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Facebook new link post format boosts engagement… that’s not the full story

Benjamin Rey
Co-founder & Chief Scientist at Wisemetrics : with a background in mathematics & statistics, Benjamin has been crunching data and developing statistical algorithms for 15 years, mostly for e-marketing optimization (Principal Research engineer at Yahoo! labs, and now Wisemetrics)

Why you shouldn’t rush for the new link post format

 

Facebook new post link formats

On the 10th of September, Facebook released it’s new post link format : much bigger image, leading to 3.5x times bigger clickable zone.

Some, like Edgerank Checker have studied the impact on posts showing with this format. These studies points to a nice increase in clicks and engagement rates (albeit with limited statistical significativity).

You shouldn’t rush for link posts

This new formats looks great, and surely if your users see them this way they will engage more. But that’s not the full story: there is no guarantee a link post will appear with the new format (except if you buy ads). Even if the open graph tag is well defined and if the image has the right size and proportion, it’s still like playing the lottery.

The worst part is that on your timeline your link post looks pretty, and you could believe your users will get to see it with this shiny new format…but they might not!

Look at the example below from the (french) Huffington post page.

how link post can look shiny but not for your users

how link post can look shiny but not for your users

Huffington posts tons of link posts. All are nicely formatted and get the new format on their Timeline. Only a 1/10th actually shows correctly on their users’ feed. On the example above, too bad, “Asterix”, the main character doesn’t show on the old format

Your Facebook link post might look shiny on your timeline and old-fashion for your users tweet

Edit (13/10/29) : Facebook seems to be giving the new format to all link posts now, even for heavy users like Huffington post.

Our data perspective

Last august we started a data-science blog post series with posts about the life and impact of Facebook posts types. As a follow up suggested by our friends at allfacebook.de, we decided to try to get numbers out of this new link post format launch.

We had initially planned to run a data crunching study only a few days after the launch but we had to wait to accumulate enough data: since only a fraction of the posts have the new format, its impact is diluted. Here is our experiment setting.

We started by removing link posts pointing to a video (these don’t have the new format). We sampled pages posting links frequently enough (several times a week). For each pages, we compared the median performance of its link posts from a 2 weeks period just before the format change to median performances for the 2 weeks following the change. We then compute the median impact of the format change over all valid pages.

Finally, to get a sense of significativity of the results, we ran the same experiment for the full past year: comparing successive pairs of 2 weeks.

All in all we’re basing our study on 15,000 link posts (half from before and half from after the format change) from 300 pages.

Results are not what you would expect

In terms of engagement rate, we see only a small boost: +3%

In terms of reach, we see a decrease: -5%, not so bad, still it’s the 4th worst decrease for the past year.

In terms of total engagement, here again we see a small decrease: -4%, the 6th worst decrease for the past year.

Rather curious isn’t it? Even if the stats are diluted by the fact that only a fraction of the post get the new format, you would expect bigger engagement rate increase and no drop in engagement. Here are our thoughts on these.

Pages are posting much more links and it hurts engagement rate

Lots of pages decided to switch from photo to link to benefit from the great new format. We looked at the numbers, and indeed, in 2 weeks, link posts increased by 25%, to the expense of photos. Links now represent 25% of the posts ( they had been flat at 20% for a year).

All these extra link posts were better suited either for the new link format (what the page aims at) or for the photo format (what the page usually used for these) and they will have poorer performances with old-style link format.

That’s probably why the overall engagement rate of link posts don’t increase much: those who do get the new format certainly have terrific rates, but these gains are diluted with poorer performers which shouldn’t have been posted as links.

Bigger size means more competition to get into users feed

The new link post format takes twice more space than the older one. This means that there is twice less space for link posts! Even if it’s true that new-format link posts will get huge boost, they are twice less likely to be shown.

That’s how we end up with a dip in overall reach. And apparently the increase in engagement rate doesn’t make up for the difference, hence the dip in total engagement.

 Facebook new link post formats boost your clicks rate, but less users may see the post tweet

Making some hypothesis

We can imagine that Facebook aimed for a new format with the following goal: “simplify the formats and improve user experience”. This translates in better engagement rate (user like what they see), but not in increase in total engagement : users see less posts (since there is fewer space).

They certainly ran lots of bucket testing, tuning parameters to get this flat total engagement and as high as possible engagement rate.

Now that it’s live for everyone, it’s not quite there yet: there’s no way every link post gets the new format without dropping out many posts from the newsfeed to make space. That’s probably why Facebook decided to give the new format at “random”.

We came up with these hypotheses (it’s all speculation) because our very first data crunching after only 4 days of new format gave us exactly this: 0% change in total engagement, 8% increase in engagement rate, 8% decrease in reach. It was on too little data to draw solid conclusions, so we decided to wait… but then brands started posting more and more links, challenging Facebook newsfeed space allocation algorithm.

The model was built around today’s usage of Facebook. It might take a bit of time to factor in the rush for the new format.

Tip

If you want to really know how your users sees your post, click on the timing of your post: “x seconds ago” text after you

wises_click

 

and it will display your post just as your fans see it.

Takeways

There’s no magic: if everyone’s post takes twice more space twice less posts will be seen. Facebook new post formats is best for users.. maybe not so for brands.

Don’t rush for the new format unless your link post can have photo-like performances even with the older link post format.

Useful tip: to get a preview of how you users will see your post in their news feed, click on the text “x minutes|hours ago” on your timeline.

By the way, we have tools to optimize the format for you, and it automatically adapts to such changes.

bitly for this post: http://bit.ly/1f2lK7i

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5 Comments

  1. Charly -

    I don’t get your point since image posts are even greater than link posts. Image posts should reach less with a smaller click trough as they also compete with other posts in the newsfeed.

  2. Benjamin Rey -

    Hi Charly,
    That’s a good point, if every format were to be treated equally, they should have the same reach / user_feed_space ratio.
    However, it just happen that some format is better suited for some brands, thus get more engagement.
    For instance a page might have higher rates with plain text posts, others with photos or links. Then Facebook will favor this specific type for this specific page. That’s how photos can get more reach than links even though they use more space.

  3. -

  4. Steffen -

    Great article! – Another enjoying thing I came across with the ‘new link’ posts, is that is not possible to manuel select and upload pictures, if the link is an internal one, e.g a facebook application.

    I think Im gonna stick with photo-posts, with bit.ly-links in the message. Richer stats then what the facebook link post insights provide.

    How do you guys at Wisemetric track link-stats?

    /Steffen

  5. Benjamin Rey -

    Hi Steffen,

    Thanks for your comment.
    As regard to how we deal with link clicks stats at Wisemetrics, we track both Facebook link click stats and bit.ly stats.

    Benjamin