February 8, 2011

15 ways to enhance your Facebook influence

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Facebook friends photo grid by Dan Taylor (CC BY on Flickr)

Tools & tactics to build authority as a nonprofit advocate

Target audience: Professionals at nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies; educators, Web publishers, individuals. Second of two parts. Also see:
How nonprofits can take charge of Facebook’s news feeds

JD LasicaMost people use Facebook for personal reasons: to maintain contacts, stay in touch with friends who live far away or to stay on top of one’s social life. Only 15 percent of us use it to maintain professional or work contacts, according to a 2010 survey by ExactTarget. For professional networking, some people turn to social networks like LinkedIn, WiserEarth or A Small World.

But for many of us, our professional and personal lives intersect and blend in deep ways — and this is the new multidimensional public identity we display to the world. That mashup of the professional + the personal is likely to grow, as Facebook rolls out new communications features and now lets you segment your friends into lists and groups, like family, co-workers or professional colleagues.

Below we’ll explore how to increase your influence and reach on Facebook. While this is intended for you as an individual who uses Facebook as part of your professional work life, it’s also applicable to your work as a Facebook Page administrator.

To increase your Facebook clout, you need to get into your friends’ news feeds. Facebook’s EdgeRank ranking system makes judgments about which items it thinks you and your friends will be interested in for your Top News feeds — critically important, given that we spend the vast majority of our time on Facebook via the Top News feed. Trouble is, they often bury the lead — the news most important to you — and they won’t say much about how to fine-tune your Top News feed to your liking or how to take steps to become more visible in your friends’ feeds.

As it routinely does, Facebook declined requests to comment for this article. So we’re left to resort to a parlor game of sorts — a distant cousin of Kremlinology that combines rigorous analysis with a fair amount of guesswork. Whether you call it Facebookology or News Feed Optimization or “building edge,” it’s more art than science.

Let’s play, shall we? Here are our recommendations on how to get more mileage out of your Facebook presence — helping you gain greater more visibility, influence and clout on Facebook for you and your brand:

Find the right vehicle for your professional voice

1On Facebook, you need to find the right balance of business and personal and decide what works for you. Several of my friends have created Pages for themselves — not their businesses, but their personal brands. For example, nonprofit strategist Beth Kanter has a Profile page and a public figure Page for her writing and work in the field, while Chris Brogan manages to do both on his Profile page. Note that personal Profiles are limited to 5,000 friends while Pages have no limit. You should decide what’s right for you. If you use Facebook for personal interactions with your family, you’ll want to create a separate Page for your professional identity. Remember: Creating a second personal account violates Facebook’s Terms of Service and, if you represent a business, nonprofit or organization, you should be reaching out to people with your Facebook Page, not your personal Profile.

Segment smarter

2You needn’t be captive to Facebook’s two main news feeds, Top News and Most Recent. Create Facebook Friend Lists and browse updates from contacts you target in your industry or sector. Create a Friend List by following these steps, then head over to the Most Recent link (pictured above), click it, then click the down arrow to reveal the feeds of the lists you’ve created. (Can this be any more well-hidden?) Your Friend List updates will appear with most recent posts at the top — a subset of your Most Recent feed. Although Facebook’s Home page remembers whether you chose Top News or Most Recent on your previous visit, it doesn’t remember the Friend List you chose, so you must choose it each time you load the Most Recent view.

Choose quality over quantity

3One or two strong Facebook updates per day is better than a half dozen scattershot updates that fly by and don’t have the staying power to attract people’s feedback. One social media “expert” at a recent Barcamp said you need to have at least 20 updates a day per Page to get into a News Feed — that’s patently false (though it may be good advice for Twitter). Dan Zarrella, author of “The Facebook Marketing Book,” suggests that posting just once every other day will get you the biggest bang for your buck. You want your updates to be sticky so that you jump-start conversations. Quality doesn’t mean an essay-length post. Save that for your blog — and write a short update linking to it. Or if you don’t have a blog, you can write a Facebook Note. (Did you know that blog posts can be imported as Facebook Notes?) Be selective about what you post: Don’t post a status update every time you mow the lawn. Include links to stories that are interesting, remarkable, sexy, funny or newsworthy, and include an image if possible. By stoking user engagement, Facebook will reward you for making people spend more time on Facebook.

Say it with the right media

4Here’s the most important secret about building up more authority on Facebook: A lot of it has to do with what tools you choose. Upload videos, check in with Facebook Places, share some photos — hitting the Like button isn’t enough. It appears that Facebook assigns the most weight, or value, to these kinds of content types, roughly in this order:

To embed a video on Facebook, enter the url, attach, then add a description and share.

