Imagine that you are standing at the podium in front of a large audience who purchased tickets to see you. After speaking for a while, you start to see their eyes glazing over. You are not connecting with them. As their attention wanders, you see people start to filter out of the room.  Eventually, you find yourself speaking to a room where the seats are half empty.

That is, in effect, what happens to your Facebook audience when your updates fail to interest them enough to get them to react or respond in some way.  Many people may like your page, but if you write a post and no one clicks on it or comments, it’s going to hurt your ability to reach your audience. It will be as if their seat in the room is empty.

 

How to assure that your messages are shown

Edgerank, Facebook’s system of screening content to select what is shown to people in their feeds, is based on the quality of your content, as determined largely by how much people interact with it.  Facebook has not shared the details of this formula, but what we do understand is that receiving the thumbs up of the like button is like silver and getting an actual comment is like gold.

Let’s go back to that auditorium for a moment.  You realize that you are losing your audience, so you look up at them, pause for a minute, and ask a question that stops them in their tracks. People start raising their hands. They want to stand up and share their responses.  They start moving back to their seats, willing to hang out with you for a while now and hear what you have to say.

It’s not how many people like your page, it’s how many people like the conversation

On Facebook, you are building a relationship and that requires different types of updates.  Not every one will be a thought-provoking question that stops people in their tracks, but judicious use of this device is critical to the mix.  It encourages deeper engagement (a benefit in and of itself) and the resulting comments help get you through Facebook’s filter and into peoples’ feeds.

Looking at questions that elicit a high rate of comments, we can analyze what it is that moved people to spend the time to type out a response.  Let’s assume you have a decent number of people who have liked your page.  If you’re a local pizza shop, that may mean 300 people and if you’re Pizza Hut, it may mean 3 million. What’s more important is the percentage of those people who like or comment on a post.  I’ll use .2% as a benchmark for pages with under a million likes and .1% for those with 1-2 million likes. (Once you have many millions of likes, it’s unusual to get that percentage, but when a page like Toy Story, that has over 17 million likes receives over 9,500 comments and 6,000 likes to an update, we’ll call it a winner.)

What are some examples of good, engaging questions and who has mastered this art?

Whole Foods consistently drives conversation on their Facebook page.  With 565,000 likes, two recent posts received over 2,000 comments (.4%)  Those questions were: “We’re curious . . . which book or movie has influenced your eating habits the most?” and “If you could eat only one thing each day for all 365 days of the year, what would it be?” These are thought-provoking, caring questions that are fun to answer.  They are in keeping with the brand because they are about healthy eating and appeal to a consumer who is educated and interested in the topic. They are not necessarily about the brand’s own products but about the lifestyle that surrounds them.

NPR, with 1.6  million likes asks: “We want to know the image that first forced you, as a child, to think about the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Mushroom cloud? Bomb shelter? Chernobyl?  Post your memory in the comments below.”  NPR received over 3,700 comments (over .2%) This question required thought, asked for a memory and added an emotional component as well. NPR showed their understanding of their consumers by asking a politically and socially focused question that seemed to favor a demographic (baby boomers) that likely comprise a large number of people. They also explicitly asked for the comment.

The Knot, a site for couples planning a wedding, has 90,000 likes and asked “tell us about your centerpieces”, receiving 173 comments (.2%). This open ended question asks readers to share something personal about one of the issues they come to this company’s site to decide.  Questions like this also encourage more people to read comments because the answers give people ideas that may help them. Readers have the opportunity to vote up a comment by hitting the like button, adding to engagement and giving extra points to your Edgerank score, while they stick around and engage with you.

Another good bet for a question that will generate comments is one with a blank at the end.  Walmart asked this question: “Happy first day of Spring! We’re excited for blooming flowers, baby vegetables and longer days. Fill in the blank: I’m excited for ________.”  This question received 2,500 comments and over 3,000 likes.

Toy Story with 17.8 milllion likes asked “if you were a toy from any Toy Story film, who would you be?”  This question received 9,745 comments and over 6,000 likes. Although many brands ask the “What is your favorite. . . “ question–the one with the format that sets up an if/then situation is more interesting because it requires more imagination.

So, what are the three qualities of a question that will elicit a high percentage of comments?

First, it must be “on brand,” which means that you use appropriate terminology and speak about what is meaningful and important to your customers. The tone should also reflect your brand. For example, it could be whimsical, intellectual, worldly, creative, or serious. Second, the question should be posed in a way that invites engagement, which means it requires reasoning, imagination, is fascinating to think about and fun to answer. Finally, a good question by its nature, elicits a desire to share, be heard and hear others.

