It’s no secret that at StoneTemple we are Google+ enthusiasts.
It’s widely known in the Google+ community that image posts are the most effective. And it makes sense; today’s users expect a rich experience when they interact with the web, with quality, eye-catching visuals that convey the tone and message of the content.
For most digital marketing campaigns, compelling and engaging images are a key component; whether it’s a content marketing campaign centered around an infographic or great pictures to build a Pinterest audience.
So we were bit surprised to find that when it comes to Facebook, the effectiveness of image posts is much less clear.
If you are not familiar with Facebook post types there are three:
- Image posts (where you upload an image)
- Link shares (where you share a link in the post and Facebook generates a preview of the linked web page)
- Status updates, which are text based
A short history of Facebook changes for the different post types
Image posts used to work wonderfully on Facebook, but as early as the spring of 2013, Facebook marketers noticed the reach of their image posts declining. “Reach” is a metric defined by Facebook as the “the number of unique users who saw your Page post in news feed, ticker, or on your Page’s timeline.”
Then on August 23, 2013 Facebook announced an update to their News Feed ranking algorithm that would reward “high quality posts.” This algorithmic update was based on feedback from a survey that Facebook conducted which asked participants questions that included “Would you call this a low quality post or meme?” On that same day Techcrunch published comments from Facebook that confirmed that “Pages that are exclusively posting low quality, meme content might see a bigger drop”
Now not all image posts are memes, but Facebook marketers continued to report that all image posts (not just memes) had a significantly smaller reach than other types of posts, especially status updates. Coupled with the overall (and continuing) declining organic reach of Facebook Page posts, the seemingly poor performance of image posts caused consternation among some marketers which had come to rely on this “free” form of marketing.
Then on January 21, 2014 Chris Turitzin of Facebook announced a change to the algorithm that would decrease the reach of status updates from Pages. In the announcement Chris said:
“Page admins can expect a decrease in the distribution of their text status updates, but they may see some increases in engagement and distribution for other story types … we recommend that you use the story type that best fits the message that you want to tell – whether that’s a status, photo, link or video.”
Did this mean that link shares and image posts would perform better in 2014?
Not according to one of our clients, savings.com. Their social media team was consistently observing that status updates had a drastically higher reach than either image posts or link shares. There was such a difference that when the post had links the team was removing the link preview so that the post would be categorized as a status update rather than a link share. Certainly this practice was not following the Facebook recommendation of “using the story type that best fits the message”.
On Facebook your post’s reach can depend on the time of day (your reach will be higher when your audience is online) as well as the engagement it gets. So to confirm our impressions of the performance, we collaborated on a test where we would post very similar posts, one an image post and one status update at the same time of the day a day or two apart.
Here is a sample of the results:
|Post Type||Post Date||Organic Post Reach|
|Photo||8/5/2014 10:37 AM||516|
|Status||8/1/2014 10:24 AM||2155|
|Photo||7/21/2014 10:35 AM||559|
|Status||7/23/2014 11:00 AM||4030|
|Photo||7/4/2014 11:00 AM||620|
|Status||7/3/2014 10:30 AM||3784|
|Photo||6/30/2014 10:37 AM||406|
|Status||7/1/2014 11:35 AM||2728|
|Photo||5/28/2014 10:41 AM||677|
|Status||5/27/2014 09:55 AM||3864|
As you can see the reach of the status posts is a staggering 400% to 700% higher than a similar image post! And while we didn’t test link shares as extensively, their reach was similarly small.
But is reach the most important stat to look at?
As I mentioned before, Reach is a measure of how many people saw your post. While a high reach is excellent for branding, your organization might be looking for engagement instead, as measured by clicks, likes or comments on the post.
Even with savings.com’s small reach I did observe that the link shares and to a greater extent, image posts, had better engagement. You would expect this; link share and image posts takes up more real estate in the news feed and catch the eye of the reader, while a small text post might slip by unnoticed. But the next question was: Did the higher engagement compensate for the drastically smaller reach?
The virality of image posts
To answer that question I sifted through over 2-1/2 months of post performance data from Facebook insights. I decided to focus on Viral Reach (the number of unique users who saw your page post in a story from a friend) and Engaged Users (the number of unique users that clicked anywhere in your posts) as measures of a post’s effectiveness.
I first excluded any boosted posts as well as any posts that had a strong call to action. For example a post that let people know they could get a free drink at a LA bar by mentioning “SAVINGS” or any post that advertised a time sensitive deal I excluded as CTA posts. These were mostly image posts that enjoyed higher reach and engagement and it didn’t seem fair to compare them to a status update that included a link to a blog post.
However even with the best performing image posts excluded, and handicapped by the significantly smaller reach, the image posts still drove more engagement and viral activity than the status posts. To get the numbers below I calculated the percentage of users of the total reach who saw the post virally or engaged with it and averaged it per post type.
(Although I’ve included link share data below, please note link shares only comprised 10% of the posts).
Avg Viral Reach (%)
Avg. Viral Reach (#)
Avg. Engaged Users (%)
Avg. Enaged Users (#)
As you can see from the data, image posts, despite their much smaller reach are the winners when it comes to virality and engagement.
So what’s the takeaway here?
So does this mean that to get higher engagement and more viral activity you should exclusively post image posts on your Facebook page? I wouldn’t recommend it.
Your mileage may vary. First of all, if this data proves anything, it is that you should take any published statements (including from me) with a large grain of salt and do your own testing, as your results may vary. And although I have no proof to support this speculation, I wouldn’t be surprised if a page heavy with image posts trips some Facebook filter that further hurts the performance of your posts.
Know your goals. After you have analyzed your own Facebook insights data, get clear on your social media goals. If you are looking for better reach but don’t want to sacrifice engagement, study the image posts and link shares that have had better reach (you’ll likely find a few that have done much better than their peers). One link share that had 3x the reach of the average asked a compelling question.
Beware link shorteners. One change that we will be making that could improve engagement for the status updates is to discontinue using bit.ly links. This Social Media Examiner article cites a Buddy Media study that found engagement rates were three times higher for Facebook posts that used a full URL rather than a link shortener. Using a branded URL shortener instead could remove the hesitation some readers might have on clicking on the links. Whether this change will make status updates the clear winner in engagement as well as reach is yet to be seen.
What has been your experience with the performance of the different Facebook post types? Does your data look different?