social media researchAre you wondering what works with Facebook and what’s a waste of time?

Do hashtags make a difference?

What about sponsored stories?

There’s recently been ton of research to understand how Facebook marketing is helping (or hurting) businesses.

Here are five noteworthy Facebook findings we uncovered from the latest published research.

#1: 78% of U.S. Facebook Users Are Mobile

Facebook is at the center of a sizable shift to mobile. In the U.S. alone, 78% of all Facebook users (just shy of 100 million people) logged into their Facebook accounts via mobile this year (TechCrunch).

Research from eMarketer predicts that this number will continue to grow and by 2017, 154.7 million Americans will be using Facebook on their mobile devices.

facebook mobile users 2013

The future of Facebook is in mobile.

Key Takeaways:

Mobile and social go hand in hand. If your target audience is in the U.S., you should follow Facebook’s lead and adapt a mobile-first strategy. Here are a few tips to optimize your Facebook page for mobile users:

  • Take a look at your Facebook page on your mobile device to see what others are seeing (Public view, not Admin view).
  • Since the mobile experience doesn’t show your complete timeline, highlight your best content with a pinned post.
  • Photos are the best-performing post types on Facebook, so be sure to add colorful, interesting images to all your posts, offers and ads.
  • If you have a local business, encourage customers to check in on Facebook at your location (more on that later!). Mobile searchers tend to make local buying decisions (e.g., where to eat, where to shop, etc.). Recommendations and check-ins from mobile users’ friends appear first on their mobile devices, making it a fantastic tool for word-of-mouth marketing.

#2: Paid Ads Improve Reach and Post Performance

According to the 2013 Social Rich Media Benchmark Report (ShopIgniter), promoting your Facebook posts with a paid ad increases organic and viral reach significantly but reduces click-throughs.

This is true for all post types (video, offers, photos, links and questions) except status updates. In the case of status updates, unpaid posts have a much higher reach than paid posts.

facebook posts paid ads reach vs ctr

Promoting Facebook posts with paid ads increases reach but reduces CTR.

Key Takeaways:

Paid ads make a big difference on Facebook—at least in terms of reach and impressions. But before you start investing in Facebook ads, think about your target audience, focus on your marketing goals and understand how different post types perform when they’re promoted with ads.

Paid ads are used for promotional content, which by default draws less engagement than non-promotional content. If you’re more interested in driving brand awareness or increasing your customer base, then by all means use paid ads because of their viral nature.

But if you’re trying to build your email list (you’ll need folks to click through to a landing page), then paying to promote the post might be a waste of cash, according to the research. And don’t forget, whenever you want people to click, give them lots of images!

#3: Negative Feedback Hurts Conversion

Facebook doesn’t have a Dislike button. However, users can show their aversion toward your content by hiding it from their news feed.

More research from ShopIgniter shows that negative feedback—which includes the following actions by users: Hide Post, Hide All Posts, Report as Spam, Unlike Page—increases (hurts conversion) the more you add paid media to your posts.

average negative feedback rate

Negative feedback increases as paid ads are applied to most post types.

The chart shows the negative feedback rate for paid and organic Facebook posts. Longer bars are bad as they indicate higher negative feedback.

Key Takeaways:

  • For most post types except links, negative feedback increases when paid ads are used.
  • As far as paid posts go, notes are most disliked (hardly anyone uses them anyway), followed by video.
  • Although photos are popular on Facebook, not all photos are created equal. As a marketer, you should know exactly what your audience’s preferences are by posting photos they will enjoy, like and share. If you’re not sure, do some A/B split tests with various images to find out.
  • The ‘Question’ is king—You can’t go wrong with asking questions on Facebook. At best you’ll get lots of responses, and at the very worst you’ll get little or no negative feedback.
  • Surprisingly, Facebook Offers generate less negative feedback than links! That’s because everyone likes a good deal, even if it ‘interrupts’ your news feed through an ad.
  • The best thing to do is mix up your posts. Try both paid and unpaid versions of the same post type. At the end of the day, only your Page Insights can tell you what will work for you and what will not.

#4: Facebook Hashtags Are NOT Working

According to EdgeRank Checker, Facebook hashtags have done nothing to help with additional exposure for your brand. In fact the opposite is true.