  1. Video. Facebook puts its finger on the scale whenever you share a video that you’ve uploaded to Facebook. With Facebook members sharing than 10 million videos a month (as of mid-2010), the company believes that multimedia increases engagement and time spent on the site. With options to record video with a webcam or upload a video from your computer, Facebook makes it super-easy to post a video. YouTube viewing is robust as well. A YouTube group product manager wrote the other day: “over 150 years worth of YouTube video is watched on Facebook every day.” (See above for how to embed a Vimeo or YouTube video on Facebook.) Does sharing a link to a YouTube video or embedding a YouTube video bump up your visibility? Yes. Does it count as much as uploading a video to Facebook? Nobody outside of Facebook knows — and Facebook isn’t saying.
  2. Facebook Places updates. If you’re a mobile power jock, you already have gotten into the habit of checking in with Foursquare, Gowalla or Facebook Places. You can use Places on touch.facebook.com or the Facebook app for iPhone, Android, CrackBerry and other smartphones. Facebook sometimes tweaks its algorithm to give more weight to updates in its newer services, and so it’s now awarding extra juice to members using geolocation updates — a wise business decision given our increasingly mobile society. Chad Wittman, founder of social media management firm SBN, says, “Facebook Places definitely has a heavier weight than competitors” such as Foursquare and Gowalla, whose members’ check-ins carry little weight on Facebook.
  3. Photos and photo tagging. The next best way to elevate your Facebook juju is to upload photos to the site. Facebook members today upload more than 4 billion photos per month, making Facebook by far the largest photo sharing site on the Web. Does cross-posting to Facebook using an app like Posterous, Tumblr or Flickr bump up members’ visibility as much as uploading photos directly? Probably not. Says Facebook strategist Wittman: “We see more interaction with true Facebook applications such as Photos. We definitely see a bigger EdgeRank value for Facebook Photo uploads as opposed to Flickr uploads. Photo albums most likely experience on average higher EdgeRank values due to three times more exposure on the feed — three thumbnails vs. one.” One thing’s for certain: Adding a photo tag will immediately get your photo noticed, assuming the person is one of your friends or you have her email address.
  4. Share. Fascinating as you are, it’s not all about you. Use the Share button to share interesting updates from friends and Pages you follow. But don’t overdo it, and be sure to add your own personal twist or insightful, provocative observations. “An object created in Facebook — that is, sharing another user’s update — should weigh at least equally to, if not greater than, linking externally,” Wittman says.
  5. Link. Use the Link option to share content from the open Web, adding your own distinctive take on the subject, of course. According to an experiment by the Daily Beast, there was no practical difference in results between directing users to an external site vs. embedding YouTube videos on your Facebook Page. So Facebook doesn’t reward people just for staying within its walled garden. But does Facebook prefer links that you share directly on the site over links posted via third-party apps like Tweetdeck, Ping.fm and HootSuite? Who knows? Facebook won’t say! But Wittman draws this conclusion: “Recently I’ve started to believe that links posted via third party apps inherently have lower weight. I just don’t see how they couldn’t. One thing naturally working against third party apps is the Top News feed auto-hiding updates in close proximity to each other from the same app. I find this to be direct evidence that the Top News feed ultimately punishes third party apps.”
  6. Status updates & Wall posts. What riveting things are you up to? Be sure to let your friends know.
  7. Comments. If items you post attract comments from a few friends, it raises your visibility overall, particularly mutual friends. Comment in a helpful, friendly, engaging way. Add value. Just remember, it’s a process — you build up authority a little bit at a time, not overnight.
  8. Likes. Like away — it’s an incredibly powerful tool. Use it for news articles on outside sites that sport a Like button, on updates, even comments. Using lots of Likes doesn’t mean you’ll appear in others’ news feeds, but it will begin to solidify your reputation as a peer and supporter. Don’t be stingy about passing out Likes in your own comment threads. When you Like the comments of the people who chime in on your postings, you potentially draw them back to the thread (by sending them a notification), helping to keep it alive and growing, and you also encourage them to comment on your postings in the future. Adds Dave Awl, author of Facebook Me! (new second edition): “Although I can’t prove this, my sense is that Likes in the comment thread count as edges [EdgeRank juice] for the posting itself — so passing out those warm fuzzies may also be an easy way to add edges.” AllFacebook reported in July that 65 million Facebook users Like something every day, and the numbers have doubtless mushroomed since then. By the way, you’re ostensibly limited to a total of 500 Likes, though Facebook doesn’t enforce this rule.

Interact!

5It’s not all about creating great content. Facebook rewards interaction. If there are certain friends or brands you’d like to see appear in your Top News feed, post comments on their Profile or Page and Like their updates and soon you’ll see their updates appear in your feed, regardless of whether they respond. To lure them into interacting — so that your updates appear in their Top News feed — use a wide range of conversational techniques: Educate, inform, entertain, be funny and engaging, say “thank you.” Be patient, this can take some time to show results.

Tag strategically

6It’s surprising how many people don’t know this trick. When posting an update about a colleague or brand, be sure to tag the name of the person, company or cause by typing @ followed by their name. Facebook will automagically drop down a selection for you to choose from (see above). Just be careful: There’s a fine line between spam and content that you think is valuable.

