Is the New Facebook "People Talking About" Metric Meaningless? | Beth's Blog

Is the New Facebook “People Talking About” Metric Meaningless?


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Facebook announced its new brand page metric on Sunday night, “People Talking About,” with Mashable breaking the news and analysis from Clickz.    The new  “people talking about”  metric is designed to measure FB engagement and a raw number of  user-initiated activity related to a Page, including posting to a Page’s Wall, “liking,” commenting, sharing a Page post or content on the Page, answering a Question posed to fans, mentioning a Page, “liking” or sharing a deal or checking in at your Place.    That number was also going to displayed to the public, along side the other meaningless Facebook metric, number of likes.

A few hours ago, it went public – at least on your FB page for the world to see, but it isn’t yet visible to page administrators in the insights program.

Mari Smith pointed to this blog post from All Facebook explaining the metric and how it has been implemented in apps.

The people talking about this metric tallies:

  • Liking a page;
  • Posting to a page’s wall;
  • Liking, commenting, or sharing a page’s status update, photo, video, or other content;
  • Answering a question posted by a page;
  • RSVPing to an event hosted by the page;
  • Mentioning the page (users must formally tag the page);
  • Tagging a page in a photo;
  • Liking or sharing a check-in deal, and
  • Checking in at a place.


My first reaction was – what does that stupid number mean?    How is it calculated?  Why the heck should I even care?  After all if Facebook likes are not a victory, certainly “People talking about” isn’t better.    Are they saying good things about the brand or bad things about the brand?    More importantly,  is “People Talking About”  motivating or encouraging “People To Take Action” or “People to Donate”  or ” People to Volunteer” or “People to Call their Legislators” or “People To Stop Drinking Bottled Water”?

The next action was an uncontrollable desire to compare my “People Talking About” with my peers, realizing that benchmarking of meaningless data is well, meaningless.   Before I even set up this quick flash poll, I received an email from a colleague who had already compared and benchmarked their page with peer organizations using  “PATP” – dividing the total People Talking About number by the total of Facebook likes.    All national organizations with multiples of 10s of 1,000s of fans, had percentages ranging from 1-3%.  His take:

“It is a very shallow metric.     And it does feel somewhat gratifying that I think we’ve been right all along. Size has never mattered to us. I’ve never run an ad for more fans, or done silly contests or anything else, you know?  The people that we have, we want them to be there because they care about what we have to say and take action – and measure those results with metrics that mean something to us …”

Here’s the spreadsheet of small number of nonprofits who took this quick survey reporting number of likes and “People Talking About.”     You can see that smaller fan bases had higher percentages – but of course that is meaningless.

I wonder if impressions and feedback percentages will continue to be included in Insights?   That’s been useful to at least test content and engagement formats.

There’s a lot of confusion.  For now,  one thing is abundantly clear:  Spend your time on a good strategy for an integrated campaigns with real and measurable results and have high quality content, engage your network, and cultivate of influencers and for now, don’t waste time on this meaningless metric.




20 Responses

  1. Glyn Hopkins says:

    Good comment!

    Technically number of likes as the visible interest metric used by non-fans is flawed. It’s flawed because it can be manipulated [see in many different ways. It’s a bit like the achilles heel of Google…links. If social proof is given in form of likes, then it was never going to last as a metric. It could be that this rollout, is stimulated by these shortfalls, but I fear it’s more driven by business objectives.

    As we know, Facebook at a business level is the first and biggest behavioural advertising instrument on the planet, and Google missed the boat on that one!

    While the marketing manager at Facebook would like I am sure, by his suggestion, that brands to monitor each others pages – because ultimately the thinking goes that brands will attempt to improve their page content, and increase their scores (against an algorhythm that seems as mathematical as it is specific in it’s methodology – a bit like Google’s own “quality score” or “kwality score” as I prefer to call it).

    – I agree with you Beth, that it is far more important for non-profits to develop coordinated strategies which have measureability and validity for their own organization. If they don’t they risk studying a metric that will only change or be revised, and then they’ll be back to the drawing board!


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  3. Denise says:

    Great post, Beth! Thanks (as always)!

  4. About the only piece of advice that my mother ever gave me that I still find useful was, “don’t live your life like a popularity contest.”

    I took a look at my page’s PTA (people talking about) score this morning and thought, “so what does this mean?” Does a higher score mean I am doing better? Not when we know that the vast majority of Facebook users are lurkers, who don’t comment/post or even share much. I hear in person from people who say that they appreciate the information I share, and I often get surprised because these are people who have never even ‘liked’ a post.

    I think the most important thing on any nonprofit page is whether or not it is delivering content that helps people to make the world better. If I go to a page and their PTA score is through the roof, but they are not talking about an issue I care about or are selling a product I don’t want, then that number isn’t particularly helpful. However, it might tell me a little something if it is an issue I care about. It might tell me that the Page is serious about interacting with people and not just viewing their Page as a megaphone.

