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What You Need to Know About the New Facebook Features Intended to Organically Build an Engaged Community

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Facebook may not have been the first social network (looking at you MySpace and Friendster), but it was the first to reach mass adoption. Today, more than 1 billion people log in to the platform daily, updating their profiles, posting commentary on their walls and feeds and liking photos and updates from those they have chosen to follow.

And, half of all Facebook users have more than 200 other users they follow, which makes for quite the daily catch-up on friend activity and news.

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What’s more, is that studies show that while Facebook serves its audience well in terms of keeping them up to date on the activity of their friends –– many Facebook users themselves rarely update their profile. Instead, the social network has become a hotbed of likes and comments, rather than the posting of original content.

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According to a Pew Research study, “When asked about the frequency with which they engage in certain behaviors on the site, Facebook users tend to point towards ‘liking’ content that others have posted and commenting on photos as the activities they engage in most often. On the other hand, most users change or update their own status only occasionally.”

What Facebook User Behavior Means for Your Brand

For business owners looking to utilize the platform to spread internet word-of-mouth, this is good news. Your brand doesn’t need your fans creating a lot of original content on Facebook. Save that for when you are emailing them after a purchase and asking them for a review. On Facebook, however, you want users to like, comment and share –– i.e. engage –– with your content the same way they might with a friend’s. That engagement increases the reach of your post to that Facebook users’ network –– increasing brand exposure relatively quickly.

Knowing that, as a business owner, it’s imperative to invest in growing your Facebook reach with content that inspires action. Unless you create content that truly engages an audience with your brand, you’ll have to pay for exposure. This is the difference between organic reach and paid promotion. Offline, this would be the difference between genuine word-of-mouth marketing and paid influencers.

Organic Facebook Reach: Save Money, Win More Loyalty

Building up an authentic and immersive Facebook presence in an organic way (read: free) will not only save you money in ad dollars, but will give you insight into what your customer base cares about. And, once you know what they care about, you can produce more of it to gain increased followers and even influencers.

READ MORE: How Flash Tattoos Organically Secured a Beyonce Collaboration

So how can you leverage your brand personality and content to do something fans will think is really cool? Fortunately, Facebook is on top of the social game and has launched several new products for businesses, publishers and everyday users. For now, the following features are sure to drive engagement on your page if you strategically build them into your marketing plans and execute with precision.

Organically Target Audience Segments using Audience Optimizations

This month, Facebook launched Audience Optimizations for Publishers –– an organic targeting tool that helps improve the relevancy of your posts by helping Facebook’s algorithm determine the right audience for your unique business. This will also help you learn more about how people with specific interests engage with your content, which will almost certainly increase engagement at both the post and page level.

How so? With the new Audience Optimizations tool, you can adjust the targeting on individual posts to audiences you think will be most interested in that content, or keep non-relevant posts out of audiences not interested, based on their interests, location, gender or age.

The tool provides three new features:

  • Preferred Audience: Publishers can add ‘interest tags’ to posts, which helps Facebook show users content of a certain topic or subtopic they’re likely to engage with in their News Feeds. This feature prioritizes content for those users based on the topics they’re most likely interested in, but does not restrict that content from people who don’t necessarily actively engage with those content topics. This is extremely useful if you don’t want to limit anyone from seeing posts, rather just thinking a certain group would find them more relevant than others. To implement, explore these interest tags and test different combinations of tags depending on the piece of content. Keep measuring any change in organic engagement to understand how the tags affect the reach of your posts.
  • Audience Restrictions: In case you do want only some groups to see a post, you can keep it out of the News Feeds of certain audiences using Audience Restrictions based on age, gender or location. For example, if you’re trying to reach moms between the ages of 25 and 40, but only in warm-weather states, you can restrict based on location. This feature has been around for a while, but now in conjunction with the Preferred Audience feature, you can create even more targeted content by coupling interest tags with demographics.
  • Audience Insights: After you’ve posted this smartly targeted content, use the new addition to the existing Page insights product to evaluate how your content performed, down to individual posts broken down by interest tag. Once a post is published, insights for the preferred audience can help you understand how different subsets of people are responding by showing reach and engagement metrics for each interest tag.

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This is great in theory, but does it work? Data suggests it does.

Facebook opened up this feature in beta to a few top-tier publishers, and after using for three months, the New York Times said, “Our stories generally find a wide audience on Facebook, but some stories can take off thanks to especially strong engagement from niche Facebook communities such as TV show fans, sports fans, etc. The vibrant discussions taking place on some of these posts suggests that this new tagging feature is helping to attract the readers who are most passionate about specific topics.”

You don’t need 10.6 million fans for this to benefit your brand. Once you test and analyze the features above, implementing Audience Optimization tactics into campaign plans can give a Page of any size following a boost. Theoretically, without Audience Optimization, Facebook shows your posts to a random sampling of 5% of your fan base who may or may not be interested in the topic of your content. By targeting a 5% sample of fans who are interested in that topic, your posts are more likely to garner likes, comments and shares from the get go, and therefore, increase the reach and impact of your posts over time. All of this without paying for advertising or post promotion.

