Social media offers great opportunity to gain brand awareness and drive conversions. With 2.7 billion monthly active users1 and 1.7 billion active daily2, Facebook is the biggest social channel. Research shows brand Facebook pages build relationships that turn consumers into customers,3 increasing their likelihood to purchase.4,5,6 Increased brand page activity can also elevate search engine rank, click-through rate, and conversion rate.7
Despite these opportunities, reaching consumers on Facebook has become more of a challenge. Organic reach, the total number of people shown a brand post without payment, has dropped from 16% in 2012 to as low as 2%.8 The good news is that individual brands and posts can and often do get better than average results. We approached viral social media based on a three-part framework where shares indicate viral reach, likes measure affective evaluation, and comments demonstrate message deliberation.9
Sharable, Likable, and Conversational
Facebook changes the algorithm used to determine what appears in users’ news feeds. In more recent changes, Facebook reports that brand page organic reach is now more dependent on people sharing posts. To appear in more news feeds content must be sharable.10 Research confirms that shares can contribute to 55% of impressions for brand posts.11 Shares contribute to viral reach which builds awareness.
Likes are another measure of engagement. When someone likes a post they are showing a positive emotional reaction. This affective evaluation is a sign of a consumer liking a brand over other content or even other brands. This could be a sign of consumers considering alternatives and building a preference. Likes can also provide signs of social proof, indicating the content is valued by others.
Comments are the third measure of engagement. Comments on a post indicate that not only have people seen the message but that they are deliberating on it. This deeper consideration may be seen as a sign of purchase intent. They are invested enough to affirm the message or ask questions. More comments are also a form of social proof. The more comments, the more perceived value of the post.
Engaging Messages in Post Text
Our study randomly selected 1,000 Facebook brand posts from various brands and various industries ranging in size from under 18,000 fans to more than 57 million. We looked at the text of the post, coding for 18 possible variables from number of words, hashtags, promotions, and celebrities to words that indicated new/now (such as “new,” “now,” or “introducing”), date/time (indicating a specific time, date, or deadline), or educational content. Five produced significant differences. All results were independent of the number of fans a brand page had.
First, we found that brand Facebook posts with new/now messages received significantly more shares—a sign of viral reach. New/now messages also received significantly more comments, which is an indication of message deliberation. To increase shares and viral reach or comments and message deliberation, try to craft messages that convey a sense of something new or happening now for the first time. Posts can be written to convey a sense of new without using that specific word.
Next, we found that brand Facebook posts with a time/date message also received significantly more shares. Thus, another way to increase shares and viral reach is to add a specific time or date to a post. Examples could be a product release date, time and date for an event, or a deadline for an offer, order, or submission. The posts that performed better didn’t necessarily use the words time and date but had a specific time or date in the post text.
Finally, we found that brand Facebook posts with educational messages received significantly fewer likes and significantly fewer comments. Educational posts on Facebook reduce emotional response or affective evaluation (fewer likes) and reduce further time investment of message deliberation in leaving comments. This negative result surprised us. We are often told to create valuable content, but it seems that when people are on Facebook, they are not looking for educational content.
Posts in the Buyer’s Journey
We noticed that this three-part social media viral frame work can be compared to the typical buyer’s journey. Increasing viral reach (shares) can be seen to help increase awareness; affective evaluation (likes) can be seen to impact consideration; and message deliberation (comments) can be seen to help influence purchase intent.
A new agent, team, or firm (or even a seasoned agent looking to increase social media reach) may need to first focus on increasing awareness with consumers through shares. Once a consumer is aware and is in the consideration phase, the consumer is looking for ways to differentiate alternatives. Here, the agent could focus on increasing affective evaluation through likes as positive signs to distinguish from the competition.
In the purchase stage, consumers seek final confirmation that they are making the right decision. Seeing comments from other customers helps achieve this. In the purchase stage, the agent or firm could look to increase comments as a way to answer questions, provide further details, and provide testimonials to convince consumers of the purchase. It would also be helpful to encourage post-purchase customers to share their experiences in comments to influence new customers.
