The 7 Rules of Facebook

 

USING FACEBOOK TO SELL YOUR ART?

I like Facebook I really do, it's addicting. Addicting, where did that word even come from? I've never tried crystal meth, no desire to either, but I imagine that's addicting too. I say this because I can spend an hour on Facebook, sometimes longer, then close down the app, and before a few seconds have passed, there it is again. All its blueness, new stories that appeared in a millisecond, and yet more notifications.

Twin Sails By Mark Taylor
See my latest work at http://10-Mark-Taylor.pixels.com

Honestly the thing frustrates me. I sit there wondering why am I not outside, why am I abandoning my family, why do I get so angry that someone called someone I've never met an idiot, why is it that as soon as I close the app my index finger opens it up again, and why do I get so annoyed whenever I hear about a new algorithm?

Because it's addicting, addictive, call it what you want, and it's essential to use it to run any business, especially as an artist. It is also a pain in the proverbial, or what I call virtual meth cooked up by the cyber equivalent of Walter White.

THE FIGURES

I know that it must be difficult for Facebook techies to get it right all of the time. It's a huge platform and we are talking huge numbers of people and posts, and likes, and shares. The data is moving rapidly round the world at a rate of knots. Worldwide there are in excess of 1.65 billion monthly active users or MAU's as they're known in the inner circle. That means that as an artist, Facebook is too big to ignore. First rule of selling art, you need to be on Facebook.

In 2013, people hit the like button approximately 4.5 billion times each day. I was responsible for at least 30 of them, especially if they featured art or funny cats. My guess is that now we have a choice of feelings, we've all been a little button crazy and the numbers must have gone up.

As of April 27th 2016, Facebook confirmed that there are also 1.51 billion mobile active users or MAU's, many of these are the people who walk into you whilst concentrating on their screens. For ease, we will call these people Smombies. Short for zombies with smartphones.

Over 307 million people in Europe are said to be using Facebook, with the most popular age demographic being between 25 and 34, representing just under 30% of its user base. Consider that number when selling your art, what do 24-34 year olds like? The millennials are a key audience.

Everyone has a Facebook profile or so it seems. In 2012 research indicated that five new profiles were created every second. Despite what seems like a slowdown in 2016, I'm taking a guess that the numbers are probably only slowing a little, and there's little statistical difference between genders, females slightly outnumbering males.

Facebook
Facebook - Logo Copyright Facebook

When you post content generally mid-week between 1pm and 3pm you're more likely to see more engagement, although I've noticed that Tuesday afternoons are popular for some reason. 7pm when people have got home from work, had a bite to eat and start settling down seems to be a popular time, leaving a post until 8pm seems to have a negative impact. Now these are important factors because you want your organic (non-paid) post reach to reach as many people as possible. What you also need to consider is that people using Facebook are geographically dispersed, so if you live in the UK and like me your customer base is from the US, you need to post at different times to reach both the UK and the US markets. Second rule of Facebook, it's 24/7/365. It never sleeps.

Engagement seems to increase on Thursday and Friday evenings, this is why I generally update this blog on either a Thursday or Friday evening at around 6pm. Then my calls on Facebook start to appear at 7pm to promote the new post, and I automate two more posts by scheduling them to cover East and West coast US time. I do this through Buffer when using both Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps one of the reasons why Thursday's and Friday's are so popular is because Facebook hinges our personal lives so much and we use the platform to make arrangements for the weekend with friends. Just a theory!

CNN have reported that there are around 83 million fake profiles, most of which have at some point requested to join my Facebook groups. Thankfully I run a sort of background check using the information on their timelines to figure out if they're real people, bots, or spammers. So if you are in either the Artists Hangout or the Artists Exchange, congratulations, you have SCI clearance. SCI in this instance standing for seriously creative individual.

Now here's one that you need to consider. There are around 300 million photo uploads everyday. OK, 100 million are likely to be grumpy/funny cats, but consider each photo as competition when selling your art. Strategic targeting within relevant Facebook groups seems to be the way forward. Just posting on your timeline limits your exposure to a percentage (not all) of the people who follow and friend you. More on timelines in a moment.

It's said that the average time a user spends on Facebook is 20-minutes. Infodocket said this. In which case neither me nor my Facebook friends are average. I might spend 20-minutes browsing whilst drinking coffee, but I'm away for usually less than an hour before I come back when I'm not working. Like I said earlier, sometimes I close the app, then think OK, another five minutes won't hurt me then the app magically reopens. I'm not addicted, I just like to know what's going on with the cats.

