Facebook: To Promote or Not to Promote? (…and Is That The Question?)

Posted by Alison Carlman on October 2nd, 2012

GlobalGiving’s Experiment With Promoted Posts
by Alison Carlman and Oscar Norsworthy

This case study was originally posted on Beth Kanter’s blog as an example of an experiment with social media measurement. We hope you’ll find it useful as you think through your strategy for Facebook.

Promoting a post on Facebook

Listen. Post. Learn. Repeat.

On the Unmarketing team at GlobalGiving, we put a lot of effort into figuring out how to use Facebook to support the thousands of charity projects on our website. The more we learn, the better able we are to advise our nonprofit partners. One of the newest features on Facebook is the “Promoted Post.” Promoted Posts are pictures, links, videos, or text that administrators can pay to appear on more Facebook users’ news feeds. (Did you know that only an average of about 15% of your fans see your posts in their news feeds?) We conducted a month-long experiment to see if Promoted Posts make sense for our strategy.

First Thing First: What’s our Goal?

We wanted to see whether or not Promoted Posts help us reach our goals on Facebook. One way to explain our Facebook strategy is the social funnel. People interact with us on Facebook at all levels of this funnel. While ultimately we’d love to see every fan make a donation to a project on our website, our goal on Facebook is first and foremost to develop an active community of fans around the topics of philanthropy and social change. We wanted to see how well Promoted Posts reach our fans on all levels.

Here’s what success – or a positive return on investment (ROI) – at each of the levels would look like for us:

 
The Social Funnel
Awareness: Getting our messages into the news feeds of people who haven’t heard from us in a while – or never have before. Key metric: reach
Engagement: Inspiring interactions (clicks, likes, comments and shares) from people who don’t usually interact with us. This helps the content spread to their networks.Key metric: clicks
Donations: Telling a story that is compelling enough that people give to a project on GlobalGiving.org. (Ideally donations exceed the cost of the post!)Key metric: donations; net dollars after the cost of the post.

 

Our Promoted Posts Experiment

During the summer we promoted three posts, each about a different topic. We spent less than $100 on each post, and we only promoted the posts to our fans. We also posted regular (non-promoted) links and photo posts related to each of the three topics so that we could compare the performance of regular posts versus paid posts. While we couldn’t control all variables, we did our best to aim for consistency with as much as possible, including the time of day we posted and the content of the post, so that we could draw better conclusions when comparing our results.

Below are the nine updates (under three topics) that we posted this summer as part of the experiment, and how they fared in terms of reach (views), engagement (clicks), and donations (dollars). You can see that the promoted posts were the only ones that drove donations, and they drove significantly higher view and click rates.

ROI: Reach, Engagement, and Donations
From Regular and Promoted Posts on Facebook

Post Topic: Natural Disasters
(Promoted Post net revenue= $667)

Link 4,035 views; 62 clicks
Photo 5,483 views; 66 clicks
Promoted 20,282 views; 218 clicks; $750 donations

Post Topic: Everyday Project Stories
(Promoted Post net revenue= -$30)

Link 3,311 views, 24 clicks
Photo 6,347 views; 58 clicks
Promoted 22,498 views; 301 clicks; $30 donations


Post Topic: Special Campaign
(Promoted Post net revenue= $550)

Link 4,204 views; 51 clicks
Photo 4,975 views; 45 clicks
Promoted 31,510 views; 363 clicks; $600 donations


What we learned

We learned two main things from our experiment. First, as you can see above, promoted posts did drive more engagement at all levels of the social funnel. On average, our promoted posts had five times higher reach and seven times higher click rate (!) compared to posts that weren’t promoted. The financial return, however, varied greatly based on the content of the post. We found that promoting general, ‘everyday’ project stories didn’t drive many donations (in fact, it lead to a negative net financial return), but promoting very timely stories or unique campaigns resulted in a significant uptick in donations (netting approximately $600 per post).

Perhaps the most interesting thing we learned actually happened while we were designing the experiment. When figuring out whether to promote links or photos, we found that photo posts drove more Facebook interaction, achieving a higher reach and better overall engagement (the middle of the funnel!). On the other hand, posting links sometimes led to higher click-through rates to our website, generally driving more donations (the bottom of the funnel!). When we looked back in our Facebook Insights data, we found that this pattern seemed consistent with other posts over the past several months. This information is useful to us whether or not we’re talking about promoted posts.

What does this mean for our strategy?

We found that Facebook’s Promoted Posts can get the job done, successfully driving both engagement and donations. It’s important to note though that we’re still not planning to rely on Promoted Posts to push all our fans through the social funnel.

At GlobalGiving we have an “unmarketing” approach to engagement. This means that we believe there’s inherent value in developing authentic, meaningful, and helpful relationships with our audience through social media to help tell our story. In short, it’s not all about driving dollars. Engagement is important to us.

We’ve concluded that an ongoing Facebook strategy based primarily on Promoted Posts wouldn’t be savvy or sustainable, (remember how the ‘everyday’ project stories posts actually ended up costing us money?) but we’ve decided that we will continue to promote posts when they are particularly timely, relevant, or important for our key audiences. We should also be sure to note that we’ll never be promoting content that would otherwise have been unsuccessful on Facebook in general. As you can imagine, the last thing we want to do is bring irrelevant content to the attention of people who rarely hear from us anyway!

What does this mean for you?

If you can find the budget to experiment with Promoted Posts, it’s important to think through how you’ll measure your return on your investment. Can you put a dollar value on message views, click-throughs to your website, or goal conversions (donations, petition signatures, etc.)? If you’re spending advertising dollars on other media, you may find that Facebook Promoted Posts can also help you meet your goals, so it would be worth comparing your results.

Our fans told us emphatically on Facebook, they don’t love the idea of nonprofits paying for a spot on their news feeds. (The irony, of course, was that we didn’t see a single pushback to the promoted posts when we did them without pointing it out, so peoples’ behaviors didn’t exactly match how they said they would react. But that’s a whole different social psychology experiment, right?) If you do choose to promote Facebook posts, you’ll need to do strategically. You should only promote content that you’re proud of, and it would be wise to measure the results carefully so that you can prove that your dollars are helping you meet your overall goals!

If you don’t have any budget for Promoted Posts, you could still look into your Facebook Insights data to see the different types of engagement that photo posts drive for you compared to link posts. Does your data lead you to the same conclusions that ours did?

Do you have thoughts about whether links or photos get you results on Facebook? Have you experimented yet with Promoted Posts?

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