Note: For tips for tagging articles in Audience Optimization, research these best practices from Facebook.

Hop on the Streaming Video Bandwagon using Facebook Live

Live streaming has been around since about 2007, but thanks to platforms like Periscope and Meerkat, streaming videos natively from social channels has become a mainstream, but still innovative, way to have a two-way conversation with an audience.

Last year, the Facebook app “Mention” enabled celebrities and public personalities with verified profiles to stream videos live on Facebook through Facebook Live, and fans were given the ability to subscribe to get notified when their favorites go live. Dwayne The Rock Johnson helped launch the tool, and his most-engaged video attracted over 8,600 comments, 8,500 shares and 80,000 likes. Emma Watson uses it to broadcast her HeForShe movement. Serena Williams uses it to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at her life in sports and fashion. Martha Stewart performs live cooking demonstrations and takes live questions from the audience. Since the initial rollout, Facebook has tweaked the comment section, one of the most important elements of the live factor, and early data suggests the comment rate on Live videos are far higher than regular clips.

In December 2015, Facebook expanded this feature to individuals and business pages with or without the Mention app. It’s still rolling out to brands, so if you don’t already have it, you will soon.

While comparatively late to the live streaming game, Facebook gets 4 billion video views daily. So, it is no surprise Facebook executives have said they expect video to take over Facebook, and eventually, even virtual reality.

How to use the Mention app

For brand Pages, Facebook Live can only be used via the Mention app by mobile iOS U.S. users at this time, but Android is coming soon. It’s extremely simple to use: click on status update, click “Live Video,” choose to whom you want to stream, and as you broadcast, you’ll be able to see how many viewers are watching, the names of all viewers, where the viewers are and, at the heart of engagement, the live stream of incoming comments from viewers.

Once you hit end broadcast, it’s instantly published to your timeline so fans can watch the video at any time, and you can continue to engage with the video’s comment stream. You can also edit your video by changing the title or description, changing the thumbnail, tagging people and more. In addition, you can promote the video after the fact simply by including the link to the video in promotional posts across channels.

How to use Facebook Live strategically

All right, actual usage of Facebook Live is easy enough. The part that takes strategy is how you choose to use it to promote your brand and how you measure the results.

You can use Facebook Live in a myriad of ways for your brand: you could host a Q&A with a brand ambassador or simply take questions live from your brand fans yourself. You could give a live tour of your brick-and-mortar location or give a behind-the-scenes look at your production process. Give your Facebook audience a sneak peak of a new product that’s coming down the line, a demo of how to use your product, or you could give a lesson on how to make a certain recipe, how to style an outfit, or anything relevant to your brand.

Remember, your goal is to increase organic engagement. To do this, use this opportunity to take comments from users and have a two-way dialogue with your community. The real-time aspect of Facebook Live shows users that you’re authentic and an expert in what you’re talking about, and taking questions from your audience will make them feel like they’re a part of the experience, too.

Be sure to keep your Facebook Live activity authentic. It is not TV. Don’t feel the need to be too over prepared as fans will likely be more engaged with an experience that’s not obviously over-rehearsed.

Note: For more tips on using Facebook Live, visit the Facebook Help Center.

Flaunt Strong Customer Service

It sounds simple enough, but if you’re committed to a superior customer service experience, you should be applying this to your Facebook Page presence as well. If you browse almost any business’s Page, it’s apparent that the best brands answer customer service questions in an extremely helpful, friendly and time-sensitive manner. Many times, a dissatisfied customer will share feedback or ask for help on a business’s Facebook Page, a channel they’re likely frequenting more than traditional support channels like your email or phone system. If they receive the answer they need in their preferred channel, they’re likely to turn into a very happy customer, and in turn, more likely to trust your brand.

Response time is critical to instilling that trust. If you’re already practicing strong customer service on your page, you should flaunt it. In December 2015, Facebook began allowing businesses to choose to promote their responsiveness badge –– an indicator of how quickly a brand page responds to customers’ messages. If you’re using messages to accept customer service inquiries, you can choose to publish this badge, and it will appear under your profile picture. Choosing to accept messages could keep customer service inquiries off your public Page and put it in a more personalized, private setting that will make the customer feel more comfortable –– and make it easier for your business to manage.

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Facebook has set high standards, though. If you want “Very responsive” displayed on your page, you must answer 90% of inquiries via private messages within 5 minutes. If you don’t earn the “very responsive” badge, don’t worry. You can also choose to set your own average response times to “within minutes,” “within an hour,” “within hours” or “within a day.” Facebook calculates your actual average, but you can set customer expectations by choosing a slower response time or by using the “away” status that lets users know when you’re not available to accept messages.

Note: Learn more ways to manage communication with customers from Facebook here.

Overall, building an engaged community takes time, patience and dedication. Facebook is sure to launch new-and-improved features over the years, but no matter what the tool, always remember that customer experience comes first. If you focus on that, organic engagement will follow.

Photo: Flickr, Marcin Wichary

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