In 60-seconds, 510 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded according to The Social Skinny. That means a lot of people are briefing me on the status of their cats, but there is so much information competing for my attention that the Facebook algorithm has to lend me a hand.

In 2013 4.75 billion pieces of content was shared each day, that was a 94% increase over just twelve-months earlier.

Now time for a reality check. There is a huge market on Facebook and if you're not seeing the fruit, chances are you need to adjust a few things, consider a few things, and you need to post quality content. Don't let that put you off though. Millions of people are making it work, and despite recent algorithm changes to the newsfeed and the way content is displayed, it is still possible to make it work without spending a dime.

In my last post I spoke of paid search, if you can afford it great. If you can't, you need to work a little smarter, not necessarily harder. Third rule of Facebook, it's the biggest social media platform out there, you can't ignore it.

THE NEWSFEED

With all that data it must be a difficult job to ensure that each and every users personal newsfeed remains relevant and useful. I think with my diverse tastes of everything from art to ufology, to grumpy cats, any algorithm is going to be pushed to serve me what I want, when I want it. But somehow, it doesn't do a bad job. Unless I'm posting and my posts don't get enough views to even be on the spectrum of going viral, then it's bad. Really bad.

The balance is to keep us coming back for more. Yes, back to it being as addicting as any dodgy substance you care to mention. The more we come back, the more it learns, it seems to be alive, and the more ads it can serve us.

What we see is a full timeline each time we go on the platform. But what we are seeing is only a tiny sliver of what's been posted. We might be able to see around 1,500 posts over the course of 24-hours, but in reality what appears on your timeline will be much less than this. Stay online all day and continuously scroll and refresh and you might see the 1,500 posts eventually but the algorithm is what ultimately determines what posts you are served.

The algorithm is a secret as secret as Colonel Sanders 11 secret herbs and spices, but more so. Figuring it out when it changes perhaps even as often as a couple of times per week is a thankless and fruitless task. By the time you're halfway there, kapow, it changed again.

But what are the deciding factors that remain constants in the algorithm? There are a few. The influences that are likely to stay in any update of the algorithm are the most obvious. How close you are to a person, how often you like their posts, how often you share their content, how often you take the time to write on friends timelines, how often you engage with their photos by clicking on them, are increasingly important metrics.

How often you speak to someone on Messenger is also a factor. Despite these being separate apps, they are intrinsically linked to the overall algorithm and experience. But there is also the content of the content that you post. Content has to be good quality, that's determined by how many people engage with the post, how many comments, likes, and shares, but also where it is hosted. Facebook really don't want you leaving their fortress.

Keeping it mobile friendly is also a consideration as it is when creating content that will be indexed by Google. Mobile first seems to be the new mantra. But the algorithm will be scanning language too, writing congratulations is a flag that it relates to an important life event, the algorithm will give it a little boost. No doubt though, overuse will be seen as the boy who cried wolf. Beating the algorithm is unfortunately not a game of chess that you can generally win.

When you like a post, click on it first before you hit the like button. That's an indicator that you are not in the happy clicky brigade and the post appears to be more relevant. You also need to consider that you might be participating unknowingly in being in the 1%. Not the 1% that can afford a luxury yacht, the 1% of seemingly random users that the engineers and techies like to tinker with by running algorithm experiments. In fact there may even be multiple groups of users who are being subjected to multiple algorithm experiments.

1% may be participating in an experiment that is looking at how to boost engagement, be that by being tagged in photos, or by boosting posts that people spent more time looking at on the iPhone. Fourth rule of Facebook, it's not always a level playing field. Once the experiments are over, the best changes are rolled out either within a territory or globally.

Facebook have human raters feeding into the overall metrics of the system. They call this the feed quality panel. Typically each panellist will rate 60 stories that appear in their own newsfeed. Each one is then rated on a scale between 1 and 5, depending on how interesting the panel member found the post.

Alongside the rating they also reorder their own newsfeed showing their preferences for displaying posts compared to the algorithm. This produces what Facebook term a transposition score, and writing about why they felt their preference was better than the algorithm. The algorithm then gets tweaked a little again at some point after being reviewed in meetings. Now this for me is a dream job, California sunshine, reading posts on Facebook and influencing the IT probably whilst sipping a bud. I mean your preferences change after a drink, and if Mark Z hasn't introduced that, I'm calling the idea mine, he should, and he should also hire me.