The research indicates that posts with hashtags are not only less likely to go viral, but also make people less likely to engage with the content.

facebook hashtags failing

Facebook hashtags could actually be hurting, not helping, your brand.

Key Takeaways:

EdgeRank doesn’t tell us why Facebook hashtags are failing. We only know that people are not clicking them. Here are some possibilities:

First, for a lot of people, hashtags feel out of place on Facebook. There’s even a Facebook page called “This is not Twitter. Hashtags don’t work here” where 15,000 fans are making a strong case that what works on one platform doesn’t necessarily work on another. They argue that hashtags on Facebook “interrupt the flow of communication and people tend to abuse them.”

Second is perception. Before the official launch of hashtags in June of this year, people or brands who used hashtags on Facebook were perceived to be clueless. Other users figured they didn’t understand how to use Facebook. There have also been complaints that status updates with hashtags are nothing more than automated posts created by lazy marketers on Twitter.

So based on the research, if you want your fans and their friends to share your Facebook posts, you may want to avoid using hashtags or at least do a lot of your own testing to see if they’re helping or hurting your brand.

#5: And the Highest CTR Goes to… Sponsored Check-in Stories!

Sponsored check-in stories, where users are shown an ad in their news feed for a place they previously checked in, received by far the highest click-through rate (CTR) among all ad types and sponsored stories.

The Facebook Ads Benchmark Report (Salesforce) shows that at 3.2%, this CTR is even higher than sponsored like stories, which are very popular with marketers.

average ctr of sponsored stories

Average CTR of sponsored check-in stories trumps all other ad types.

Key Takeaways:

Sponsored check-in stories are used to reach your fans’ friends on their news feed. High CTRs could be indicative of peer influence. When a Facebook user sees (on her news feed) that her friend has checked into a particular store, she’ll be curious to learn more about that location and will probably click through for more information.

As the owner of that business, you want to encourage more people to take the same action, so you’ll pay to highlight the original action of checking in.

So if you’re thinking about building a local fan base, engaging and rewarding customers, or reaching your customers’ friends, why not design a campaign around the check-in stories that your customers are generating? Fair warning—sponsored check-in stories are very expensive (in terms of cost per impression or CPM), but the investment could be worth it if more customers come to your store and buy your products. It’s something to think about!

Your Turn

What do you think? Which of these trends or insights do you agree or disagree with? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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  • Thanks for the inclusion of the sponsored check-in story. It’s something I haven’t tried yet with my brick-and-mortar clients. Will definitely be trying it out.

  • predsicker

    Go for it Mig! And please, do come back and tell us how it worked out for you. Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Sam Sheibani

    Patricia, thank you for a great article. I am a brand new Real Estate Agent in the DC area and have tried paid adds on FB and have deffintley seen the increase in viewership and within 2 days got 40 likes. However, I am not really sure how to turn that into clients. Is there a better way of using FB for client generation?

  • Patricia, these stats are so interesting! You have great points with proof to
    back them up, which means we have no excuse now: we have to be smart
    about how we use things like Facebook Ads and Hashtags (in fact, I was
    just thinking about how Hashtags are working the other day!) Thanks so
    much for all of this information!

  • J Loren Norris

    I have seen the results as described here with one exception. Video seems to get the highest engagement short, targeted video had close to a 7% response on a promoted status. But only once. I also see that non targeted ads (friends and their friends) seems to extend reach to significant amounts of people outside of my Fanbase and who seldom if ever engage.

  • Pel Abbott

    In my experience, Facebook algorithms get my page’s posts virtually no exposure, unless I pay to promote them.

  • SuttidaYang

    I completely agree with hashtags. I’ve been using them and haven’t seen a whole lot happen. I do wonder if it’s because a) Facebook came in a tad bit late with hashtags or b) People are slow to adapt given that they tend to use the search function to look for profiles by name vs. by hashtags?

  • Robert

    Question: what is the best tactic to get “likers” to move down the sales funnel and subscribe to newsletter or better yet, purchase?

  • Did I miss something or does #2 contradict itself? The 2nd paragraph reads, “…unpaid posts have a much higher reach than paid posts.” The caption under the chart reads, “Promoting Facebook posts with paid ads increases reach but reduces CTR.”

