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Are You Using Facebook Effectively?

May 6, 2015

The challenge with Facebook doesn’t stop with writing and regularly posting fresh content.

To use Facebook effectively, associations must understand the platform’s ever-changing policies and features. It’s no wonder full-time social media specialists are not uncommon among association staff today.

Facebook is a strong traffic driver to association websites and listing portals, and, overall, it’s a good way to communicate with members, representatives of a cross-section of associations said in a recent REALTOR® AE magazine survey. Yet, associations have experienced changes in their ability to reach members via Facebook as its business model shifts and members’ use of the social media site evolves.

In January, Facebook strengthened a push that began in 2013 to limit distribution of promotional posts from businesses, which includes associations, nonprofits, charities, and societies. This means your association’s promotions on Facebook (buy a ticket, attend our event, take our class, and so on) are most likely filtered out of members’ news feeds. Even if 1,000 members “like” your association page, your posts are reaching only a small fraction of those members, according to a Forrester Research report from January. Forrester, the technology and market research company, found posts by well-known brands (those with more than 500,000 likes) on Facebook reach only about 2 percent of their fans and followers and that the average is much lower for small businesses. Even when your posts are shared by individual members, Facebook is still likely to filter them out.

Why is Facebook filtering your news feed? It’s estimated that the typical user would get 1,500 posts in his or her news feed every day if there were no filtering. Facebook filters this average to about 300, prioritizing the family, friends, and pages you interact with most. Facebook says its goal is to give users what they’ve asked for, which their surveys show is to read stories from family and friends, not businesses they’ve liked. 

As a result of filtering, many associations have turned to buying advertising and boosted posts on Facebook to reach members and consumers. RAE’s survey shows that of the associations that have purchased advertising on Facebook, 43 percent say they seem to help the association reach more members; yet 12 percent say their ads didn’t seem to help boost their reach at all.

Forty-five percent of the survey respondents haven’t tried advertising on Facebook, possibly because it can be confusing. First you select the audience you want to reach such as by age, location, and interests (such as real estate, if users declared their interests on Facebook), and by a number of other categories. There are also “custom audiences” you can create by giving Facebook your membership e-mail or phone list. Facebook will try to match that data with Facebook users. You can also direct your ads to just those who have liked your page.

Next comes cost. Here’s where it gets tricky. Your ad competes with others to get on your audience’s news feed. Facebook will not include your ad on your audience’ news feed if other businesses pay more to get there. It’s an ad auction. You choose your maximum budget (most associations report spending between $11 and $50 every month on Facebook ads); then Facebook “bids on your behalf to reach your audience and make your ads as effective as possible,” it says in its advertising overview. As your ad reaches your audience, your budget is spent. You may reach many people or just a few depending on how many other advertisers wanted to reach the same person—yes, you’re competing with Amazon.com and Zillow, here. You can track your ad’s effectiveness on an analytics dashboard. 

“It seems as if I was getting more engagement with our Facebook posts before we ever paid to boost a post. Now that Facebook knows we’ve paid before, it’s like the posts receive much less engagement so that they can force us to pay again,” says one survey respondent, echoing several others’ suspicions of the platform’s reach algorithm.

“We advertise to underscore our core value and role in advocacy for home owners and private property rights,” says one survey respondent. Several others mentioned legislative advocacy as the main focus for paid ads and boosted posts. The Nevada Association of REALTORS®, for example, used an Issues Mobilization Grant from National Association of REALTORS® in part to fund a Facebook video ad advocating the defeat of a state tax on businesses. The ad received 11.7 million impressions (there are only about 3 million people in Nevada) and 1.2 million video plays. In the end, 78 percent of Nevada voters weighed in against the tax.

Promotional posts versus informational posts

How does Facebook know whether your posts are promotional or informational? It won’t say, exactly. Recipients who click on the “I don’t want to see this” button on the top of your post may report it as spam, which will lower your reach for all posts, but there are other factors in Facebook’s reach algorithm, including how many recipients click on your post.

Even though all associations reported that they are investing the same amount of time or more in Facebook posting as a year ago, only 4 percent say it’s the best way to communicate with members. Direct e-mail blasts are the most effective tool, say 51 percent of survey respondents (e-mail newsletters came in second place at 24 percent).

“Facebook alone is not enough. We try to have every avenue of communication available for our members: website, calendar, office meetings, e-mails, Twitter, MLS message of the day and more, so members can see it on the communication tool they use the most,” says one survey respondent.

Overall, associations’ view of Facebook was summed up in this response: “We’re struggling to use Facebook to convey important information. It works well for events and photos, but not for critical information and association updates. Not enough members see the posts without [our] paying for ads.”

Do you need a Facebook group?

The newest Facebook change to wrap your head around is the power of Facebook groups.

Forty-three percent of associations surveyed said they have created groups for their members, such as YPN, GRI graduates, regional groups, MLS, advocacy, and others. Members often create and monitor their own discussion groups, and association staff are often members (your association page can’t interact with groups directly; only individuals can). The benefit of a group or being a member of a group is that your posts aren’t filtered out; they are only monitored by the group administrator who can delete or edit them.

Unfortunately, most associations (61 percent) say their groups are just “somewhat” active, and 40 percent say their groups aren’t active at all. Yet that could begin to change. 

Groups have become so popular overall that Facebook spun them off into a standalone mobile app in late 2014. Now your members can use their phones to access just their groups—not their news feed—with an app called Facebook Groups, designed to make interacting with groups easier.
Another plus for association groups is a feature of the Groups app that recommends groups to users based on their current ones and other factors, which may boost your group’s potential reach.

In addition to building group activity, Ogilvy & Mather, the international advertising, marketing, and public relations firm, recommends these strategies for staying relevant on Facebook:

  1. Subdivide your current audience (into, say, leadership, socially active members, thought leaders, and so on) and target paid ads to them, track the effectiveness, and retool ads as necessary;
  2. Publish fewer but better targeted posts and vary images and time of posting;
  3. Establish an editorial (not promotional) focus to content creation.

Like everything else on Facebook, the rules and policies surrounding new features and groups could change without warning. REALTOR® associations on Facebook overall advocate a diverse approach to member communication.