How Facebook Changes Are Impacting Engagement on Brand Pages and What Nonprofits Should Do About It | Beth's Blog

How Facebook Changes Are Impacting Engagement on Brand Pages and What Nonprofits Should Do About It

Digital Strategy

Measure Networked Nonprofit

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As part of my work this year as Visiting Scholar at the Packard Foundation,  I’ve facilitated many peer learning groups on effective social media, networked nonprofits, and measurement.    Several of groups serves as testers of the various ideas in my forthcoming book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, with co-author KD Paine.    While it was a little like changing a flat tire on a moving car to test frameworks while writing the book,  it was a rich learning experience.

For two of the peer learning groups, we explored best practices for using Facebook strategically as part of an integrated communications plan based on this content (   We worked together for over six months, with a monthly conference call and “homework” assignments.    Each session called shared a best practice, debriefed on the results of applying the best practice shared the month before, and we collectively generated insights.     As one participant noted, “The consistent monthly time to reflect about learning was invaluable.”

For one of the sessions,  we focused on a methodology of how to make sense of data from Facebook Insights to improve the relevance of content and engagement activities.   It was a rich learning experience to have everyone doing this type of tracking and then debriefing together, even sharing a couple of screen shots of insights data.    Here are some patterns of success:

  • To expand reach, new, recycled, and interesting content is key, but posting too frequently can cause people to hide or unlike you.
  • Post a variety of different media types, photographs and visuals get attention, shorter status updates, and curated links.
  • The art of writing good teaser headlines is critical to getting more interaction
  • If the audience is local, it is important to framing content and issues for local geographic area
  • Editorial calendar provides the structure so you don’t have to randomly find content, but keep it flexible so you can post breaking or timely news related to your organization or the issues it tracks which gets more attention and interaction
  • Human interest stories and good news from the organizations generated more interaction than others
  • Commenting on the posts in other aligned partner’s Facebook pages
  • Engaging photos, especially of local places and animals work well
  • Optimal posting frequency is about 2 posts per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening, and posted by hand.

While there are some generic principles for getting your Facebook into people’s newsfeeds, making sense of Facebook Insights to hone your content strategy will get you the best results.  Also, it allows you to test your own pre-conceived notions about what think YOUR audience wants.  For example, one participant shared that they were concerned to post controversial content that their audience would not like, and to their surprise it resonated.

Building Your Subscribers for Your Facebook Individual Profile

Once you have the discipline in place of setting up an editorial calendar, measuring it, and generating insights about what resonates with your audience,  you might wonder – what’s next?

Back in September when Facebook made its changes to individual profiles, one of the features they added was the ability to for people to “subscribe” to your individual profile public updates.    What this meant is that you could use your personal profile in a public way but also keep certain updates and content just for friends.    My initial reaction to this was, why would I want to do that?  I had some privacy concerns and also it felt like it would require feeding another channel – why bother when I already had a brand page.    I’ve changed my mind.

Here’s my public personal profile and here’s my brand page.  It has required that do the following:

  • Understand my privacy settings on my profile and figure out what content is for friends only and what is “public”
  • Decide what type of “public” content I want to share on my personal profile vs my brand page.   My brand page for my blog has specific objectives and I mostly post practical and useful material about how to use social media effectively.   That’s not all that I focus on or write about on my blog.   I share the other content through my personal profile as public posts.
  • Post content on my brand page as the page administrator, but comment through my personal profile.  That way, my brand page content gets into newsfeeds
  • Determine a “friending” policy.     Now that people can subscribe, you don’t have to friend everybody.

A few days ago, Mari Smith posted this update:

The News Feed is *clearly* favoring posts and activity from friends and subscriptions (vs. fan pages) — it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get fan page content seen in the News Feed. So, do businesses then need to turn to ads/sponsored stories?

I’ve also been hearing from some nonprofits:

“If brand pages won’t get into news feeds as easily because they can’t be subscribed to, then is Facebook going to become a less useful tool for us? Is it worth looking into creating a profile page for our Executive Director and having people subscribe to her updates to spread our message?”

