To Promote or Not to Promote? (…and Is That The Question?):GlobalGiving's Experiment With Facebook Promoted Posts | Beth's Blog

To Promote or Not to Promote? (…and Is That The Question?):GlobalGiving’s Experiment With Facebook Promoted Posts


Note from Beth: Almost weekly, there is yet another tool, feature, or tactic that you can you try using as part of your social media tool box.  But how do you know it is effective?    Over the summer, Facebook has enabled you to pay for an individual post to be seen in more of your fans’ newsfeeds.   If you are a FB Page administrator, you probably noticed the new metric Facebook has on the bottom of every post showing how many people it reached.   Further, you probably wondered whether does it make it sense to pay for Facebook promoted posts?

But how will you know the answer if you don’t set up a test and use measurement and data to help you answer it.     This is called “data literacy” — setting up a hypothesis and a way to measure it – and analyzing the results and deciding  how to improve.   This is a way of working that “data-driven nonprofits” use.

Alison Carlson from Global Giving was a participant in the a learning group of 60 Packard grantees that served as a focus group during the writing of the book, “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.”   This brave group beta tested not only the content in the book, but also the workshop curriculum that I will be teaching during 2013.   Alison and her colleague at Global Giving, Oscar, agreed to write up the results of their recent test.

To Promote or Not to Promote? (…and Is That The Question?):GlobalGiving’s Experiment With Facebook Promoted Posts – Guest Post by  Alison Carlman and Oscar Norsworthy

Listen. Post. Learn. Repeat.

On the Unmarketing team at GlobalGiving, we put a lot of effort into figuring out how to use Facebook to support the thousands of charity projects on our website.   The more we learn,  the better able we are to advise our nonprofit partners.  One of the new features on Facebook is the “Promoted Post.”    Promoted Posts are pictures, links, videos, or text that  administrators can pay to appear on more Facebook users’ news feeds. (Did you know that only an average of about 15-20% of your fans see your posts in their news feeds?)

We conducted a month-long experiment to see if Promoted Posts make sense for our strategy.

First Thing First: What’s our Goal?

We wanted to see whether or not Promoted Posts help us reach our goals on Facebook. One way to explain our Facebook strategy is the social funnel.  People interact with us on Facebook at all levels of this funnel. While ultimately we’d love to see every fan make a donation to a project on our website, our goal on Facebook is first and foremost to develop an active community of fans around the topics of philanthropy and social
change. We wanted to see how well Promoted Posts reach our fans on all levels.

Here’s what success – or a positive return on investment (ROI) – at each of the levels would look like for us:

Our Promoted Posts Experiment

During the summer we promoted three posts, each about a different topic. We spent less than $100 on each post, and we only promoted the posts to our fans. We also posted regular (non-promoted) links and photo posts related to each of the three topics so that we could compare the performance of regular posts versus paid posts. While we could not control all variables, we did our best to aim for consistency with as much as possible, including the time of day we posted and the content of the post, so that we could draw better conclusions when comparing our

Below are the nine updates (under three topics) that we posted this summer as part of the experiment, and how they fared in terms of reach (views), engagement (clicks), and donations (dollars). You can see that the promoted posts were the only ones that drove donations, and they drove significantly higher view and click rates.

What we learned

We learned two main things from our experiment. First, as you can see above, promoted posts did drive more engagement at all levels of the social funnel. On average, our promoted posts had five times higher reach and seven times higher click rate (!) compared to posts that weren’t promoted. The financial return, however, varied greatly based on the content of the post. We found that promoting general, ‘everyday’ project stories didn’t drive many donations (in fact, it lead to a negative net financial return), but promoting very timely stories or unique campaigns resulted in a significant uptick in donations (netting approximately $600 per post).

Perhaps the most interesting thing we learned actually happened while we were designing the experiment. When figuring out whether to promote links or photos, we found that photo posts drove more Facebook interaction, achieving a higher reach and better overall engagement (the middle of the funnel!). On the other hand, posting links sometimes led to higher click-through rates to our website, generally driving more donations (the bottom of the funnel!). When we looked back in our Facebook Insights data, we found that this pattern seemed consistent with other posts over the past several months. This information is useful to us whether or not we’re talking about promoted posts.

What does this mean for our strategy?

