Facebook ‘Engagement’ Is NOT an End in Itself

A quick follow-up to today’s earlier post about Facebook’s increasingly “pay-to-play” environment for Page owners: let’s put Facebook “engagement” (in raw form, the number of Likes, Shares, Comments and Views that your posts receive) in perspective. Because of our need to publish content on our Pages that Facebook’s algorithm will prioritize, Engagement has become Facebook marketers’ Holy Grail. But what does Enagement translate into?

Like political campaigns and corporate brands, nonprofits aren’t on Facebook because we want to be Liked. We’re on Facebook because we believe that Facebook can help us further our advocacy and communications goals, whatever they are. And for most of us in the advocacy world, those goals ultimately come down to a few things: laws changed, policies enacted, people (or animals) saved and money raised. So let’s ask ourselves a basic question: does emphasizing Engagement on Facebook get us toward those goals?

Of course, most advocacy campaigns involve some form of public education, since even corporate marketers want people to “learn” about the attributes they want to see associated with a particular brand. And, highly engaging content is perfect for that process, since Likes, Shares and Comments naturally help expose our messaging to new people who might be persuaded to join our side…or at least to Like our Facebook Page.

But once someone’s our “friend,” what do we ask him or her to do? Most often, simply to Share another piece of content — i.e., to help us make it more Engaging. Meatier advocacy actions like “tell your Congressmember…” usually underperform on Facebook relative to clever cat memes, so Page managers often end up avoiding them in favor of stories and images that DO entice fans and followers to interact on their Pages. Why? Because of the all-driving need to continue to be seen on Facebook, i.e. to persuade Facebook’s content algorithm to ALLOW our content to be seen, and ultimately to justify the time and energy we’ve put in building a following. The result? If we’re not careful, we become like cats chasing our own tails, eternally questing for the perfect mix of content that maximizes our Engagement so we can maximize our Engagement.

And of course, this is exactly what Facebook wants, since the company is driven by the need to keep users on the site as long as possible — where they’ll click ads, Like pages and bring in advertiser dollars. But is a communications paradigm driven by Facebook’s financial imperatives actually good for Page owners? Let’s ask ourselve a few more questions:

  1. Why are we on Facebook? What do we hope to get out of our investment of time and energy?
  2. How does Facebook fit into our overall communications and outreach strategy? How does it help us achieve our goals, whether they’re intermediate (voters contacted, actions taken, petitions signed, dollars raised) or final (policies enacted)?
  3. What Facebook content and tactics are likely to help us achieve those goals most effectively? For instance, how do we use the site to reach the right people — those we need to persuade or mobilize? How do we maximize the value to our overall campaign of each new Facebook recruit? How do we get our followers to take action OUTSIDE of Facebook when we need them to? What kind of content can OUR organization actually produce, and how?
  4. What is the opportunity cost of all of the staff time spent creating content, managing Pages, promoting posts and creating ads for Facebook? Would writing fundraising emails be a better use of that time? Would a Care2/Change.org buy be a better use of that money?

All of these lead to the Big Question: what is the best mix of online activities for our particular campaign, considering its strengths, weaknesses and needs? And for that, we’ll need to chat. MY particular Facebook goal? More clients who come to me for help figuring out what they ought to do to get from where they are to where they need to be. Happy New Year!


Written by
Colin Delany
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