A small experiment to improve Facebook engagement

By Joanna Hare
Run Run Shaw Library, City University of Hong Kong

As I am sure is the case at many academic libraries, I am the sole person responsible for maintaining the Library Facebook Page. This means that a lot of my time is spent planning and scheduling content, with not as much time as I would like spent collecting evidence for the purpose of improving content. I regularly check and download Facebook Insights reports to keep an eye on how our page is doing, and of course I always pay attention to how much interaction a particular post is getting through comments, likes, or shares. Recently, however, I trialed a small experiment to see if I could improve the performance of a particular type of post: a weekly link to the Library’s Books of the Week blog.

Books of the Week is a place to share recommended Library books, usually related to a current event such as the Olympics or the beginning of semester. In the past, a feed was created so all new blog posts would be automatically posted to the Facebook page. This was causing a number of problems, such as the timing and number of posts becoming unpredictable, and the posts being poorly formatted in Facebook. Most importantly, the Facebook posts coming automatically from the blog were getting zero engagement, and the Reach of the posts was very low. A change was clearly needed.

I decided to stop the blog posting automatically to Facebook, and manually post the item myself. I created a simple graphic to be used each week, and posting manually meant I could write the accompanying status to be more timely and unique. Even though manually posting the item each week only takes a few minutes, in terms of my job description and job performance I knew I would need to justify if this increased manual work was worth the effort.

Based on an experiment described in this article, I started a log of the variables when posting Books of the Week each week. The log included a link to the post, a description of the post such as the image dimensions, length of the accompanying status, and the time and date of the post. Then, each week I recorded the basic units of measurements for the post provided by Facebook: the Reach and the Post Clicks. I was less interested in likes, comments, and shares in this instance – of course I kept a record of them in my log – but metrics like Reach and Post Clicks are sufficient to see if people are engaged with your content without taking the extra step to ‘like’ a post: “…just because someone didn’t click on your specific post, if that post encouraged them to click anywhere else on your page, you’ve done a good job!” (Cohen, 2014)

For the first four weeks, I saw marked improvement in terms of the Reach, rising from 43 in the first week to 185 by the fourth week. At this point, I tweaked the method of posting. Rather than posting a link then adding the graphic as an attachment, I posted the graphic as a photo, with an html link in the description. Crucially, after digging into my Insights reports I found Facebook categorises the first type of post as a ‘Link’ and the second type as a ‘Photo’. The difference is very small in practice, and looks like this:

Fig 1: Image on the left shows a ‘Link’ post type. The second image shows a ‘Photo’ post type.

After making this change, the increase in the post’s Reach was remarkable – the figure jumped to over 500. Over the next 6 weeks I continued this method of posting, and the posts consistently reached over 800 users. Once in the six week period I reverted to the first method, and the Reach dropped to 166. I returned to the second method, and the Reach increased again, which has remained at or above 800 since I stopped keeping a record of the variation each week.

Much of the literature and the marketing material about using Facebook recommends that page managers use images to engage their audience, so I suppose these results are not surprising. I did not however expect there to be such a difference in Reach simply because my post originated as a ‘Photo’ rather than a ‘Link’, when the content is essentially the same.

The general visibility of the posts was much improved with this method, but the change in the actual click through rate to the blog was less dramatic. On average around 5 people each week clicked on the post. My Insight reports show 2-3 of the clicks were to expand the image or description, while on average 0-1 people clicked the link to visit the blog. Quite disappointing!

Despite this, I do not think the exercise was in vain. Firstly, seeing for myself that images truly do have a greater Reach according to Facebook’s algorithm is useful for all future posting practices. Secondly, I think it is valuable to have our posts become more visible on Facebook, increasing our presence on the platform in general. It seems that the manual effort (which is really only around 10- 15 minutes each week – especially now as my colleagues assist in drafting the text and modifying the image!) is worthwhile given the marked increase in the post’s Reach, and the small increase in people who are clicking on the post. This is just a small scale way of using Facebook Insights, and in future I hope to use Insights more strategically in designing and delivering the Library’s Facebook content. In the coming weeks I will be experimenting with a more coordinated approach to Facebook including a paid advertising campaign, and I look forward to sharing some of the results with the C-EBLIP community.


Busche, L. (2016, February 20). 10 Marketing Experiments You Can Run Yourself to Improve Your Reach on Social Media. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from https://designschool.canva.com/blog/marketing-experiments/

Cohen, D. (2014, August 6). Post Clicks, Other Clicks Are Important Metrics for Facebook Page Admins, Too. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/post-clicks-other-clicks-are-important-metrics-for-facebook-page-admins-too/300388

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.