I looked at a year’s worth of social media data so you didn’t have to

The only thing that is constant is change. — Heraclitus

I believe Heraclitus was ahead, very ahead, of his time when he spoke these fateful words. Any social media manager would tell you coming into work is like walking into battle. Alright, that was dramatic, but with changing algorithms, the addition of new features, and removing features we just created a new strategy because of, it can be hard to create a great social media strategy to meet internal goals.

Data Driven Decisions

Marketers and social media managers would agree that the best way to tackle tough choices or develop a marketing strategy is by taking a look at the data. But sometimes the questions “what data?” So, to kick off 2018, I looked at all of it. Well, as much as I could find.

Of course, over a calendar year the landscape changes. Aside from a growing number of followers across all our channels, we had a number of paid campaigns, boosted posts, and unique events (from Oprah at commencement to an emergency on campus) that can, as scientists call it, really screw with the numbers.

Battling the Elements

It’s important to keep those “big” and uniquely-engaging moments in mind when trying to dive into a pool of numbers and percentages, especially when looking over the course of the year. Sometimes, it’s easy to explain spikes in engagement because of big news, but more often it’s hard to figure out.

Aside from internal factors (paid campaigns or big news), the Social Media Gods play a major role. In 2017 alone some big things happened that can alter an organization’s social media game:

  • Facebook Page owners across the board were seeing significantly lower reach toward the end of the year, indicating that the platform was shifting much closer to a “pay to play” model (note the recent news about the new 2018 algorithm, focusing more on person-to-person relationships).
  • Instagram rolled out a “paid partnership with” tag in its posts and stories, giving more exposure to partnerships in paid posts (similarly, Facebook allowed co-sponsoring of posts and urged advertisers to tag their partner if they suspected another company was involved in an ad)
  • Twitter doubled its character count, allowing for more content and less weird abbreviations. They also stopped counting links or images as characters.
  • Facebook in its fight to conquer #fakenews removed the ability for Facebook Page owners to change headlines, subheads, and photos associated with link previews.
  • Instagram announced that, like every other channel you follow your friends on, posts would no longer be posted in chronological order, but based on “what you might care about the most.” Sure does take the Insta out of Instagram, but what do I know.

Facebook

Reach

Facebook reach is a golden metric for most managers. How many people saw our really amazing content? With high volumes this metric is challenging to measure; even looking at the same post on different platforms can deliver different numbers. Facebook may report 1,900 viewers reached while a tool such as Sprout Social reports 850. Which metric is right? Ultimately, the answer is to measure at a consistent time with a consistent tool…and hope for the best.

If your number of followers is increasing over time (most all pages are), then the reach of each post, in theory, should also increase. The trend line for the first half of the year increased steadily, until a really amazing month. What was our secret sauce? I’ll share it.

Recipe for incredibly high reach

  • 1 cup of Princeton Review rankings
  • 2 cups of celebrity sparkle (mix two alumni at the Emmy Awards)
  • 1 large pinch of presidential statement regarding the August 2017 incident in Charlottesville, VA

We mixed up our secret sauce and marinated our posts in it, but could only make a very limited batch. High-reaching posts are those that resonate with a wide audience (pride for the institution, for example) and are timely and relevant to a more national or world-wide discussion. With all this content posted within a short window, reach spiked.

Unfortunately, our great engagement and reach was not rewarded as the year went on, but come on Facebook! Give us something! That drop in reach just isn’t fair. This happened right around the time many page managers were seeing a significant decrease in reach for posts no matter the topic. The page saw a 73% drop in average reach before our secret sauce month.

The trend to note though, when it comes to reach: nothing can change it. Posting more or less or hoping for more reactions or engagements have no correlation with the number of unique eyeballs on content.

Post more, more likes, more unlikes

The most interesting Facebook correlation is dictated by the number of posts each month. Unsurprisingly, posting more often means more link clicks (even though trend lines indicate more posts don’t necessarily mean more total engagements, weird), but it also means more likes to the page in the month — and more unlikes.

While not something page managers are necessarily thinking about, it makes inherent sense (unlike some aspects of social media management). More posts means more opportunities for social reach. More social reach means more new consumers. More new consumers means more likes to the page. But before you switch up your social strategy to double the number of posts each month, beware. This same logic can be applied to unlikes on your page. More posts means an increased likelihood of followers getting irritated with seeing something other than their friend’s dogs and babies, and they can easily solve the problem by unfollowing your page.

The solution is to create great content, and not content for the sake of a post. Determine what resonates with your audience and narrow down what parts are working for you. It could be the photo, headline, or even using emoji that make a difference. Unless you’re using a third-party product, you may have a hard time seeing your posts across an entire year. Take a look each week or month to see the top-engaged post, top-reaching post (they’re not always the same), or most shared post and keep a log of these successes. Suddenly, trends will begin to form and so will your Facebook strategy.

Twitter

Play the long game

A big goal for marketers when it comes to Twitter, at least for me, is driving the audience back to the website. Thanks to Twitter allowing users to go back to simpler times (a chronological timeline. You can adjust this in your settings), the best chance of reaching this goal is to make awesome clickable content.

In the beginning of the year, I experimented with posting similar content multiple times per day (meaning that in its essence, it was the same post with the same link, but perhaps had a different image or slightly different copy) to help click numbers. This is probably what drove up the number of unfollows. Whoops.

The simplest way to get the number of link clicks to increase? Create relevant content. All of the top-clicked Tweets included a photo that was engaging or iconic (or a gif), and resonated with a wider audience.

Instagram

“EventualGram”

Instagram threw away their “Insta” name in practice and moved to an algorithmic news feed based on what their users may care about the most. For social media managers this meant a whole new algorithm to try and beat. The game was less about what time to post content and more about posting content that works.

If the name of the game is more likes — the way that many users measure their self-worth — then it has to be played with posts. Posting more often each month lead to an increase in the number of likes, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to users who are posting great content. Like Facebook, this doesn’t mean doubling the number of posts only to increase numbers, but to research what is resonating with the audience who have already told Instagram yes, I do want to see more of this on my feed by liking your content.

Instagram is text-based

For better or worse, content creators for Instagram need to be well versed in photo and video to make great content; no text allowed! Or is it?

It’s easy to forget the other big part of Instagram: commenting and showing other accounts some love. By bringing the social part of social media back into the Instagram game (as in, commenting on others’ posts more frequently), followership increased. Bonus points for following new accounts or commenting on posts from accounts that don’t already follow you.

LinkedIn

The dependable underdog

Here’s the thing about LinkedIn: despite its terrible decision to create University Pages, it’s a really great source of engagement — especially now that the Company and University pages are finally merged. The audience may be smaller, but the engagement rate is consistent and higher compared to Facebook.

Most social media managers discount LinkedIn in their social media strategies, but I would suggest reconsidering! It’s the most predictable, meaning more posts = more likes + more comments + more clicks. This won’t mean in the future, departments across campus will send emails daily begging for their bake sale to be featured on LinkedIn, but it does mean that an increased percentage of campus news and stories can be shared there with an expectation of being relevant to a large (and growing) audience.

What’s the plan for 2018?

Looking at an entire year’s worth of social media data is overwhelming but can reveal some interesting trends. The key to developing a 2018 social media strategy is to start small. Create one goal for each platform and work toward it. Measure consistently (not only at the end of the year) and adjust as needed! Don’t forget about the changing landscape and factors you can’t control, including algorithm changes and social trends. At the end of the year, you may be surprised what works and what doesn’t!