Over the past year or so, many pharma and healthcare companies have jumped into social media with many trying their hand at Facebook. You can see the full list on the Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki. Just click down to the Facebook section. There you’ll see around 50 examples (and I’ll be adding about 5 more in the next update). [Note that this post is applicable to every industry and isn't pharma or healthcare specific.]
Nearly all of these pages have one thing in common. They do not allow comments on the page’s Wall. There are a number of different ways I can argue why this isn’t the best approach, but the rationale often given to me by these companies are related to three things. First, they don’t want people to post adverse events on the page or, second, they don’t want people to post off label information about the product, and, third, they don’t want to deal with negative comments of any sort. In today’s post, I’m not going to argue why these aren’t great excuses. I’ll save that for some other time.
There’s another side effect of not allowing commenting. If you turn off commenting, you also turn off the Like function. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, the Like is far less “dangerous” than a comment, as you can’t add commentary to a Like on the Facebook Wall. You just Like it. That’s it. So, I think most companies would, er, like to allow Fans to be able to Like individual Wall posts and updates, but they are not willing to allow commenting to make this happen.
The end result is that Wall posts and status updates receive no comments and no Likes. So, what’s the big deal?
First, let’s remember that most of your actions on Facebook will appear on your Wall.
Next, let’s say that you are the admin for a brand page (like Dose of Digital’s…sorry, couldn’t resist a promotion opportunity). When you do a Wall post or status update, what happens to it?
Here’s a recent one from Dose of Digital’s Facebook Page:
What you probably think happens (if you’re like most people) is that all of the “Fans” of your Page will see this post. But, it’s likely that the vast majority don’t and, in fact, it’s possible that not a single one of them sees it.
Once you Like (previously Fan) a Page, you essentially subscribe to updates from that Page. Of course, you’re not going to visit every Page that you Like each day, so Facebook makes it easy for you by having a feed of all these updates in one place. It’s your News Feed. This is what you see when you first log into Facebook. It looks a little like this:
Stay with me because I’m about to show you the problem you have by not allowing comments and Likes.
Many of you probably have never noticed the setting at the top of the Feed…
By default, everyone’s Feed is set to “Top News.” But what exactly is “Top News”? Before I explain that, I’ll explain the simpler option, “Most Recent.” If you click on “Most Recent,” your Feed will change to show, get this, the most recent updates, posts, Likes and comments (etc.) from your friends and the same from pages you have Liked. It’s strictly based on the time the update was made with the most recent at the top. Raise your hand if you thought that your Feed was showing content in this form by default. Those with your hands up, thanks for being honest. That’s what most people think.
“Top News” is a bit trickier and is also the default setting for the feed. In this setting, the Feed is trying to show you the content that it believes is most meaningful or interesting to you out of all the possible content from your friends and Pages you Like. That means that the newest item isn’t at the top, but rather the item with the highest EdgeRank. “The what?”, you say.
EdgeRank is the algorithm that Facebook uses to determine the order of items in your Feed. In the end, it’s really simple, as it has just three factors: affinity, edge, and decay. Fancy words, but here’s what they are. Affinity is basically the connection between you and the piece of content. The more times you’ve interacted with the source of the content (Facebook calls it an “object”) in the past, the higher the affinity. For example, if you comment on your sister’s Wall everyday, content from your sister will have a high affinity score because you interact a lot with her. Second is “edge.” It sounds cooler than it is. All that edge refers to the relative weight of objects. For example, a comment on a Wall Post probably carries more weight than a Like because it take more effort to post a comment. I say probably because this is the proprietary part of the algorithm. Last, and simplest, is decay. This is the time that has past since the object was created.
Multiply the individual scores for each possible object and then arrange the content accordingly. That’s how your News Feed is populated. Now you know. Sleep easy tonight.
Why should you care?
If you’re someone responsible for a brand Facebook Page, you should care quite a lot because EdgeRank is what is likely preventing anyone from ever seeing your content. The reality of the News Feed is that people browse the top entries and dive in when they see something interesting. Sometimes they’ll come right back to the News Feed and many other times, they’ll head somewhere totally unrelated based on something else they find. People certainly don’t read one News Feed item after another until they get to the end. If your content is showing up towards the top of people’s News Feed, you create a virtuous cycle. If more people see it, then more people comment and Like it. The more people that do this, the more their Likes and comments related to your content show up on their Walls, and therefore, their friends’ News Feeds. This exposes your content to more potential Fans who then Like your page and leave comments. This ensures that your content is even higher on more News Feeds and so on. For example, I’m a Fan of Mashable on Facebook. Everytime they put out something new it’s right around the top 2 or 3 stories in my News Feed. It’s because I interact with (read, comment, Like, etc.) many of these posts and so do hundreds of others.
So, the question is this: Does your content ever show up among the first few items on anyone’s News Feed?
