You may have noticed a steep drop-off in Facebook fan engagement on your veterinary practice’s fan page in recent months. Practices are finding posts that once engaged and gripped their audience are now whistling in the breeze. Although updates about your staff and thoughtful links might at one time have been entertaining and important to your clients, Facebook has decided that they are not.
That’s right—your posts to your loyal clients are now only reaching a fraction of them at any given time, and Facebook gets to decide who sees what. This new algorithm, called EdgeRank, determines the reach of every item you publish to your business’ news feed.
A comScore study found that with the new algorithm, on average, content that a brand posts five out of seven days only reaches 16 percent of its fans. Given that a Facebook post typically lives for about three hours, how is it possible to reach your fan base now?
The good news is that there are best practices and tactics to score better with EdgeRank and increase your exposure to your fans, but it’s important to understand the algorithm first.
Although Facebook does not disclose the details of the algorithm, the theory is that the equation is composed of three main variables: affinity, weight, and time decay. Affinity score measures a fan’s interaction with your brand by noting the frequency that they visit your Facebook page or interact with your posts. The interaction weight is just as important. More weight is given to interaction types that require more effort. For example, a “Like” is given less weight than a comment because it takes more effort to write a comment than to click a “Like” button. Sharing a post is given the greatest weight because it requires the effort of social sharing with a friend and indicates that the content is relevant enough to share. Lastly, time decay accounts for content becoming less and less important as time passes.
If you’ve had to recently deal the stress of switching to the new timeline format, you are likely leaning towards the hate side of your love-hate relationship with Facebook, so regardless of how Facebook keeps score, you probably just want to know what posts will give you a better EdgeRank. There are general guidelines from several studies, including a Wildfire Interactive study, that analyzed thousands of business Facebook pages to determine what is working in real live business.
To increase your EdgeRank, posts must be carefully crafted to encourage commenting and sharing, and there are advantages to posting certain types of content over others. Wildfire found that posting more characters (greater than 141 characters) has been proven to be more engaging and leads to better EdgeRanking than posting shorter posts.
For local businesses, like veterinary practices, photos have been determined to be the most effective type of post by far, followed by videos. In fact, photos are three times more engaging than posting links. Never post a photo or any type of content without accompanying it with a description. All types of content, whether it be a photo, video, status, or link, should be accompanied by a worded description that is greater than 141 characters. Posting a link without a description has been demonstrated to be the least engaging type of post and will certainly lower your EdgeRank and, therefore, your social reach.
Including a call to action in your posts’ descriptions is the key to this puzzle. It is standard practice to ask a client to schedule their next appointment when they check out—why not create such call to action in your social media interactions? After all, you're now being graded for motivating fans to act.
For photos, ask a question: Do you agree with what is going on here? If 12 people reply yes and 10 reply no, that just boosted your EdgeRank. When you post a cute picture of a pet or something going on in the hospital, why not make it into a caption contest? All efforts should be made to focus on quality. You should always think to yourself, "Is this great content?" If it isn’t, don’t post it.
EdgeRank is like a credit score where poor quality posts are like delinquent loan payments. Put thought into your quality posts because studies have demonstrated that it may take six months or more of EdgeRank-friendly posting to improve your rank and regain the privilege to effectively engage your clients—a privilege you once took for granted. If you would like to analyze your EdgeRank, visit edgerankchecker.com to get a baseline and to monitor your progress in increasing your practice's edge.
Jed Schaible, VMD, MBA, CVPM, is the director of market communications at Purchasing Services Inc.