When it comes to social networking, Facebook boasts some of the most impressive usage numbers. According to a study recently released by comScore, the site reaches 3 out of every 4 U.S. Internet users, each of whom spent about 7 hours browsing the social network in December 2011 -- a 32 percent jump from the previous year.
So, whether you're an emerging start-up, an up-and-coming musician, or just an average user, Facebook can be one of the best and easiest ways to both connect and engage with a large audience.
Many well-known businesses have already realized Facebook's potential to improve relationships with consumers via brand pages. (Side note: The social network announced at its first-ever marketing conference last week that it will outfit all brand pages with the new Timeline layout by the end of March.) But you don't have to be a big-name business or a popular celebrity to score points with the audience you're trying to reach. Posting the right things at the right times will help you make the most of your Facebook experience and prevent you from being "that guy" from whom friends or fans would be more than happy to unsubscribe.
According to Facebook, which recently released a Best Practices Guide for businesses, posts between 100 and 250 characters in length (or less than 3 lines of texts) are often the most effective, garnering about 60 percent more likes, comments, and shares than ones that are longer. In addition, Facebook pointed out that, in general, user engagement for the 18-24 age demographic is highest between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Facebook also revealed some fairly common sense tips from its study of internal data. Fans are more likely to engage with topics that are already top of mind, such as current events, holidays or news," according to Facebook's Best Practices guide. "For example, posts mentioning Independence Day on July 4th generated about 90% more engagement than all posts published on that day."
Settling on a specific voice for your Page or profile may also prove an effective tool for engaging your audience, the social network advises. The Best Practices guide also suggests using keywords that are unique to your brand or personality. Active engagement with users through exclusive offers, feedback requests on certain products, and calls to action (asking them to like, comment, share, etc.) is key in connecting to users on a new and perhaps deeper level. For example, Facebook notes that "Fill-in-the-blank posts generate about 90% more engagement than the average text post."
Other sources outside Facebook offer helpful tips for Facebook page administrators looking to boost user engagement and reach.
Social Media Examiner lists some best practices for dealing with irate fans. Instead of deleting the angry commenter's posts or blocking the person from your page (which SME suggests only as a last resort), admins are encouraged to respond to the fan and patiently address his or her concerns, perhaps even contacting the person privately. (Visit SME for more tips.)
PCWorld offers several practical pointers for Facebook users. For example, PCWorld advises not to overwhelm followers with updates, particularly updates about mundane details. Rants about politics or personal issues should be avoided, as should cryptic messages and images that may be NSFW. PCWorld also includes a list of topics that users should feel encouraged to post on Facebook. Click here to view them all.
A study released in August 2011 titled Engagement and Interaction: A Scientific Approach to Facebook Marketing claims that pages should work to find a balance between posting too frequently and too rarely. "As you might suspect, fewer posts reduce the chances users will see them," according to Entrepreneur.com's analysis of the study. "And while unsubscribe rates go up after three posts per day, they level off at higher frequencies. The secret is to find that balance between optimizing interaction and managing unsubscribes, which is going to be different for every business."
The same study also advises page admins to post on the weekends and during the hours of 2 p.m. through 5 a.m. on weekdays, as users tend to engage with those posts more frequently than with posts written during normal business hours.
And how can you track the effectiveness of your Facebook posts? The social network's beefed-up Page Insights feature allows page administrators and developers to view stats for the page's posts. "Basically, Insights allows all Page administrators and developers access to the Page’s metrics so they can see how their posts are performing across the site. Admins will be able to see how many Facebook users a post reaches, how many users it engages, and how many people then begin a discussion about it," writes WebProNews in its overview of the expanded feature.
For more Facebook tips, check out the slideshow (below) for a list of 13 things you should never post on Facebook.