When tagging a Page in a posting, the privacy setting for the post itself must be set to “Everyone” before the posting will appear on the Wall for the Page you’ve tagged. (This makes sense because all content for Pages is public, so anything that’s restricted doesn’t belong there.) So if you restrict the visibility of your posting to, say, Friends Only, then although you’ll still create a link to the Page for your friends to click on, your posting won’t appear on the Page’s Wall. (Hat tip to Dave Awl for the tip.)

Ask questions!

7If you look at Facebook updates that garner the most comments, often they’re generated when someone asks a question. People love to help out or to weigh in. You could post a question about a personal issue, a professional decision you’re grappling with or about your industry. Or you can be fanciful and ask open-ended questions. Chris Brogan does this brilliantly:

You can ask a question as part of a status update. Or you can use Facebook Questions, which began rolling out in July 2010 — but be aware that not everyone is enamored of the feature.

Also be aware that Facebook Questions still hasn’t rolled out to millions of Facebook members. Here’s what it looks like:

Expand your network

8On Facebook, longevity counts. So if you’re a newcomer to Facebook, you’ll have a harder time getting your status updates to appear in your friends’ Top News feed. Follow these steps, then: Start regularly interacting with them in a genuine, positive way. As you build up your network, include people with fewer than 500 friends, who’ll see more of your feeds and in turn bump up your visibility with everyone. Don’t be overly picky about friending professional contacts you don’t know that well, at least at first. Facebook seems to raise your visibility in your friends’ news feeds if you have friends in common. The bigger your network, the more sway you’ll gain. Just be sure not to send friend invitations to strangers. When starting out, adjust your settings so that the “Show posts from” menu is set to “All of your friends and Pages” rather than the “Friends and Pages you interact with most” option. You’ll find these in two places: in the Edit Options link at the very bottom of the Top News page or in the pop-up menu at the top of the Most Recent view.

Be smart about timing

9You want your updates to get maximum exposure, so be aware of when your activity will generate the most interest. In October social media management company Vitrue released a study that identifies the days and hours users are most active on the Facebook channels maintained by companies and brands (note: not by friends). Highlights:

• The biggest usage spikes tend to occur weekdays at 11 am, 3 pm and 8 pm ET. (I should point out: Your mileage may vary if you live in a different time zone. And, of course, optimum posting times may depend on the nature of your business. If your Facebook Page is for a late-night dance club, night owl postings may work out best.)

• Brand posts in the morning are 39.7 percent more effective in terms of user engagement than those published in the afternoon — which makes sense.

• Wednesdays are the busiest day of the week for fan activity, weekends the least busy.

On the other hand, the study by Exact Target showed that only 35 percent of Facebook users log in during the workday. So you should test during different days of the week and times of day to see what works best — check your analytics. One tip-off: Keep chat on and see what time of day most of your friends are logged in. Finally, be aware that freshness counts: You’ll seldom see content in a News Feed more than 48 hours old.

Comment on current events

10Everybody has an opinion — and they’re usually eager to share it. What’s your view of the popular uprising in Egypt, health care reform or life on other planets? Just don’t try to be the smartest guy in the room. Try on the role of facilitator, researcher or social anthropologist. Be provocative, but stoke conversations, not fires.

Use calls to action in your posts

11Don’t by shy: On occasion it’s fine to encourage your friends or fans to share your content, comment or Like it to increase the weight Facebook assigns it. But save it for special posts like philanthropic events, in-depth reports or juicy updates that would spark the community’s interest.

Post from your mobile device

12If you use an iPhone, Android phone, iPad or other mobile device, get into the habit of posting updates to Facebook, and use Facebook’s powerful Places feature in particular.

Chat up your friends on Facebook

13This is a risky tactic, given that few people like to be interrupted without a good reason. Still, Facebook does appear to bring friends into your news feed more frequently after an exchange of instant messages. So find a legitimate excuse to chat.

Attend events

14The evidence suggests that attending a sufficient number of events through Facebook bumps you up slightly among your circle of peers. You may want to send invitations instead of just responding to them. The more kinds of interactions you have on Facebook — photo tagging, events, chat, polls — the greater reach your Profile or Page in the News Feed.

Use polls

15As with Facebook’s Questions feature, not everyone is crazy about polls, but enough people like them to make this a useful part of your strategy if you deploy polls infrequently. Some poll apps for Facebook include PollDaddy, Poll and iPoll.

It’s not all about EdgeRank

A final word from Wittman, creator of the EdgeRank Checker tool: “One interesting thing we’re finding with all of this EdgeRank research is that we’re starting to see user experience sometimes outweigh EdgeRank. Personally, I believe that a Facebook video outweighs a YouTube video in weight. However, we can’t find that in our research — they are roughly equal. What I think is at play is that users inherently trust YouTube videos more so than Facebook videos. In these situations user experience trumps EdgeRank. This is very important as it illustrates to Facebook Page owners that just doing things the right way can reap just as much success as optimizing for EdgeRank.”

What have we missed? What has worked for you to increase your Facebook stature?

Thanks to Bryan Person of Liveworld and Dave Awl, author of Facebook Me!, for fact-checking this series.

Related

How nonprofits can take charge of Facebook’s news feeds

Free Facebook tutorials on SocialbriteJD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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