  • Attention Getting Marketing

    I have to agree that hash tags feel out of place on Facebook. I have done the Newsfeed Ads, both myself and recommended to clients. Even though they have been very targeted using the demographic options, it really has been hit and miss. At that point it really comes down to analyzing the type of post that works best.

  • Hi Patricia. Great insight! As you described, sponsored check-in
    stories absolutely work to target local customers. When a business like a local
    restaurant or boutique runs Sponsored Check-in Stories, they need to provide
    incentives like a10% off coupon. Also, you need to educate customers on how
    they can check in by setting up posters at checkout counters or on tables.

  • Will do!

  • Leah Apineru

    This is a very helpful article. Especially the Key Takeaway tips. Thank you! I do have to disagree that photo uploads for my clients have NOT been getting the highest visibility rate. I have tested a variety of updates and the highest visibility rates are plain text only status update (especially questions! Keep them simple and brand related). My test has been on clients who are authors. I do also strongly agree that # use is not welcome or appropriate for facebook, however am using them regularly on Pinterest & Google+ with good success.

  • predsicker

    Hi Sam. Thanks for reading. One thing to remember about FB (or any kind of social media for that matter) is that it’s ‘earned media’, which means it’s not what you say about your brand, but what others say. So the best thing to do is provide great customer experiences in your real estate business, and then encourage customers to recommend you to their friends on Facebook. I know a local carpet cleaning business that has been doing with this with much success!

  • predsicker

    You’re welcome, and thanks for reading John! Your comments are always so enthusiastic 🙂

  • predsicker

    Hi Pel,
    Thanks for your comment. I guess your experience is consistent with #2 which indicates that more advertising = more impressions/reach.

  • predsicker

    Great question Robert. I think what Marketo is doing to generate leads on Facebook is noteworthy. Basically, they lead their Facebook fans to a landing page on their site, which has a registration form. Once there, the prospect gives them their name/email address in exchange for an informational product. See it here:

  • predsicker

    Hi Mike. No it’s not a contradiction. The beginning of that sentence reads, “For status updates, unpaid posts have a higher reach than paid posts.” So it’s just for that ONE post type.

  • Pel Abbott

    Yes, and I’m not that happy about it, I want to find a way around Facebook instead. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  • predsicker

    I’m glad you brought in your own personal experience with hashtags. Again, one has to do their own testing to see if this thing works. I’ve seen some hashtag campaigns that have worked really well e.g.Starbucks #TreatReceipt and Cover Girl’s #EasyBreezySummer.

  • predsicker

    Thanks Adella! Yes, definitely educating customers about checking in is key. Sometimes customers don’t even know that it’s an option. Maybe having something at the door that says, “Check in with Facebook Places and get 10% off your next purchase” (or something like that) might work 🙂

  • predsicker

    Thanks Leah. Photos are great to use on Facebook, no question about that. However, it could be the particular image that’s a problem – maybe it doesn’t resonate with fans, or it doesn’t align with your brand message. Don’t give up on photos yet 🙂 Also I’ve heard many people complain that overall visibility on Facebook has declined lately. So it could be a totally new thing that’s happening. I’ll keep studying the research to see what I can tell you next time.

  • predsicker

    Let me know when you find out lol! Remember, Facebook has to make money too, so it’s totally in their interest to charge you for whatever they can!

  • predsicker

    Thanks so much for your comment SuttidaYang. I think FB is just a different kind of platform and the purpose of hashtags is not as clear as it is on Twitter.

  • Sam Sheibani

    Beautifully said, why didnt I think of it that way 🙂 Again, thank you for your wisdom

  • Pel Abbott

    Zuck sold out.

  • predsicker

    Thank YOU for reading my article Sam 🙂

  • Nigel Corneal

    Hi Patricia, I’m glad the photo issue was brought up because I’ve found the exact opposite of what is stated in this and many other articles. I post all types of content on over 60 different Facebook pages. I’ve used different photos with the same text and posted only the text with no photos. The text only posts get 3 to 5 times more organic reach. Given that, to a significant degree, Facebook seems to determine what percentage of fans see posts, I am very interested to hear your thoughts on why my experience differs so overwhelmingly from what keeps being written on the subject?

  • Ted Nelson

    If you want your post to go viral, I highly recommend tagging people. But, be choosy about who you tag as it can create negative feedback..

