2018 Conference Analytics Content Creation Marketing Social Media

Is Facebook dead? Melissa Mae Cheater’s epic data-driven presentation says: Hard no!

“Facebook is dead!”

How many times have you read that? In tech blogs, in industry blogs or even (cue the irony) on Facebook?

Breaking (or not) news: Melissa Mae Cheater, digital content manager from Western University, has found that Facebook is alive and still very useful for higher ed. And she has the data to prove it.

In her #heweb18 presentation, “Facebook’s new New NEW algorithm: Epic Data Share,” Melissa presented a wealth of data she collected from 16 institutions, a dozen of which were fellow Canadians.

“Roughly 9 months ago, Facebook announced it was making people sad … and they felt bad about it,” she said, noting Facebook’s own party line that users would become less likely to see posts by Pages they were fans of. According to Melissa, Facebook has claimed that they are working to change this, and brands are suffering because of it, thanks to the platform’s decision to show less brand content and more “friend” content to users.

“We should stop saying Facebook is dead,” Melissa said, as there are so many people on Facebook that higher education still has an opportunity there. Moreover, our institutions are unique from businesses or other brands thanks to the human connection, memories and transformative opportunities our audiences build with the brand.

Epic data dive

Melissa surveyed 16 schools (across US and Canada) to gather more information on the true effect of Facebook’s algorithm change on higher education’s efforts. She gathered 20 months worth of data for more than 11,000 posts with potential audiences of more than 3.4 million users.

For the length of the study, Melissa found an 11 percent growth in followership from November 2016 to June 2018 across the board — a positive trend, even if the growth rate showed signs of slowing (just 2 percent from January to June 2018).

When Melissa combined the reach from all posts combined, there was a noticable decline after the algorithm change in February 2018. But it wasn’t anywhere near the death of the channel: organic post reach declined 5.34 percent annually. “Before the algorithm change, 19 percent of your fans saw your post; now it’s 17 percent,” she explained.

By the end of the study, she even found schools that were outperforming their previous pre-algorithm change metrics. Even if schools are reaching less people, they are still connecting with hundreds of thousands of people using the platform, which is important to remember.

Content considerations

Quality over quantity remains an important consideration. Really good and resonant content succeeded regardless of algorithm or whether it was boosted with dollars.

On average, schools are posting 38 times per month, she said. While a correlation would be hard to draw given all the variables, the data said 25 posts per month might represent a best practice. But posting content for the sake of posting content — without strategy or a subject that resonates — ultimately doesn’t help your metrics or your brand.

Perhaps not surprisingly, fall foliage photos flourished on Facebook. While no one institution can claim brilliant autumn colors as a differentiator, they definitely represent comfort food to the Facebook viewer — whether a current or since-graduated member of the campus family, users loved the content and often shared these picture to show their pride.

Some colleges found success doing more with design to make what could have been simple posts more eye-catching and appealing. Obviously one has to walk the line of also making these posts accessible to all users (i.e. not rely on words in a graphic that aren’t also in Facebook’s new alt text tool), but design can also allow posts to become more distinctive.

(Aside: Melissa revealed that many Canadian universities have war cries that work well when integrated into social media posts. This is either scary or adorable, or both.)

Melissa concluded her excellent presentation (which is available online) with a four-prong “recipe for reach”:

  • Grow your followers. Use strategy and outstanding content to make people want to see your posts.
  • Optional: Pay to play. Facebook definitely loves your money, but you don’t necessarily need to pay them to reach your users. One tip was to maybe try boosting a post and seeing what happens (since it’s inexpensive).
  • Post less? Maybe not. As noted earlier, some institutions saw an advantage from posting less, but this might speak more to being more selective and strategic in what they share.
  • Content and community are royal: Make both of these strong and effective, and the keys to the (not at all dead) Facebook kingdom could be yours!

Editor’s note: Jackie Vetrano contributed to this story, because about half the Link staff was excited and expecting to cover Melissa’s presentation.

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By Tim Nekritz

Tim Nekritz is Link's Chief Editor and the director of news and media at SUNY Oswego, as well as an adjunct professor of communication studies. He welcomes questions, feedback and music recommendations.