Phoenix Suns Case Study: Actionable tips to help with Facebook engagement

Zach WelchJanuary 11, 2012Case Studies

When the Phoenix Suns came to us, it was off-season. And not only was it off-season, but the NBA lockout was fast approaching. Usually we have a few months to rock our client’s fan pages, but this time, we had 30 days. We had to work fast. We set some goals, the main over-arching one being to “Test multiple factors in relation to Facebook visibility”. Here’s what we learned:

1. Your Fans Don’t Come Back to Your Page

It’s true. Whether you are the local downtown coffee shop with 500 fans, or the Phoenix Suns with 500,000 fans, only a very small percentage of fans ever come back to your page. Don’t believe us? Check out your page views from logged-in users and compare that to your total number of fans. During our study, the Suns returned an average of 800 fans per day. That’s a minuscule .16%. Ouch.

The take away? Don’t give up on Facebook, just understand how people use it. Of the Suns fans who interacted with the page, over 98.2% interacted straight from their newsfeed. They did this without ever visiting the actual fan page.

This isn’t to single the Suns out. We’ve seen similar numbers on other client’s pages. So pour your time and energy into reaching your fans via their newsfeed, treating your fan page like a micro-site or supper imposing the web onto social usually ends up being a waste of time.

2. Measure the Percentage of Folks Seeing Your Content

Many of us tend to look at impressions as one of the holy grails of status updates. We watch this number like a hawk, our emotions often corresponding to their rise and fall. There should be counseling for this.

For definition sake, every time someone sees your status updates, it counts as an impression. Impressions usually are a good way to gauge social reach. However, keep in mind that they can be deceiving. An impression is attributed every time a status update is rendered in a browser. This means that a single user can rack up multiple impressions. Instead of thinking you’re reaching ten people, you’re actually only reaching two people at a rate of five times in one day. That’s why we always look at unique impressions. We want to see the number of actual people we’re reaching.

In order to get a good baseline for our study, we measured the Sun’s unique impressions per day, which was averaging out at 42,000. By the end of the study, the Suns were reaching 14,500 more fans each day, a 34% increase. We definitely went out for drinks after work that day.

3. More Engagement Today Means More Eyeballs Tomorrow

Heard of EdgeRank? Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to pick and choose which stories to show in fan’s newsfeeds. This algorithm ranks stories from least-interesting to most-interesting to a Facebook fan. That’s why you see all the Facebook interactions from your fiance, but not your ex - that is if you’re still even friend’s with your ex.

When a fan or a fan’s friends have shared/commented/liked/clicked on previous status updates from a fan page, Facebook’s algorithm says, “This fan is interested in this content. Let’s show them future content from this fan page.”

Your new goal? Get your fans to share/comment/like/click on your status updates!

More engagement today means you’ll rank higher in the algorithm and get more eyeballs to see your content tomorrow. And no, Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t talk. At least as far as we know.

During the thirty days we worked with the Phoenix Suns, their engagement levels increased by 167% for likes and 473% for comments on status updates. More fans were sharing/commenting/liking/clicking on status updates than ever before. This helped to bump up their unique impressions by 34% and grow their fan page by 36,000 fans.

So, how did we do it? I thought you’d never ask.

While the newsfeed algorithm is pretty complicated and constantly evolving, there are a few definite factors we can point to. The following tips contributed heavily to our success:

Tip 1: Simplicity is Sweet

While it wasn’t easy to keep status updates short, and in some instances it was impossible, we found that the shorter the status update, the more engagement it got. During our month long study, two of the top three most engaging status updates were less than sixty characters. Take that, Twitter!

The reason for this is simple: Fans don’t come to Facebook to read blog-like status updates about your latest win. They want to scan their newsfeed, see a short, easy to read post about your win, click like or comment, and then move on to look at the latest pictures from their friends. Don’t believe me? Think about how you use Facebook. Do you regularly read long status updates by brands? Yeah, me neither. Besides, the data proves it.

Tip 2: Ask Your Fans to Engage

While this might seem like a no-brainer, time and time again brands don’t take advantage of this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained this to the community manager of a fan page and a week later they go right back to posting information-only status updates.

Instead of making a bland statement about a picture, video, or blog link, we specifically asked Suns fans to react to a certain aspect of the content. We asked them to to fill in the blank, select from multiple choice, or to simply ‘like’ the update. The top engagement-performing post for the Suns was one where we simply asked fans who their all-time favorite Suns player was. The number of replies? Off the charts! 3,268 to be exact.

Tip 3: Use Rich Media

We all love pictures, right? As the saying goes, they’re worth a thousand words. We found that when we attached a picture or a video to a status update, engagement increased substantially. The reasons for this is two-fold: The algorithm gives a higher ‘Edge’ score to rich media, in particular video and picture content. The other reason is that it’s simply more enticing when your fans come across it in their newsfeeds. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a picture of Steve Nash sinking a 3-pointer?

Tip 4: Posting frequency is key

Have you ever been a fan of a page that posts content five to six times a day? I have. The word that first comes to mind is annoying. We encourage most of our client’s to only push out content once a day. However, each audience is different. Since the Suns have such a large fan base, posting twice a day worked well for them. If you see spikes in users unsubscribing, then you are most likely posting too much or you need to evaluate the type of content you’re pushing out.

These specific tactics, coupled with BrandGlue’s secret sauce (one of our client’s calls us “The Facebook whisperers”), led to 2.1 million more impressions in just thirty days- and this was during the off-season! We were able to get the Suns content seen by 14,000 new unique fans EACH day- not only seen by these folks, but they also engaged with what they saw.

We encourage you to take these tips and apply them to your fan page. Remember that Facebook is constantly changing the algorithm, keeping us marketers and community manager’s on our toes! Different brands have a wide range of audiences. Understand your demographic and try different types of status updates. If you continue to evolve your strategy, taking into account the day-to-day shifts Facebook makes to the algorithm and using the tips we listed, you will see results.

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