    Let’s all just remember that thinking about our audiences we are trying to reach, speaking to them in a tone and timing that is meaningful and focusing on our larger goals should all come before number chasing.

    Thanks for calling this out, Beth.

  5. Jay says:

    Why such deep negativity?

    You’re categorically dismissing a new metric you know little about, a metric that, regardless of what it doesn’t provide, is certainly more information than page admins had before.

    I’m surprised that you see “people talking about” as a static metric, instead of a a dynamic metric that’s true value will be seen over time: now, my nonprofit can watch how the “talking about” number changes around our key events, campaigns, and PR drives. It’s not about pride, it’s about information!

    The idea that “likes don’t matter” is a totalizing view of Facebook strategy. Beth – you often complain about “likes” and very little about Twitter followers. You also have a far smaller Facebook following than on Twitter, even though Facebook likes are, on balance, truly more useful to orgs than Twitter followers (if the majority of surveys are to be believed).

    Why always dismiss likes? Why not take the discussion deeper, for example by discussing strategic fit? My nonprofit has two Facebook pages. One for our non-profit, and one very fun page that we use to capture as wide an audience as possible (and ultimately recruit new members). We have very different strategies for each – with a focus on high levels of engagement and discussion on our organization’s pages, and growth on the “fun” page. We have tens of thousands for our nonprofit, and many hundreds of thousands of likes on our “number chasing” page.

    And guess what – It makes sense! It’s working very well for us, having a measurable, tangible impact on our bottom line.

    I have been a passive reader for a long time, but remain puzzled why you and your readership regard such strategies with so much antipathy and such tenuous logic.

    Thanks for listening!

  6. Beth Kanter says:

    Hi Jay: AH, sorry if the post came off negative. I thought I’d spark some conversation about it by being provoking – and you’ve asked a great question – why negative on such a metric that just came out. Who knows maybe I’m totally wrong …

    But, I did ask folks to fill out a survey: and then I could analyze a bunch of nonprofit pages and their scores.

    I’ve never tracked or taken seriously the number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers that I have. My Twitter following is large only because I was placed on the suggested user list and the number artifically inflated. I only look at the engagement numbers – against specific types of content and engagement strategies – to help hone the tactics.

    Would love to see your two pages .. and also understand your strategic results for each.

  7. A few comments about the PATA (or is it PTA? Both are awful acronyms!)

    1. By your metric, the average percentage of PATA is 1-3% which, interestingly, is the average engagement metric that I see of nonprofit Facebook pages. I benchmark a page as “better than average engagement” if the number of Likes, comments, posts to the wall, shares, etc. are higher than 4%. So to that extent, Facebook seems to be accurately aggregating an engagement score. To me, that’s great. It should serve the purpose of encouraging Page admins to create more engaging content, which is what a Page should be doing.

    2. That said, I’d like to see this supported in the back-end analytics. I don’t see any PATA breakdown within the interactions section of the FB page insights, which is a shame. Then again, Facebook has never been forthcoming in its insights transparency.

    Agree 100% with Zan’s comment, “I think the most important thing on any nonprofit page is whether or not it is delivering content that helps people to make the world better,” though moving people to action is something I’d add as well.

  8. Beth Kanter says:

    Does the number include comments and like by the page admins and does that create an opportunity to game the system?

  9. I understood it to be unique users, so while it may include the page admins, it should only count them as once. I just completed your flash poll and am looking forward to seeing the results.

    I personally found our metrics to be encouraging: we have 4,844 “likes” and a PATAT metric of 349. At 7% I took it as an indication that we are truly engaged in an online dialogue with our community via Facebook. I’ve oftened worried that “likes” are artificial and the PATAT seems to give a more accurate level of engagement.

    I completely agree that it does not help determine whether the activity is positive or negative. I can see a scenario where the PATAT metric is high but for all the wrong reasons.

  10. Beth says:

    Rich, thanks for completing the survey — So, what are your secrets to engaging folks?

  11. A significnat part of lour successful engagement is that I hired a Marketing Assistant who oversees our social media engagement. i know that she tries to avoid turning the site into a “Buy Now”, “Buy Now” mantra, but instead looks to share more meaninglful information: casting news, design process, photos, etc. We are mindful to post regularly, but not more than once or twice a day – and ONLY if we have something to say. We try not to post for posting sake. I also see our Facebook site as an extension of the extensive engagement work our theatre does in the community and in our field. The social media strategy is a reflection of that commitment. I invite you to check out our “Statement of Core Values” at www(dot)triadstage(dot)org(slash)about

  12. Dan Nash says:

    There can be thousands of interpretations of this metric depending on what it’s being used explain. I can only address one in particular but it’s a good one (though I have yet to fully flesh out the boundaries of what is too low to matter on both the low scale and the high scale (sorry if that’s confusing).

