.” This would suggest that it’s a good idea to craft different messages for Facebook and Twitter.
2. Moms won’t engage with your brand simply because you use the word “moms” in your post.
An interesting factoid from the above picture is that “targeted posts” are not especially active. Targeted posts are posts that explicitly mention a target demographic such as "moms."
It seems that moms don’t necessarily respond to simply being mentioned.
3. You should be posting way more video.
About 0.5 percent of brand Facebook posts contain a video, according to the stats in the research. It might be time to increase that.
The graph below confirms that photos are by far the most engaging content on Facebook. Video comes in second much of the time.
4. Links might be the “currency” of Twitter, but they’re no good for on-page engagement on Facebook.
The graph also suggests that links are not a good way to drive Facebook engagement. This is a striking difference between Facebook and Twitter. On Twitter, links are so important that earlier research called them "the currency of the social Web."
On Facebook, links aren't that valuable for on-page engagement. Even app updates, which people often hate (consider how you feel about Farmville updates) get more “likes” and about as many comments.
We should be careful interpreting this graph, though. One crucial
type of engagement that wasn't mentioned is the number of clicks.
Why is that important? Because about 62 percent of Facebook posts include a deal or freebie of some kind. Let’s assume that most of these include a link, too. When posting a deal with a link, the marketing team would not be looking for comments and “likes.” It would seek to drive a lot of clicks.
Another interesting finding is that the unadorned “status update” finishes in a respectable third place in terms of “likes,” and second in the number of comments.
5. Talking about prices, product availability, and deals is not the way to go if you want “likes” and comments.
It's quite clear from the charts that Facebook users don't “like” to see prices. The social network's algorithm seems to punish mentioning prices even further. (Check out those huge negative black bars in the graph below.) The researchers call this "informative content," and purely informative content seems to score quite poorly in terms of engagement:
Here again, it’s a pity that the researchers didn’t track the number of clicks. Maybe Facebook users love deals so much that they instantly click on the links and buy the products—without leaving a comment.
6. Persuasive content is good for “likes” and comments, but don't mention the holidays.
Persuasive content is written not to inform the reader, but to influence him or her or build a relationship. This can be done either by appealing to the emotions or the logic of the audience.
Not all “persuasive” content is equal, though.
If you want your posts to wither at the doorstep, mention a holiday such as Easter or Christmas. In the sample, researchers found that 40 percent of all posts in their sample mentioned Easter. This leads, they say, to a "dulled response" from the audience.
What is striking here is that—again—Facebook seems to be very different from what researchers found on Twitter, where the mention of “popular subjects” such as Christmas were positively correlated to retweets
. It might also be that social media has matured since the Twitter research (which dates back to 2011). It could be that people were happy to retweet Christmas and Easter messages a few years ago, but that they simply tired of brands’ trying to capture that good will.
7. Leaving a blank for your fans to fill in is the best way to get more comments.
It's good to have a basic idea of what type of content drives the most "likes" and comments:
Also, it's useful to have a ranking for the different "tricks" that can drive on page engagement, as in this chart. Asking questions is a great way to get engagement, but leaving a blank to fill in seems to work wonders for comments. For “likes,” the best thing, apparently, is to ask for one:
Does this mean that you can now “content engineer” your posts for more success?
It's certainly helpful to know that some types of posts are underused or underappreciated.
The authors go further, asserting that you can use the model to "engineer" your content. For instance, it’s easy to see that instead of posting a link to a video, you should embed the video on your Facebook page. According to the model, this offers a much higher chance of getting comments and “likes.”
To say that “content engineering” will have a huge impact seems a bit of a stretch, unfortunately. The predictive power of the model is limited, because (according to a statistician we consulted) it explains only 22 percent of the variation in “likes” or comments.
That means that even if you do everything right, that’s no guarantee that you will get “likes” or comments.
Of course, you can't just randomly add content elements that might increase your engagement; your message still has to make sense.
In the end, it's seems that the context and type of your content—in other words, the timing and creativity of your message—can have a huge impact on your engagement. Don't replace your chief storyteller with an algorithm just yet.
A version of this story originally appeared on Finn Public Relations' blog