BUT I DIDN'T KNOW

I speak to people in my day job about algorithms frequently. One of my lifelong geeky interests has always been encryption, cyphers, and algorithms. What surprises me though is that not everyone realises that some clever piece of semi-AI is responsible for serving what you see in your newsfeed. People are genuinely shocked, never wondering why they didn't see Uncle Johnny's post of his night out with the boys where they stole a Llama and chained Fred up to the five bar gate.

Recently the public, or at least those who got to know, were outraged when Facebook revealed a study they carried out detailing how they changed the number of positive or negative posts in 700,000 people’s newsfeed's. When the issues in Ferguson took place, people suddenly got to see more ice bucket challenge videos and it was highlighted by media observers. It could have been coincidental, I personally knew about 100 people who did this because it was the thing, it was also fun, (although I don't subscribe to that theory, iced water over the head when we had a terrible Summer, way too cold) but it also raised money for a deserving cause and people needed some cheer after the terrible events that had unfolded.

Facebook officially doesn't rank cheer over challenge, but some people theorise that the way the platform is structured it is designed to incentivise positivity. If people like something they become engaged, more engaged means more likes, comments and shares. More likes, comments and shares means a bigger reach, more advertising exposure.

This is why I set up The Artists Exchange Group on Facebook. The idea is simple. People join the group, be they artists, art collectors, art lovers in general, or people who just can't live without some art in their lives, each of those people though have their own timeline. That's the secret.

If I share my art with just the people who follow and friend me, my post reach is less than the total amount of people who follow and friend me because the algorithm determines that not everyone can actually find the time to read and explore every post.

Now imagine that I have one hundred Facebook friends. Maybe 20 or 30 people will see the post I created, on a good day, if I'm lucky. Generally out of 100 your actual reach could be as low as five or six, because 22 of my friends are at work, 15 live in another time zone and are asleep, and 10 haven't logged in during the week at all. Add to that a few people won't like every post I post. Those people will see fewer of my posts in the future until they re-engage. That essentially means that I need to compete with the other 100 friends they have who have all shared posts at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon. My organic reach is lowered by the algorithm.

Now, if someone engages with my post, comments on it, likes it, shares it, my post appears on their timeline, and a percentage of their friends will get to see it. This increases my reach in to potential new clients, and if they then engage and share, comment and like, we suddenly have an exponential reach. More importantly that reach spreads around the world.

In return I share someone else's post, like, comment, and maybe use the new emotion buttons, and the whole process starts again. This is how an artist can support another artist and be supported themselves by other artists. Facebook is like a cyber pyramid scheme when you start looking at the algorithm in this way. It's just not obvious to everyone because they don't necessarily realise the algorithm is actually controlling what we view. The algorithm adapts though, it learns, and eventually it gets it close to right. Then they change it again.

But there are so many other factors, anything that makes a post likeable will have an impact on reach. More recently the algorithm changed to consider how long people spent reading a post, helping more complex posts to gain reach.

Facebook doesn't constantly shout about its algorithm so it's not all that surprising when people don't realise it plays such an important role. Essentially every action has a reaction. What you do on the site affects what others will see in at least some small part.

To counter some of the negative press that the recent algorithm changes brought, Facebook made another change. They introduced measures that allow users to have some say on which friends and pages appear in their newsfeed more often. The new see first feature allows you to add 30-friends almost like one would save bookmarks. The unfollow button allows you to see less from a friend without the awkwardness of actually unfriending them. There were so many stories of people being tipped over the edge when their ex unfriended them that something clearly had to be done. People break up physically but it appears that social medialy, (is that a word?), it's more difficult to let go. Pretty sure there's some research around this somewhere.

If you've noticed dips in engagement it's not over. Don't give up. There are things you can do. Live Feed video is currently a trend, although I expect many people are getting annoyed by the constant notifications that Huff Post are currently live feeding the opening of an envelope. The auto play on live feed is also irking some people, sucking up reduced data and bandwidth allocations on mobile devices. It will be here for a while, and you can now at least stop auto play in the settings. Additionally you will soon be able to stop all of those notifications in the settings too, this is currently being rolled out in the US. I expect other territories will see this welcome change soon.

Native video though is a better way to increase reach. By making a change to the way that you upload video, not linking it to a YouTube channel, you can increase reach substantially. For clarity, upload straight to Facebook and yes, that goes for other posts too. Fourth rule of Facebook, they don't want you to ever leave.

MOBILE

Mobile is big. Not all that long ago we were bringing the world into our homes on desktop PC's, now we're going back out into the world with our mobile devices. Many websites including this one have a mobile version running in parallel, and when you are out and about you want quick loading times and for the relevant information to be available at your fingertips.

