The new urgency to create sticky content for Facebook

sticky content for facebook

One of the challenging things about marketing today is that the rules of engagement are constantly shifting. Often, a strategy that worked yesterday will not work today.

Just when you think you’ve figured out Facebook, it moves and morphs in interesting new ways. A few days ago, Facebook announced that the algorithm it uses to determine which content is prioritized in user News Feeds will now take into account how long users spend viewing posts.

In a company blog post, Facebook explained how the new ranking factor will work:

For example, you may scroll quickly through your News Feed and like a photo of your friend’s graduation, followed by sharing a funny post from your sister. You keep scrolling and happen upon a post your cousin shared detailing everything she did and saw on her recent trip. Her post even includes a photo.

You spend time reading her post and the interesting discussion about the best places to eat that had broken out in the comments on this post, but you don’t feel inclined to like or comment on it yourself. Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future.

This should not be a surprise to anyone following Facebook closely. The move supports the fundamental economics of the platform and its strategy to be a deeper source of news. And, it makes sense. If you are spending more time on content, it’s probably a reliable indicator of good content!

But what’s surprising is the relative lack of reliable research available on what types of content attract the most time on Facebook. Remember a few years ago the strategy was multi-photo albums and other rich photo content. Then video was the conventional wisdom. More recently, some people have opined that they were having more success posting links.

Sticky is the new cool

The answer is, there probably is no single answer! Any content that provides “stickiness” for Facebook will have a better chance of surviving the ruthless News Feed editing process.

And I should mention that different rules might apply for brands. In the announcement, the company stated “we do not expect Pages to see significant changes in distribution as a result of this update.”

But it probably makes sense to consider stickiness in anything that you create, right?

Facebook provides analytics on reach, clicks, and likes, but it doesn’t yet provide insights on time spent on a post. As the quote from the Facebook blog suggests, likes and comments are not necessarily indicators that people are spending time on your content.

So let’s go back to basics. What do we know about content that we can apply to this insight that time on a post matters?

The mysteries of engagement

We know that creating engagement on a post can increase “votes” that it will rise up in a news feed, but what is the impact of engagement on the time factor?

I’d guess that people will not spend a lot of time on inane posts like “What is your favorite lollipop flavor” even though they might leave a comment and “engage” with it. So, measuring time on post might be a way for Facebook to push down the stupid stuff like this even if the post gets a lot of engagement.

However, in a really hot debate, I might spend an enormous amount of time on the comments. In fact, I might come back to a controversial post several times in a day.

So one lesson might be — don’t post for the sake of meaningless engagement. People spend time with content that provides meaningful, and perhaps even provocative, debate. An interesting angle for brands — do they really want provocative debate? Don’t the lawyers usually discourage that sort of thing?

Go deep

Facebook’s desire for story stickiness has been boiling for a long time. The Facebook Instant Articles initiative, for instance, encourages important publishers like The New York Times to offer content and share in the ad revenue. It’s probable that Facebook could use analytics data from Instant Articles consumption to determine what articles its users are most likely to be interested in, and prioritize those in their News Feeds.

It’s not hard to figure out that Facebook is looking for longer, more meaningful content because of course people will spend more time on something like that instead of “my dog just threw up.”

But posting long-form content (and not just a link) creates a new tension between our companies and Google search — which is exactly what Facebook wants, of course. If we publish on Facebook instead of our own sites, or even in addition to our own sites, Facebook possibly neutralizes any advantage from Google. Our companies might be making content decisions like “Is this strategically more important to post on Facebook, and what is the impact on Google SEO?”

Viewing this article on Facebook registers no traffic to my site, which is also my business. Yikes.

Video strikes again

We are in a video world and this content form has risen steadily in popularity as quality and quantity have increased. Both Twitter and Facebook have their own video players now so you don’t have to leave the site to enjoy the latest adventures of cats and their cardboard boxes. Facebook is already getting 4 billion video views per day, rvialing YouTube!

It’s a good bet that video will play a major factor in content stickiness but again, that has big implications for content strategy and SEO.

Rising emotions

In my new book The Content Code, which is an examination of strategies to get your content to move, there is one word that comes up over and over — emotion. Content that makes you feel deeply — awe, fear, joy — will also be content you will want to share. I don’t believe it is too far of a leap to project that you will read, and spend time with, the content you share.

Those are a few thoughts but I’m sure we all have much more to learn with this strategy. I would cherish your thoughts in the comment section. What is your strategy to produce sticky content for Facebook?

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Teresa Williams

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