The answer, of course, it depends.   For one, I think we have to wait and see how this plays out.  First, it isn’t clear when or if Brand Facebook pages will get the timeline and other features.   Second,  the individual profiles don’t have metrics yet, so if you haven’t tracked and honed your content strategy and understand what engages your audience, you won’t be able to do that easily on individual profile.   Third, as to the question of whether the ED or senior management staff should have a public profile and encourage subscriptions.   I think the same advice applies to the question of whether or not Executive Directors should use social media.   They have to be comfortable having a personal, authentic voice and using the technology.  A few examples:

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Momsrising
Billy Shore, Share Our Strength
Mary Wittenberg, New York Roadrunners
Bruce Lesley, First Focus
Kevin Donnellan, AARP

(If you’re in the NYC area, Big Duck is doing a social media session for CEOs)

In this post, Five Reasons Why Facebook Is Changing and What To do About It (hat tip to Kerri Karvetski) offers some additional advice on how to build up your subscribers.   I think it is too soon to throw out your organization’s branded Facebook page, but looking at how to enhance your networking by having staff create a subscribe presence and support the organization’s page is probably worth some investment of time.

Cultivating Champions

Before the holidays, I wrote a post about creating branded cover images for your supporters to incorporate into their individual profiles.  It wasn’t clear exactly whether it was a violation of FB policy as Mari Smith noted.   As you can see many nonprofits are going ahead and using them.  For specific advice on sizing images, see this post by John Haydon.    Of course, you get people to use them, you’ll need a strategy as part of  working with champions or brand ambassadors.

And now to end with a shaggy dog story.   My colleague, Jon Dunn, who works for Best Friends, let me know that they had created a set of cover images and were tracking whether cats or dogs were more popular.   Last week, I had used a cover image from Surfrider because I truly love the ocean.  But I also love animals.   Then, I found the wonderful cover image with the dog and the ocean!  Now, if it was only a black lab, carrying a Surfrider bag picking up trash on the beach!  And, next week, I can’t wait to pick out a timeline cover image from NWF or maybe these from NRDC.


  • Do you know what content resonates and how to engage your audience on your Facebook brand page based on thorough understanding of your metrics? (If not, do that first.  Read 4 Ways FB Insights Can Get You Fans)
  • Do you have people on staff who are comfortable with personal branding and juggling a personal and public individual profile on behalf of your organization?  Can they train others?  How can you leverage their participation on behalf of your organization?
  • Are you thinking of using lightly branded cover images to get your message out? Do you have a strategy to go with it?

See my Facebook Best Practices curriculum for more advice.


12 Responses

  1. Beth–thanks so much for this great post–and for mentioning our ‘Social Media for Nonprofit CEOs’ training. Looking forward to thinking, learning, and sharing more on this subject.

  2. Hi Beth. Thanks for the shout out. And thanks for helping to think through the subscription issue. Crawl first before your run, right!

  3. Andy says:

    Lately, my feed tends to have collective stories at the top (eg, “Joe Smith and 8 other friends posted about Republican Party”). These stories DO include brand pages from the news outlets I follow. So one way to keep your brand pages front and center is to post about the topics that are most likely to be trending for the people who follow you.

  4. […] Beth Kanter has a good piece up on organizational use of Facebook vs. personal branding. […]

  5. What a great summary of some of your learnings. What strikes me is your and Mari’s observation about the rise of the individual and subscriber stories. (Anecdotally, I agree with @Andy’s comment, above, about stories that are posted multiple times.)

    My thinking is that this is going to be an issue to watch, and that fan pages will have to get even more molecular to figure out exactly what types of engaging posts are the most engaging…

  6. Beth says:

    Debra and Andy: THanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It makes measurement all that more important.

    I suspect there might be some changes when they have their annual summit in March,? Or do think Facebook is just trying to get us to pay for the privilege to talk to our audiences?

  7. […] Ready to get started? First, make sure you understand Facebook’s subscription and privacy settings so you know exactly how to broadcast to your subscribers. There is no need to friend your new supporters – just have them subscribe to your public feed. Beth Kanter offers more details on these first steps here. […]

  8. […] Ready to get started? First, make sure you understand Facebook’s subscription and privacy settings so you know exactly how to broadcast to your subscribers. There is no need to friend your new supporters – just have them subscribe to your public feed. Beth Kanter offers more details on these first steps here. […]