Social Media
Smartphones raise the mobile game. All images Copyright respective brands

Generally Facebookers like using the app on their phone. In fact of around 1.44 billion monthly active users, some 40% engage with Facebook on their mobile devices. As smartphones become a tiny bit smarter in each new generation, that figure is set to grow. We no longer have to be tied to our homes to find out what happened to the Uncle who stole a Llama. So if you're not thinking about mobile engagement you are going to miss out. Remember too that mobile and desktop experiences are not silos, they need to exist coherently. They have a symbiotic relationship.

CLICK BAIT

Click baiting is now officially the enemy of Facebook and other social media platforms and search engines. The all knowing Wikipedia describes it in this way:

From a historical perspective, the techniques employed by clickbait authors can be considered derivative of yellow journalism, or the yellow press, a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines that include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.

Sites that have used this tactic since the click bait algorithm change have been penalised in terms of traffic. They rank lower in search results too. Just what is it though?

We've all seen the aggregated news stories that appear at the bottom of many web pages that say "[insert your town name here] woman has defied doctors beliefs by using this $3 secret face cream" your town is included by using location services on your device, and if you access the link from another town, the town name will change. That my friends is the definition of click bait. When you click on it you are either taken to some obscure site that will feature heavy advertising, you read the first couple of lines from the story and you need to scroll down to press the next button, except there are multiple next buttons, and chances are that you'll click on an ad instead of the actual next button.

I think a few websites that were once great fell into that trap, for a while it drove up ad revenue and traffic, but now those sites are being punished by seeing fewer hits. The point of this is that to be sustainable you need to have some morals and ethics, and stick to them.

QUALITY CONTENT

You need quality content that will engage readers. If a person spends time reading the content and reacts with a like or emotion after they have read the content, Facebook considers that content to be relevant and worthy of being bumped up. If someone clicks a link but spends no time reading it before returning to the newsfeed, Facebook see this as a red flag and the content will be marked down. Fifth rule of Facebook, links where a user lingers do better.

Unique content should be part of your quality strategy. When I say unique I mean that it is better to fit the content to the platform you are using. Many of the large brands have learned that what works well on Facebook doesn't necessarily work well on Instagram.

Instagram is a more visual platform so words should be in the description. Instagram users like pictures, that's what the platform is supposed to encourage. Having text heavy advertorials doesn't work, whereas it might do a little better on a platform such as LinkedIn if the subject is relevant. You need to tailor your post to the platform. I said earlier that you now need to be transliterate across a multitude of platforms. Sixth rule of Facebook, be transliterate across social media platforms, and work out what works best on each.

Occasionally I will come up with ideas within my groups that actually drive up engagement. In my groups I'm not posting all of the time. On my personal page well, if I see something I think the world should see, I like it and share it. I get way less business related engagement on my personal posts, but the moment I post in a group, engagement goes up.

What o have noticed is that a couple of other groups tend to replicate what I do. I created a one off poll a few weeks ago, within hours other groups had produced a poll too. I introduced free downloads of backgrounds, other groups then did this too. I'm absolutely fine with this because as a group of artists, we really are kind of in this together, and if the engagement in other groups goes up too, then it drives up the popularity and relevance of the artists who belong to multiple groups. It's a good thing, happy to help, also happy to advise, let's just get our artwork exposed. It really doesn't matter how many groups do similar things, we're all after the same end game for our members, another reason why I share other people's groups in my groups.

The actual content should be original. It should also be what I like to term as "evergreen". Evergreen content is content that will still be relevant down the line. It can be used again, updated, and repurposed, down the line.

The Seventh rule of Facebook is to post and post again. Far too often we read a great article, there's a buzz around the content for a couple of days, it's promoted everywhere, then it dies. Actually the content is still alive and still relevant, but if you are not going to promote it again in the future, it sits on some cloud never to be seen again.

Reposting gives your content a longer life span. If only a small percentage of your followers read it the first time around, then you are missing out on potential engagement. I mentioned that I use Buffer to schedule posts, using a tool such as this can allow you to create a post today that will be automatically posted on a set date in the future. This is also useful when you are on vacation, rather than leave an empty timeline for the duration you are away.

Reposting is also a saviour for the times you have little time to produce something new, or when you have complete brain freeze. As long as you have enough content online this is a strategy you can take. You might want to look over it, make it a little more up to date, but by doing this you won't need to spend hours creating a new piece of content from scratch.

SMART TIME

Oh how I wish the human form could at times become superhuman and need no sleep. Problem is that I remember the time just a couple of years ago when it was no problem for me to pull an all-nighter, now I struggle to pull an all-dayer.