  • Thanks for the post, Patricia! I can definitely see how negative feedback would hurt conversion (on promoted posts), but I typically think it’s Facebook’s fault, though I do still hide the post if it’s annoying. I think it is about starting slow and testing what works before diving in with a huge campaign. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a promoted note though?

  • Bea Vanni

    Excellent article, Patricia! I’ve been reading a lot this week on how platforms are in continuous change in what works where. I think I’ll leave FB #’s behind now. Ugh!

  • Liberty Heights Fresh

    Leah – we have had the same experience with photos getting fewer views than status updates, but less engagement with like/shares. We post a variety of all kinds of photos. Any ideas/suggestions from other readers?

  • Tracie F.

    Just read this fabulous article and wondered about the “check-ins”. Advice needed: What is the reason behind advocating for check-ins if we are unable to actually see “who” checked in, vs. how many people checked in?

  • Rich Girl Business

    I have noticed that hashtags are not popular on Facebook. It’s too bad because they are fun to find relevant information and people. I think over time it can pick up speed. Thanks for the information. It will really change how I handle Facebook for clients going forward.

  • pranayrupani

    Very interesting article but I have regularly been using promoted posts with landing page links and they have a good conversion rate (as in I enough email addresses). Though I have long suspected their authenticity. Is there a better way to promote landing page links through posts?

  • Ian Hawley

    We saw exactly the same sort of drop in performance using hashtags – confirms my suspicions!

  • Gabriele Bryant

    Regarding mobile-first recommendation: Posts that are pinned to top on the desktop are NOT pinned on top in the mobile view 🙁

  • There’s a reason why hashtags don’t feel at home on Facebook: Hashtags are all about sharing publicly, while Facebook is about sharing with your friends and family. Problem is, Facebook wants to become also the place for public discussion, because that has a very high value for marketers. It will be interesting to watch if they can pull it off!

  • William

    How is Facebook measuring clicks? I have evidence that FB will charge an advertiser for a click and NOT land them on the target page, typically in a 10-1 failure ratio. That is, I pay for 10 clicks, and only 1 of those will actually land on the target page!

  • great stuff! Interesting facts about the mobile user data. Thanks a bunch!

  • In my experience, Facebook algorithms get my page’s posts virtually no exposure, unless I pay to promote them.

  • Rick

    Sort of interesting but the problem with most metrics and evaluations regarding social media that I have seen is it lumps everything into one massive bucket regardless of the industry or the target market. Does social work better if your prospective client is the public consumer than if you are selling to business and only need to reach senior management of F1000 companies? What demographics use or look at FB? What percentage of senior managers in F1000 companies look for product or service information for their company through FB? I would be very surprised if there was anything more than a very small percentage.

  • Thanks. All of the tips are really helpful. I like the check in best. I think it will not only work with friends but if we go to group pages of similar interests, it might have a nice result as well.

  • reallifesarah

    “According to the 2013 Social Rich Media Benchmark Report (ShopIgniter), promoting your Facebook posts with a paid ad increases organic and viral reach significantly but reduces click-throughs.”

    Does this mean it reduces click through RATE, or the total number of click throughs?

  • Mimi

    Great information to be found here. I’ll definitely share this (sans hashtags)!

  • Pradosh Mitra

    Thanks Patricia, for this informative post. The graphs definitely helps a lot. Even more, are your “Key Takeaways”. To tell you the truth, that style is my bonus takeaway from this post.

  • Must be my cold medicine. Sorry 😉

  • predsicker

    Hi Nigel, thanks for sharing your experience. Actually what you’re saying is consistent with #2. Notice that unpaid text only posts (status updates) receive 5x more reach than photos. So in fact you are affirming the research.

  • predsicker

    Thanks for the comment Sarah. No I don’t think I’ve seen a promoted note either. Not really sure who uses them and for what purpose 🙂

  • predsicker

    Thanks for reading Bea.

  • predsicker

    Not sure I understand your question Tracie. Let me try… If you’re a business owner with a brick & mortar store, you want to advocate for check-ins because it’s the equivalent of word-of-mouth endorsements. And by the way, I would think as a page admin you’d be able to see “who” checked in via Facebook Places (can someone confirm this please?).

