If you want to know what works when it comes to marketing, you need to study the competition.
This includes both the tough and the weak competition.
By doing this, you can determine why the best succeed and why the others fail in their efforts.
To do so effectively, you need to look at one particular area of interest.
The BuzzSumo team decided to compile as much data as possible on marketing on Facebook and then complete an in-depth analysis.
Overall, they analyzed over 1 billion Facebook posts and came up with findings that will change the way you market on Facebook.
They were kind enough to share their data with me and allow me to walk you through it.
I’ll break down the findings and let you know exactly how you should use them.
Why not any other social network from among the hundreds?
While it would be worth analyzing other networks as well, Facebook is the place to start due to its size.
At the start of 2016, Facebook had 1.59 billion monthly active users. That’s over 20% of the global population.
This means that customers for just about every imaginable business can be found on Facebook.
Finally, no other social site generates as much referral traffic as Facebook does—not even close.
It’s a unique platform because users are more than willing to click on links to visit content published on websites outside of Facebook (sites like yours).
Okay, so we have the right network and a ton of data.
Let’s look at the findings.
1. The best time to post isn’t when you think it is
When you post on Facebook, your posts are shown to some users who have already “liked” or “followed” your page.
The exact number (or percentage) will depend on your organic reach.
Your organic reach is determined by a bunch of different factors. The most important ones are the amount of engagement you get on your posts and the amount of competition your posts have.
Competition is a crucial factor. If there are many other posts created by friends and by other pages a user has liked that are published around the same time as your post is, Facebook can show only so many of them. The more competition, the less likely your content will be shown.
Intuitively, it makes sense to post when the most users are online, which is during the day. That way, a greater percentage of your followers could potentially be exposed to your posts.
But the BuzzSumo analysis actually found the complete opposite.
The red line in the following graph represents your competition—the number of other posts published around the same time.
The blue line shows the engagement that posts receive at different times of day. Engagement includes commenting, sharing, and liking posts.
The pattern is extremely clear.
Posts get the most engagement when the total number of posts is at its lowest.
Conversely, there’s too much competition during peak times (during the day), which leads to low engagement.
The conclusion from this data is to post between 9 PM and 11 PM in the time zone that most of your followers live in.
BuzzSumo mainly looked at US pages, but you can apply the findings to any time zone.
Why? Because they also tested it for another country: France.
They found that posts published between 11 PM and midnight had the highest average engagement (240.06 shares). Likewise, posts published from 10 AM until noon performed the worst.
Almost identical trends.
2. Certain types of posts perform over 5 times better than others
There are 6 main types of posts you can create on your business page:
- Image posts
As part of the analysis, BuzzSumo looked at the performance of each type. Note that interactions means the same thing as engagement (total number of likes, shares, and comments).
There’s one type of content that isn’t on the graph that actually performs better than all of them.
No, I didn’t lie to you before; there are only 6 main types. But there are a few different subtypes of each of the types.
Most importantly, the BuzzSumo team dug into different types of question posts and found something huge.
Question posts combined with images resulted in an average of 616.70 interactions. However, questions posts that were text only received 144.45 interactions (terrible).
Finally, the analysis didn’t just look at the total number of all types of engagement. It also included the breakdown by each type (comments, likes, and shares).
There are a few interesting points to note on that graph:
- videos get the highest number of average shares (83.87)
- giveaways get the highest number of average comments (33.91)
While the high number of comments is interesting, keep in mind that comments are usually required to enter giveaways and are almost always low quality.
A more practical analysis would involve looking at the average length of comments for each post type (maybe an idea for a future research project for BuzzSumo).
Overall, we can draw the conclusion that images and videos perform best when it comes to overall interaction while videos are best if you’re looking for shares in particular.
Additionally, combining questions with images (or videos) will yield the best results; do so whenever possible.
3. Sunday is a special day, especially for businesses on Facebook
Not all your posts will be equally important.
You’ll want to make sure that important posts (like links to your website or product announcements) are as optimized as possible so that as many people as possible see them.
We’ve already determined a time interval that’s best for posting, but we haven’t looked at the best day.
The analysis revealed that posts on weekdays all receive nearly the same number of interactions (on average).
However, posts on weekends receive a significantly higher number:
Sunday is the best day to post, with an average of 401.75 interactions, followed by Saturday at 365.30 interactions.
The research didn’t reveal the reasons why this happens, but you can take your own guess. Perhaps people use Facebook more on weekends, or maybe businesses don’t post as often (less competition).
Regardless, you now know that posts on Saturday and Sunday will get more engagement than on the weekdays. Save your important posts for the weekend.
4. The optimal length of articles for Facebook users is…
If you’re using Facebook as a business, you’ll be linking to your content (you’d better be).