    I work in the music industry developing “emerging artists” (new, up and coming bands and singer/songwriters). There is no doubt that for artists that have already taken off, such as Beyonce, these kinds of statistics are meaningless. But for emerging artists, they can be critical factors for investors of all kinds to get some pretty compelling data which can be used in determining whether to invest time, money, services and other resources… or not.

    The reasoning is simple: The LIKES (and similarly FANS or FRIENDS before them) are an accumulative list of how many times the LIKE button was clicked by a unique user (or, in some nefarious cases, a software robot). This accumulative number has been the Holy Grail to many artists as it could be used to attract attention to themselves as being “influential” and/or “a good bet”. The problem with that is that even if you had over a million LIKES recorded, that didn’t tell you ANYTHING about how many of those LIKES were still visiting your page, listening to your music, watching your videos, engaging in discussions or just visiting silently on a regular or eben daily basis. In fact, it could easily be like the lights one sees in a night sky, which could easily have been emitted from stars long since burned out.

    But by dividing the # of LIKES by the # of PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS… and doing so over a period of time, you can start getting a pretty good sense of how many of your LIKES are STILL LIKING what you’re offering to them… and it’s pretty likely that at least some of these people are actively blabbing about it to their peers, fellow workers, family, on forums and blogs, and even buying some product…

    That’s why this is an important metric for me and my constituents. It arms us with relatively accurate empirical data that we can use as leverage when we are marketing and making deals for our clients.

  13. Beth says:

    Thanks Dan for sharing your perspective here. I found Avinash Kaushik’s framework useful to apply to the new metrics – and that some of the data you need to determine overall success has to be gotten from other sources:

    Plus, in the end, what’s more important to the emerging artists – that people like them or that people are purchasing/listening to their music or hiring them for gigs? In other words, you also have to tie it back to business results.

  14. Ron Weinberg says:

    What time period is the People Talking About metric referring to? The activities listed don’t represent any conversation place except for possibly: Posting to a page’s wall or Liking, commenting, or sharing a page’s status update, photo, video, or other content. It’s a great name for a metric, but there’s not much behind it.

  15. Mark Frisk says:

    I agree that boiling things down to a single number applied to the overall Facebook page does not exactly provide much insight.

    I’m curious, though. Does your (Beth and other commenters here) impression about this metric change when you consider that Facebook’s “new” insights provides this metric for each specific update?

    I agree 100% that driving action tied to business objectives is a must. Does per-post PATA data (sorry, couldn’t resist; I also dislike the acronym) help optimize efforts to drive real action?

  16. Mark,
    I fervently hope that per-post PATA data (and yes, I love that too) will drive efforts towards real action. I think this is the basic message Facebook is sending its users and even other social networks.

  17. Beth says:

    I’ve been looking at per post data – the virality (similar to the old feedback) and Reach (similar to old impressions) and that has helped me gain some insight into strategy .. at least on FB

  18. Remi Padoin says:

    Excellent thread Beth, thank you.

    I have searched the web for good explainations regarding the new metric, and the relevance of the PTAT devided by Likes, multiplied by 100.

    I suggest we start calling this unit of measure: TDL (Talkabout Dividedby Likes)

    As Dan said, monitoring TDL over time will give a good idea of a page’s “klout”. One should be able to see close correlations between page activity, own events and external events, and the TDL.

    I am researching the Norwegian market as we speak, and an averagely good page has a TDL of approx. 1. The really good pages overall score 3-6. Exceptional cases, usually sparked by outside events, score higher.

    As an example, Norway’s capital Oslo, saw a sudden surge of violent rapes last week. The Facebook page of Dixi, a support page of a rape victim shelter, saw a boost from a TDL of 0.5, to 19 in a week. They only have 250 Likes. Once the culprit(s) are caught, or the focus disappears from the media searchlight, I expect Dixi’s TDL to revert, as the TDL is based on 7 days of data.

    For a brand page, having a high TDL would support the hypothesis that the company is maintaining a solid grasp of their social media communications. Opposite, a low TDL is a warning that your communications isn’t finding it’s targets.

    This all obviously may wary with size.

    For a non-profit org, it may be more important to have a few quality fans/Likes than a high number of relatively uninterested Likes, because these quality fans may support the NPO with volounteer work and financial support.

    A commercial brand on the other hand, may have a higher interest in a large number of Likes, thereby increasing it’s one-way reach, and targets for its advertising campaigns.

    The conclusion, as several already have suggested, is that this metric must be seen in correlation to all other metrics to find a page’s current “klout”.

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