  • predsicker

    You’re welcome – thanks for reading 🙂

  • predsicker

    That’s true – In fact I was just telling Robert ^^^ that Marketo uses the same strategy quite effectively i.e. landing pages though I’m not sure if theirs are paid or unpaid. However, if the post content is engaging and creates a lot of interest, then people will be more likely to clickthrough to the landing page. If you see that happening, you could always boost it further with an ad. What do you think?

  • predsicker

    Good to know the research is resonating – thanks Ian 🙂

  • predsicker

    It works for me! Are you sure you’re looking at Public View and not Admin View?

  • predsicker

    Good observation Dan – that sounds sensible. Let’s see how it works out…

  • predsicker

    I’m afraid I don’t know how that works William – can anyone lend a hand on this one?

  • predsicker

    Sure thing Mario!

  • predsicker

    That’s the idea – they’re in business too 😉

  • predsicker

    Click through RATE 🙂

  • predsicker

    Of course – and #thanks 😉

  • predsicker

    So glad to hear that Pradosh. Thank you for that feedback!

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  • Sasha

    How do you create a check-in sponsored story tho? Searched everywhere…

  • Lifting the Burden

    This article has helped a ton with my understanding the do’s and don’ts of Facebook marketing. My question is I work for an errand and concierge service and we do not have a storefront for customers to check-in at. How do I get the check-in stories to work for me?

  • Jen Picard

    Patricia –

    I love reading articles like this to get a firm grasp of best practices and to learn what’s working for other brands – it’s a great starting off point for my own testing. I definitely have some food for thought, like how many of my Facebook visitors come from a mobile device and what are the bounce and conversion rates for them (especially compared to Facebook visitors from desktop). IRT paid ads, it will be interesting see not only how they affect conversions, but also negative feedback. Thanks so much for sharing all this great data!

    I’ve added it to my weekly round-up of epically awesome social media blog posts – which I hope will get you some additional traffic! Would love if you shared it:

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  • Emily McIntyre

    Thanks for the great post; some solid, helpful tips for FB marketing!

  • Mig– I’ll bet you do a lot better than the 3.2% if you micro-target to audiences less than 500. You can routinely get 5% on mobile newsfeed placements on any type.

  • predsicker

    Hi Sasha, you (as the biz owner CANNOT generate a sponsored check-in story). Remember that checking-in is an action that originates with a user/customer. So they have to check in first (i.e. it is user generated) and then you can hihglight that action by boosting it with a paid ad. See this article for more info:

  • predsicker

    If you don’t have a physical location, then check-in stories are not for you! However, you can leverage other types of ads such as sponsored ‘Page Like’ stories.

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  • Brian C Whiteman

    What is a sponsored check-in story ?

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  • thank you for a great article. However, I am not really sure how to turn that into clients. Is there a better way of using FB for client generation?

  • Stephen

    I’m heading for Google+. Really really disappointed in how FB operates now. At the end of the day “Cough up the cash, and we will help you” is Facebook’s attitude. That’s the bottom line; and it’s why page owners are so annoyed. If you have 5,000 fans and 1000 of them comment/like/share on your posts then that’s the amount of people you should be able to reach; but that’s not the case. “It’s free and always will be” LOL!

  • this is interesting about facebook marketing. Been using hashtags in facebook but wonder how useful they are.

  • however, i’m not too sure what’s sponsored checkin. Anyone can help?

  • Fantastic article. I am very surprised that #hashtags are not working on Facebook. I do agree that Facebook and Twitter are two separate platforms. Hashtags may work on Twitter but may not work on Facebook. Fantastic work!

  • I was wondering to create a business page on Facebook with a view to help my business grow further. This article has helped me immensely by showing what to do and what not to do. The screenshots of the graphs helped me have a deeper understanding as well. From now, I would stress more on posting paid-ads to improve the reach of my business. Thanks a lot for sharing the insights with all of us.

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  • Better engagement and targeting. Good direct response copy and relevant content to your audience consistently is what works best for me. “Drive by likers” will still happen, since it’s such a massive platform.

  • ron

    hey patricia. I had quick question that I m in pizza business. and can u give me some idea to market my product and website. I have no knowledge of marketing .

  • pranayrupani

    Most leads from Facebook have turned out to be fake or of very low quality but the price difference between a genuine lead from Facebook is still a lot lower than on Google. Boosting a landing page link with an ad has brought dismal results.

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  • Linda Williams

    Could I make the ‘check in’ feature work for an online only business?

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