We found that Facebook’s Promoted Posts can get the job done, successfully driving both engagement and donations. It’s important to note though that we’re still not planning to rely on Promoted Posts to push all our fans through the social funnel.

At GlobalGiving we have an “unmarketing” approach to engagement. This means that we believe there’s inherent value in developing authentic, meaningful, and helpful relationships with our audience through social media to help tell our story. In short, it’s not all about driving dollars. Engagement is important to us.

We’ve concluded that an ongoing Facebook strategy based primarily on Promoted Posts wouldn’t be savvy or sustainable, (remember how the ‘everyday’ project stories posts actually ended up costing us money?) but we’ve decided that we will continue to promote posts when they are particularly timely, relevant, or important for our key audiences. We should also be sure to note that we’ll never be promoting content that would otherwise have been unsuccessful on Facebook in general. As you can imagine, the last thing we want to do is bring irrelevant content to the attention of people who rarely hear from us anyway!

What does this mean for you?

If you can find the budget to experiment with Promoted Posts, it’s important to think through how you’ll measure your return on your investment. Can you put a dollar value on message views, click-throughs to your website, or goal conversions (donations, petition signatures, etc.)? If you’re spending advertising dollars on other media, you may find that Facebook Promoted Posts can also help you meet your goals, so it would be worth comparing your results.

Our fans told us emphatically on Facebook, they don’t love the idea of nonprofits paying for a spot on their news feeds. (The irony, of course, was that we didn’t see a single pushback to the promoted posts when we did them without pointing it out, so peoples’ behaviors didn’t exactly match how they said they would react. But that’s a whole different social psychology experiment, right?) If you do choose to promote Facebook posts, you’ll need to do strategically. You should only promote content that you’re proud of, and it would be wise to measure the results carefully so that you can prove that your dollars are helping you meet your overall goals!

If you don’t have any budget for Promoted Posts, you could still look into your Facebook Insights data to see the different types of engagement that photo posts drive for you compared to link posts. Does your data lead you to the same conclusions that ours did?

Do you have thoughts about whether links or photos get you results on Facebook? Have you experimented yet with Promoted Posts?

Alison Carlman and Oscar Norsworthy

As part of the Unmarketing team at GlobalGiving, Alison and Oscar work hard to help small nonprofits use social media to raise money online. They don’t usually wear matching outfits.

8 Responses

  1. […] Note from Beth: Almost weekly, there is yet another tool, feature, or tactic that you can you try using as part of your social media tool box.  But how do you know it is effective?  […]

  2. Alison says:

    Thanks for this opportunity to guest post, Beth! In the past week there’s been even more conversation (and controversy) about Facebook’s changing EdgeRank algorithm, changing the way that users and their friends see brands’ posts.

    As you can see with the experiment we ran – Facebook wants Promoted Posts to work for brands. And they’re becoming even more of a “Pay for Play” platform. Some interesting discussions on the new changes here:

    …. and on Mari Smith’s Facebook page:

  3. […] Note from Beth: Almost weekly, there is yet another tool, feature, or tactic that you can you try using as part of your social media tool box.  But how do you know it is effective?  […]

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  5. […] Monday in Beth’s Blog she made a post describing how to decide if this option makes sense for you to use.  They conducted […]

  6. […] Blog: To Promote or Not to Promote? (…and Is That The Question?) Beth’s Blog: Three Simple but Powerful Social Media for Nonprofits Tips Donor Dreams: A Guide […]

  7. […] לשקול לפרסם בתשלום – בעיקר בקמפיינים גדולים. אני מאוד מתלבטת לגבי זה, ומקווה שארגונים לא ישתמשו בזה הרבה ושפייסבוק לא ירוויחו מספיק כסף מהמהלך וישנו את השקלול מחדש. אבל קחו בחשבון שאם אתם רוצים להגיע לתפוצה גדולה במהירות – פרסום בתשלום יכול לעזור. כדאי להכניס את העלות הזאת לקמפיינים שמתכננים, לבקשות מענק לתכניות חדשות ואולי אפילו לתקציב השנתי של הארגון. מוזמנים ללמוד מהניסיון של GlobalGiving בקידום תוכן בפוסט הזה. […]

  8. […] up Experiments! Here’s a guest post from Global Giving that describes how they used experiments and data to under best practices for Facebook Promoted […]