And as I mentioned at the beginning, most Facebook users are happy to consume content on other websites.
However, it turns out they have a preference for this content.
BuzzSumo found a strong correlation between the performance of a Facebook post and the length of the article it’s linked to.
As you can see, when a post linked to a short article (under 1,000 words), it received the fewest number of interactions (171.65).
Posts that included 1,000-2,000-word articles performed the best (277.37 interactions), followed closely by 2,000-3,000-word articles (274.06).
The most interesting finding to me is that posts with articles of over 3,000 words performed about 18% worse than the other in-depth articles (225.02 interactions).
Since I use Facebook heavily for Quick Sprout, and most of my posts fall into this final category, I might not be getting the most out of Facebook.
This post (that you’re reading) falls under 3,000 words. Do you like it better?
The bottom line is that Facebook users enjoy in-depth posts, but they also don’t want to spend hours reading one. Keep your posts between 1,000-3,000 words when possible.
5. Users aren’t on Facebook to read
There are two main components to a Facebook post: the description of the post (the blurb you type) and any link or media you attach.
It turns out that the shorter your description, the better the post will do.
It’s clear that posts between 0-50 characters (that’s about 0-10 words usually) get the most interactions by far (411.16).
The number of interactions a post gets goes down as the number of characters in a post increases.
The simple takeaway is to make your descriptions of posts as short as possible. Leave any detailed explanations in the content that you link to instead.
6. Whatever you do, don’t post YouTube videos
As we saw earlier, videos get a good amount of engagement on Facebook (and the most shares).
However, there’s a certain type of video post that far exceeds the others in the amount of engagement it gets.
There are two popular options when it comes to videos. You can:
- Embed a YouTube video:
- Directly upload/embed a video on Facebook:
You wouldn’t think there’d be a big difference, but the results from BuzzSumo’s analysis showed otherwise:
When it comes to the number of interactions video posts get, embedding a YouTube video only gets an average of 140.75 interactions, a fraction of the 951.48 interactions that directly uploaded videos get.
You might suspect that there wasn’t a sufficient sample size of directly uploaded videos on Facebook, but BuzzSumo accounted for that.
For this particular part of their study, they analyzed over 53 million YouTube video posts as well as over 25 million directly uploaded posts—which makes for a great sample size.
The bottom line is that if you publish video posts on Facebook, take the time to upload the source video onto Facebook itself.
When you’re making a post, click the “upload photos/video” tab at the top of the text area, then choose the file from your computer. Then fill out the options, e.g., adding the title, etc.
7. Facebook users like Instagram
Facebook integrates nicely with other social networks.
If you use Instagram as well, you can check the Facebook option while posting a photo, and it will also be posted on Facebook.
It looks like a normal Facebook picture post with a small difference: it’ll say “via Instagram.”
You wouldn’t think this would make a difference, but the analysis proved otherwise.
Pictures that are posted on Facebook through Instagram received 23% more interactions than images uploaded directly to Facebook.
I honestly don’t know why this happens (theories welcome in comments), but the data is clear.
If you’re posting pictures on Facebook and also use Instagram, use Instagram’s “post to Facebook” option.
8. The effect of hashtags probably isn’t what you expected
The final big area of the massive analysis looked at the effect of including hashtags in posts.
You know what hashtags are, right? Any tag that is preceded by a “#” is a hashtag (e.g., #QuickSproutisgreat, #GamesofThrones).
In the past, hashtags almost always improved the amount of engagement you got on most networks.
Well, the research says otherwise when it comes to Facebook:
You can’t argue with data: posts without hashtags received 34% more interactions than posts with hashtags.
Unless you have a specific reason to include a hashtag, leave them off your Facebook posts.
Don’t apply these findings until you read this
There’s one key thing that you need to remember to apply these findings effectively.
Understand that these findings are correlations. They look at the average effect of different variables.
What this means is that the findings are best practices.
If your audience behaves significantly differently from the average audience, your optimal Facebook posts may look different.
These findings are great starting points, but they may or may not be right for you. Start by implementing them, but then test other options to confirm whether they are the best or not.
If you need help to do that, read through my guide to optimization.
Let me quickly summarize the 8 best practices that came from BuzzSumo’s research:
- The best time to post is between 10 PM and midnight of your audience’s local time
- Posts with questions and images get the most engagement
- The best day to post is Sunday
- Posts that link to articles between 1,000-3,000 words get the most interaction
- Short post descriptions get by far the most interaction
- Directly embedded videos get over 6x the interaction of YouTube videos
- Images posted through Instagram get a 23% boost in engagement
- Posts with hashtags get less interaction than posts without hashtags
These are all backed by an insane amount of data and are great best practices to follow for your Facebook marketing.
If you have any questions about the findings or research, as usual leave me a comment below.