The reality of creating content is that you need to take your time. There is no point in creating a five minute piece that's not relevant. Better to spend more time and publish less often. This blog takes up between 15 and 20 hours each week, but not every week, despite the fact that it is published every week. How does that even work when you also have a day job and need to find time to create art?

Whenever I can I am researching pieces, taking notes on ideas, formulating a content strategy for the blog and my Facebook groups. Some weeks I produce no art at all, I focus on writing. It depends what research I have in the bag already. I tend to write a week or even two in advance, and I'm working on multiple pieces at the same time. Right now I am working on another two blog posts as well as this one. It sounds crazy but it means that I can use any downtime to add in another few hundred words which might take me 10 or 15 minutes. I use voice recognition software occasionally because I can talk faster than I can type. By doing this I can usually get away with taking it easy for a week in between, maybe start another blog post, but not have to worry about deadlines too much.

Facebook Social Media
Low hanging fruit is still on the tree but you need to know how to pick it

If I were to publish this blog every day, I'm not sure I could come up with anything relevant and useful, and my posts would be limited to around 400 words. I would need to consider multiple subjects, and working out subjects to cover takes time. Less is more. But it's not just blogging that takes time, each Sunday I post in my Facebook group the Artists Exchange something that I have discovered during the week that is artistically unusual. Finding that article on the web to share also takes time. Sometimes I might have three of four pieces in mind, then I review each article and pick out the most on point and interesting one to post. The result is usually that engagement in that post is much higher than the total number of posts I created without following a strategy during the previous six or seven days. I call those posts "impulse clicks" just as retailers create opportunities for impulse purchases.

THE PRIMARY STRATEGY

Back to the Facebook newsfeed and how you can make sure that your posts reach the quality standards that the algorithm is looking for. Facebook surveyed thousands of people to get a better understanding of the factors that make posts a high quality. They asked the following questions.

Is this timely and relevant content?

Is this content from a source you would trust?

Would you share it with friends or recommend it to others?

Is the content genuinely interesting to you or is it trying to game News Feed distribution? (e.g., asking for people to like the content)

Would you call this a low quality post or meme?

Would you complain about seeing this content in your News Feed?

Then they incorporated the feedback within their new machine learning system. According to Facebook’s own reference to this on their website, the system uses over a thousand factors to determine quality. Here are a few that you really do need to consider when using Facebook Pages to promote your art.

How complete your Page profile is. Completing the profile is clearly beneficial to Facebook to collect data to inform future algorithm changes, and advertising, but it also enhances your position in the system.

They then added this factor into their newsfeed ranking algorithm allowing them to serve quality posts higher in other people's newsfeed's. Showing quality posts higher saw a significant increase in engagement in terms of likes, comments, and shares.

So you need to ensure that your posts are:

  • Timely and relevant
  • And that you:
  • Build credibility and trust with your audience
  • Ask yourself if people would share this with their friends or recommend it to others
  • And that you think about "would my audience want to see this in their newsfeed's?"

CONCLUSION

Facebook despite what you read in the press is actually showing little sign of slowing down. As people leave the platform, new people come along. So you cannot ignore it. If you're not in the game, you will lose out.

Facebook is not just a silo for your own posts and by not engaging in other people's posts you could be hurting your own ranking. Liking, but not spending the necessary time to engage and read what you are about to like is critical for the post you are about to like to do well.

It's a reciprocal platform. Engaging and building credibility is key. If you have nothing relevant to post, engage with other people's posts and build up people's awareness of you within those posts.

I mentioned positivity, and I occasionally want to share my life experiences when something goes wrong just as much as everyone else. But if you want to succeed, it seems that the new algorithm changes will continue to favour positivity over challenge. People like bad news, but we hear too much bad news and actually people like good news too. They're much more likely to share good news, unless it's snowing, then they'll share the photo of you falling over in the snow.

Native is the new black. Keeping people inside the walls of Facebook is clearly what Facebook likes. They want you connected 24/7. We would all prefer good quality posts, and as much as I love a meme, I have to say that they've probably had their day.

In the future there's no doubt that new platforms will come along and we'll dedicate our time temporarily to those. The issue is that Facebook is huge and it feels like home. The Seventh rule of Facebook, we all love our home.

Please do join me on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/beechhousemedia or join my two Facebook groups.

The Artist Exchange can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/940723089340284/

The Artist Hangout can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1662965137254435/

Next week I have to go into hospital for the day, hence two posts this week! If you have any other tips and strategies we would love to hear them so please feel free to leave a comment. Now go and create some great content!

 

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