To answer this, let’s bring back EdgeRank. First, affinity. If you’re like most pharma and healthcare brands, your affinity score is pretty low. Because you don’t allow commenting or Likes, people don’t interact with you very often. Maybe they read an Update (assuming they see it), but that’s it. Because you probably don’t do regular updates, they probably don’t even do this very often. Low affinity…check. Next is edge. Interactions that require a bit of effort rank higher than those that don’t. From my earlier example, leaving a comment takes more effort than simply Liking something. Similarly, posting a photo requires more work than a text update. You get the idea. Because the only thing you’re likely doing with your page is Wall posts (that are likely just text), there isn’t much edge. These are low engagement activities that score the lowest. People have to interact with your content to create more edge. Finally, we come to decay. If you aren’t updating regularly, then your Posts will always suffer from a low score here as well. The only way to improve decay is to make sure you have regularly updated content to increase the number of times that your EdgeRank is calculated for something new, which would have a higher decay score.
For those scoring at home, most pages will be zero for three. The consequence of this is that all the effort you put into building your Fans on Facebook might have been a complete waste. The point of having Fans is that you can communicate with them. The best way to do this is for them to see your new content. The place they see new content is in their News Feed. But your content probably isn’t in their News Feed. As far as your Fans are concerned, your page may as well have been deleted.
So, now that I’ve got your attention, how do you know if anyone is seeing your content? Facebook recently upgraded their analytics to let you see both the number and types of interactions with content (comments, Likes, etc.) and also the number of impressions. Facebook’s definition of an “impression” is anytime it serves (displays) a certain piece of content. It doesn’t mean that someone actually read it, but that it was there. The content could have been served in a number of places including user’s news feed, a visit to the Page, or through an Open Graph social plugin (which include many of the ones seen here). This is similar to how impressions for banner ads on websites are measured. That is, impressions are the number of visitors who could have seen the banner, not the number that actually saw it.
How do you find the number of impressions for your content? When you are logged into an account that is an admin for the Page you’re interested in, go to: http://www.facebook.com/insights. You’ll get to a page like this:
A word of caution here…many people have reported bugs with the data from these insights pages that cause inaccurate or missing data. It’s the best we have though, so stay with me. This is what the insights page looks like for a given Facebook Page:
I can tell you that for my Page, the interactions numbers are wrong, but let’s continue. If you click on the “See Details” link next to Interactions, you end up here:
What’s missing here and what we need to figure out the number of impressions is, well, the number of impressions. You see that for me, “n/a” is all that appears. There are two different explanations for this, which I’m working on figuring out which is true (or if both are). I’ll post an update to this post when I get an answer from Facebook. Explanation 1: Impressions are only available for Pages with more than 5,000 Fans. This was given by Facebook as the cutoff when they first announced that per post impression data would be available earlier this year. If this is the case, then most pharma and healthcare pages aren’t going to get impressions data. Explanation 2 (potentially related to explanation 1): Facebook answers an FAQ about this noting that “Per-post insights are only available on verified, authentic Pages. If your Page is not verified as authentic, then this feature is not available.” No mention of 5,000 Fans here. So, if you have less than this, then you might be golden. Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t tell you how to verify your page in their answer. But, one of the reasons you read this blog is because you know I have to figure this stuff out. So, here’s a link to the form you need to fill out to get your Page verified (hat tip to Inside Facebook for this one). How long that takes or if it works is anyone’s guess.
If you can see insights information right now, then great. Is is what you expected? Higher or lower? On average, it’s a 1:1 ratio for impressions to Fans. That is, if you have 1,000 fans, your Wall Post, for example, will typically get 1,000 impressions. This isn’t because every Fan actually was served the content (much less saw it), but because some were served it multiple times. Remember, impressions don’t mean that people actually saw and read the content much less engaged with it. However, this ratio only holds true for brands that post quality content and that have some engagement from Fans. Remember, EdgeRank and how the News Feed works? You’ll get more impressions if your content is always at the top of people’s Feeds. You’ll get way less if it never shows up. The feed displays around 20 of the top pieces of content. If yours is the 21st based on EdgeRank then you won’t even get an impression. To get to the top, you need a high EdgeRank and we’ve already talked about that.
The big point here is simple. By not allowing comments and, therefore, Likes and by updating content rarely and making it mostly text, you’re all but ensuring that your Facebook efforts are reaching no one. Allow comments and with them, Likes. You may have to remove a comment here and there, but that’s okay. You can remove it as soon as it’s posted if you’d like. No harm done. To me, there isn’t a real regulatory risk if you act in good faith. If someone publishes something off-label, for example, to your Wall or as a comment to your post and you remove it at the first chance you get, do you really think that the FDA is going to penalize you for that? You can’t control what people put on the site, you don’t encourage or condone this type of information, and you act on it as soon as you know there’s an issue. I don’t get what the concern is. There are a handful of pharma and healthcare pages out there that have opened up commenting and the vast majority are handling it just fine. In fact, they’re getting people to actively engage with the brand for the first time. Rather than create a nightmare for the brand, it’s a dream come true. Imagine that.
So, does your Facebook page even exist?