Getting comments is critical to your ability to get through the filters. You need to earn your readers’ engagement to earn the right to be seen in peoples’ feeds.  But the fact is that although Edgerank rewards you for those comments, it is actually forcing you to behave in a way that is good for your business. It encourages you to talk, to listen and to encourage those people in the seats to talk to you as well.  These are the building blocks of a relationship that will help people know, like and ultimately trust you.

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://dissertationtoday.com/writing/dissertation/phd-dissertation phd dissertation

    a very good article) thanks!!

  • http://twitter.com/nowaffle Amanda Boyle

    I’ll admit, I’ve never really gotten the hang of Facebook… but this helps! Thanks.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for your comment Amanda. I’m glad it was helpful.

  • http://efanpage.com Sebastian

    Hi Ilana!

    I think you really offer some sound insight to using Facebook comments to it’s fullest potential. Providing case studies of effective commenting offered great support. I think though the sheer numbers of followers for these organizations can create more of a buzz.

    Folks all over the world interact with these brands. For the small business, they will need to be more strategic in how they approach commenting. The basic suggestions you make are a great starting point but making their brand and Facebook page’s content unique in order to “compete” can be a major ordeal for small businesses. What do you think?

    Sebastian

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Sebastian, Thanks for your comment. I don’t think that many followers or likes automatically translates into significant engagement. If you have 1 million likes and you get 500 comments, it may seem like a lot but that is not above the benchmark of .2% for a really good response. The big brand with a million likes should not be satisfied with that percentage.

      The strategy and tactics that I wrote about work for a small company as well a large company with respect to getting the engagement. What I do agree with is that getting those initial likes to be a reasonable number–finding enough people who are at least willing to give your Facebook page a shot may be challenging. A small business doesn’t need huge numbers but there is a critical mass and you can’t really rock your Facebook page until you get to it. How to grow the overall number of likes for your page – well that’s a topic for another blog post.

      • http://efanpage.com Sebastian

        Thanks for your feedback Ilana! Just wanted to make sure that these businesses were considered. Look forward to that other blog post :)

        Sebastian

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  • http://twitter.com/Ad_Media AdMedia

    “…receiving the thumbs up of the like button is like silver and getting an actual comment is like gold.” –Great analogy!

    And yes, obtaining “likes” from users is just the beginning. Sustaining user engagement is another challenge. Like what you emphasized on your post, asking questions is a great way to keep users engaged. Facebook Questions is a great tool for this, because it allows polls to go viral by posting them on participants’ profiles.

  • http://www.facebook.com/glidewelldental Melanie

    Thank you for the great article! The several specific examples are really helpful, and I’m excited to try some of them out. Some of it seems so easy, but it’s amazing how we forget sometimes (I am guilty) and end up broadcasting instead of encouraging engagement and feedback.

  • http://dewita.biz/blog Dewita Soeharjono

    Good post and a reminder for marketers, that customers are in control of conversations on Facebook. Not the reverse. It’s a two-way street.

  • http://dewita.biz/blog Dewita Soeharjono

    Good post and a reminder for marketers, that customers are in control of conversations on Facebook. Not the reverse. It’s a two-way street.

  • http://dewita.biz/blog Dewita Soeharjono

    Good post and a reminder for marketers, that customers are in control of conversations on Facebook. Not the reverse. It’s a two-way street.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dean-Collins/674616722 Dean Collins

    The big problem with Facebook is it’s almost impossible to get views on your comments anyway,
    http://www.LiveFanChat.com
    run 12 different facebook pages eg

    http://www.Facebook.com/LiveBaseballChat

    http://www.Facebook.com/LiveBasketballChat

    http://www.Facebook.com/LiveHockeyChat
    etc etc

    We are consistently seei
    ng
    less than 10% of the people who are following us are actually viewing the posts.

    So although we are over 2,000 strong on each account with such small numbers and such a lack of analytics from facebook admin panels it’s hard to see what the point is.

    (I’m also sure twitter is even worse but because there are NO analytics available there it’s even harder to determine).

    We’re getting traction on the sites with people using our live chat apps to check in and make comments on games but i just think the whole facebook hubris is being oversold as the lack of tools make it hard to tell if you are maki
    ng a difference.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Welcome to the new world of “stream marketing!” Optimizing content on
      Facebook to reach maximum eyeballs. Now we need to test day parts,
      headlines, type of media used, etc. The good news is that the more
      comments and action you get on a post, the more “relevant” it becomes
      in your fan’s newsstreams. So more people see it.

      Advice? Plant a few fans or employees you know and trust and who would
      probably do it otherwise to go like, comment and share the posts as
      the go live. The early action will move your posts higher on the
      priority content scale for the other fans.

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