For real estate agents looking to craft sharable and likeable posts, consider including text in your posts that integrate the new/now, such as listings hitting the market “today” or listings that were “just listed.” Highlight photos of “newly remodeled” or “brand new” features in your listings. Consider sharing open house details in the post text rather than including the time/date as a graphic or in an image. Agents can also re-share old posts or images of house closings from prior years, which may encourage the buyers and those involved in the sale to share the post, as well.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the one post type that had a significant negative impact was the most frequent content type of the sample (27%). This indicates that marketers may be mistaken in thinking that educational content drives viral effectiveness, when it actually may be having the opposite effect.
Our research team would like to thank Unmetric for providing the data for our study.
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Quesenberry, Keith A. and Michael K. Coolsen (2018), “What Makes Facebook Brand Posts Engaging? A Content Analysis of Facebook Brand Post Text That increases Shares, Likes, and Comments to Influence Organic Viral Reach,” Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, 40(3), 229-244.
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- Facebook (July 30, 2020), Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 2nd quarter 2020 (in millions) [Graph], In Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/
- Facebook (July 30, 2020), Number of daily active Facebook users worldwide as of 2nd quarter 2020 (in millions) [Graph], In Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/346167/facebook-global-dau/
- Popa, Adela Laura, Naiana Nicoleta Tarca, and Dinu Vlad Sasu (2016), “An Experiment on Using Online Marketing Tools for Promoting Higher Education Services,” Annals of the University of Oradea, Economic Science Series, 25(2), 588-93.
- Xie, Karen and Young-Jin Lee (2015), “Social Media and Brand Purchase: Quantifying the Effects of Exposures to Earned and Owned Social Media Activities in a Two-Stage Decision Making Model,” Journal of Management Information Systems, 32(2), 204-38.
- Lee, Jieun and Ilyoo B. Hong (2016), “Predicting Positive User Responses to Social Media Advertising: The Roles of Emotional Appeal, Informativeness, and Creativity,” International Journal of Information Management, 36(3), 360-373.
- Phua, Joe and Sun Joo Ahn (2016), “Explicating the ‘Like’ on Facebook Brand Pages: The Effect of Intensity of Facebook Use, Number of Overall ‘Likes’, and Number of Friends’ ‘Likes’ on Consumers’ Brand Outcomes,” Journal of Marketing Communications, 22(5), 544-59.
- Yang, Shuai, Shan Lin, Jeffrey R. Carlson, and William T. Ross (2016), “Brand Engagement on Social Media: will Firms’ Social Media Efforts Influence Search Engine Advertising Effectiveness?” Journal of Marketing Management, 32(5-6), 526-557.
- Social@Ogilvy (March 6, 2014), “Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach,” Accessed May 31, 2017: https://social.ogilvy.com/facebook-zero-considering-life-after-the-demise-of-organic-reach/.
- Alhabash, Saleem and Anna R. McAlister (2015), “Redefining Virality in Less Broad Strokes: Predicting Viral Behavioral Intentions from Motivations and Uses of Facebook and Twitter,” New Media & Society, 17(8), 1317-1339.
- Peterson, Ti (June 29, 2016), “Facebook Makes Pages’ Organic Reach in News Feed Even More Dependent on Share,” MarketingLand.com (blog), http://marketingland.com/facebook-makes-pages-organic-reach-even-dependent-shares-182769.
- (2015) “Socialbakers Finds Share Correlate 94% with Brand’s Viral Reach,” Socialbakers.com (blog), https://www.socialbakers.com/blog/2471-socialbakers-finds-shares-correlate-94-with-brands-viral-reach.
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About the Authors
Keith A. Quesenberry, M.S. IMC
Associate Professor of Marketing, Messiah University
Keith Quesenberry’s (M.S. IMC West Virginia University) research interests include digital marketing, social media, content analysis, and online teaching. His research has specifically looked at the impact of storytelling in advertising and viral marketing to inform and enhance digital and social media strategies. He previously spent 17 years in the professional marketing communications field. He is author of Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution, 3rd Edition. His research has appeared in Journal of Interactive Marketing, the Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, the International Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications, the Journal of Advertising Education, Journalism and Mass Communications Educator, Commission on Public Relations Education, and Advertising Age.
Michael K. Coolsen, PhD
Professor of Marketing, Shippensburg University
Dr. Michael Coolsen’s (PhD – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) research interests include close relationship theory, its application to the consumer-brand relationship, and IMC/social media. Michael teaches a variety of marketing courses including marketing analytics, marketing research, and consumer behavior. His work has appeared in various journals and trade publications, such as Ad Age, the Journal of Interactive Marketing, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice.