Why Timeline engagement ‘studies’ should be ignored
In the lead-up to today’s mandatory switch to Timeline for pages, a number of companies released so-called studies about how the new design affects fan engagement rate. However, these reports — and many news outlets that covered them — completely misinterpret cause and effect.
Timeline is primarily a design change and is unlikely to be directly responsible for any differences in fan engagement because most interaction occurs on posts within News Feed, not on pages themselves. Page owners should recognize the importance of Timeline as a first impression for visitors, but should not count on the redesign to change the way fans interact with their page.
Nonetheless, platform companies Wildfire, Vitrue and Simply Measured released statistics claiming to represent the impact of Timeline on engagement. Here’s what they found:
- Brands with less than 1 million fans had an average 60 percent increase in Likes per post and 40 percent increase in comments per post
- Brands with 1 million to 10 million fans had an average 14 percent increase in Likes per post and a 17 percent decrease in comments per post
- Brands with more than 10 million fans saw decreases across all measures
- 52 percent of brands experienced a reduction in engagement rate
- 27 percent of brands had a 20 percent lift in engagement rate
- Some brands saw as much as 190 percent increase in engagement per fan
- Brands had an average 14 percent increase in fan engagement
The results are clearly inconclusive, and that’s no surprise considering the approach of collecting data from a limited sample of Timeline launch partners and early adopters. Simply Measured, for instance, looked at only 15 pages, several of which have run Facebook ad campaigns in the last month or were featured by Facebook and blogs as examples of the new design. Wildfire looked at 43 pages — 20 of which were launch partners and the rest that also switched to Timeline on the first day it became available. Vitrue did not provide its methodology by press time.
Not only did some of these pages have an artificial increase in visitors, but it’s possible that brands that switched to Timeline were more conscious of what they posted and ended up sharing items that fans responded to more. It’s also important to note that Facebook has recently introduced a number of aesthetic and possibly algorithmic changes to News Feed that could be affecting page posts. In mid-February, Facebook expanded the size of stories about friends engaging with page posts. Now these stories include a thumbnail from the page and captions above photos rather than below the images. Other News Feed changes include the addition of interest lists and larger Sponsored Stories.
Regardless of the methods and interpretations of Wildfire, Vitrue and Simply Measured’s studies, each of these companies have produced products that assist page owners in many ways. In this case, however, it is important for page owners to understand that these reports are not necessarily representative of the actual relationship between Timeline and engagement.
There are a few aspects of Timeline that could lead to more fan interaction, but again these are related to News Feed. For instance, when pages change their cover photo, some fans will see a story in their feeds about the activity. There’s also an option to add milestones to past points on Timeline. These posts might be more heavily weighted by EdgeRank and appear to a larger percentage of fans. If pages decide to use Timeline a bit more cleverly — for example, Spotify turned its page into a history of music dating back to the year 1000 — they will need to make posts that remind fans to visit the page. Most people do not return to fan pages after clicking Like unless they are prompted with a link in News Feed or ads. Similarly, pinning posts is likely to only have an effect if there is something leading new users to a page.
[Update 3/30/12 2:40 p.m. PT - Vitrue VP of Marketing Erika Brookes tells us, "It's very early and our data represents a small and specific sample, to provide insights early on. We'll continue to monitor, of course. Timeline is new so it's clearly getting attention and has a novelty effect going on [...] Bottom line, really, is the newsfeed is where consumers spend the majority of their time. So the key focus for marketers should be about creating engaging, interactive and valuable content that appeals to their users and will surface in feeds. That’s what garners engagement.”]
We look forward to analyzing future data from more representative samples over a longer period of time.