Facebook “People talking about your brand” update

A few days ago I posted on the new “People talking about this” content on the new Facebook brand Pages. The verdict is in, and I’ll summarise briefly.

  • The content appears when a user is viewing your brand page AND a friend of that user has posted content that mentions your brand by name.
  • An extremely complex search algorithm is at work to determine this relevance – theoretically complex enough to distinguish between a mention of Red Bull and a mention of a red bull.
  • This search algorithm is not in real-time, and trawls through a long history of content – one colleague of mine saw a friend’s post about a brand from August last year.
  • The feature cannot be turned off or moderated – though it is appearing on your brand page, it is not considered content under your curation (regardless of how it may appear to the user).
  • The visibility of the content is limited to the audience/privacy conditions for which it was originally intended, making it almost all invisible to page admins, with therefore no opportunity to respond.

Facebook’s justification is that your Page is a public space – you don’t own it, you’re curating it – and their motivation for this is producing the most relevant possible content to Facebook users. Fair enough. The problem is that because of the placement of that content on your brand Page, it appears to the casual observer that it is in fact part of your community content. And if it is a complaint, it will appear as a complaint that has been left without response, possibly for months. And even if the user is aware that it’s not Page content, there is still the potential for a psychological association of that negative feedback with your brand.

Facebook does not appear to have given a lot of thought to the feature’s practical effects on a brand Page experience. This is perhaps understandable, with so many changes rolling out and the emphasis on sponsored stories, new mobile Facebook newsfeed offerings, etc. But I think it’s going to become a matter of some concern for a lot of brands.

I don’t think that Facebook should necessarily nix the content entirely, but I do think it would be helpful for everyone involved for that content to be more clearly distinguished from the rest of a Page’s timeline. Perhaps a slightly different colour or shade of boxing around the content to imply some distance between it and the surrounding Page’s likes, posts by others on the Page and Page posts themselves.

New Facebook timeline “Posts about a Page” a double-edged sword

Note: I have posted an update on this issue.

As brands begin switching their Facebook pages over to the new timeline configuration, you might start noticing something a little weird. Checking out the Coca-Cola Facebook page, I see a post by a friend from late last year saying something like, “So far today I’ve had two coffees, two Red Bulls and a Coke.” She didn’t tag Coca-Cola in her post and she’s not a fan of Coca-Cola on Facebook. Facebook’s just pulled the content in there under the assumption that it’s relevant to Coca-Cola.

Moderating posts by others is optional, but the box I’m seeing these brand mentions in is a separate one from the “Recent Posts by Others” box, which displays fan activity on the timeline itself. In Facebook’s algorithmic quest to provide relevant content, it’s displaying references to brands by friends who have made only passing mention of them. Well, okay.

Here’s what Facebook says about this kind of content:

Posts about a Page respect the privacy settings of the people who create them. Page admins won’t see posts about their Page that people haven’t shared publicly even though people visiting the Page might see them if they’re part of the audience the post was shared with. Pages themselves are public spaces, and posts added to a Page’s timeline will be visible publicly and are eligible to appear in the Recent Posts by Others box.

Cut to me checking out a New Zealand brand’s new timeline page. What do I see? A friend talking about that brand. They’re not a fan on Facebook, they didn’t tag the brand or anything. They just mentioned it by name, so Facebook throws it up there as relevant content to me. She’s a friend who mentioned the brand whose timeline I’m viewing. Sure, it’s relevant.

Problem for that brand is, that relevant post was a massive complaint about them. The complaint doesn’t tag them, isn’t posted on their wall, and was made two weeks ago. It has seven comments, with other people complaining about that same brand.

And for that brand, there’s no way for them to…

a) know they’ve been publicly complained about (and therefore they are unable to respond) or…

b) to know that this is top content for any friend of hers viewing their brand timeline. And she’s got 490 friends, apparently.

Mainly, this is just another demonstration of how something that was always a concern for brands – negative word-of-mouth – is amplified by online social media. You can’t know if someone’s complaining about you at the water cooler on a lunch break, and so you can’t respond. But now it’s not just three people in the lunch room hearing a customer gripe; it’s 490 friends, and the friends of any friends who commented on or liked their complaint. And the transcript of that complaining is being stapled to the front door of your shop, magically invisible to your eyes, but visible to all of those friends.

Sometimes I have to introduce magic to really push an analogy all the way.

So what’s a brand to do?

Unless Facebook’s moderation extends to these passing mentions appearing as notifications in the new admin panel to go along with their helpful relevant-posts search algorithm, brands are not going to be able to respond to all of this negativity, even though it’s being posted up on their own timelines. And, as Facebook says in their FAQ, they respect the privacy of people talking about brands and don’t feel the need to let page admins know about it. They don’t mind that content appearing on a brand’s timeline, because they consider brand pages to be public spaces.

All you can do is be even more proactive in responding to the concerns and complaints of which you are aware, so that the same mechanisms that are spreading around the complaints are also spreading around a clear demonstration to those who see it: you’re a helpful brand, you’re concerned about complaints. And hopefully, next time someone sees a complaint about you, they might throw a slightly different comment into the mix and say, “Hey, you should get in touch with them – I’ve seen them respond really quickly to complaints like this before.”

Because it’s unlikely that Facebook are going to make this kind of search-referencing optional for brands. The first thing brands will do is turn it off, saying they don’t want uncontrollable invisible-to-them mentions of their brand on their own Facebook presence. And so Facebook would lose something they’re really into at the moment: story content being as relevant as possible to Facebook users.

Doing Facebook Right

So I’m going to actually post about the industry in which I work. I’m a digital strategist, and despite my best efforts, a fairly significant portion of my work involves social-media strategy, usually around Facebook.

International Speaker (her capitalisation, not mine) Debbie Mayo-Smith has published a column in the Small Business section of the NZ Herald asking the question, “Are Facebook business pages worth the effort?”

And she answers, “No.”

Well, not for her, anyway. She’s “done everything right” on her Facebook page for two years and has a measly 1056 fans to show for it. Here is what she’s done:

  • A monthly newsletter to 18,000 people including a request to like her page on Facebook
  • A live Facebook stream on her website
  • A “like” button on her website
  • A link to the Facebook page at the bottom of her Herald column
  • A “welcome” landing tab with a call-to-action at the top to click “like”
  • Posted links to her blog articles regularly on the page wall
  • Published a column in the Herald letting her 1056 fans know just how disappointed she is with them

And she diagnoses her problems, the reasons why Facebook hasn’t worked for her:

  • As a “business speaker and author”, her target demographic is primarily “middle-aged decision makers” who are too busy with responsibilities and families and the like for Facebook.
  • Even if they are using Facebook, they will probably miss her page’s activity because other wall activity will be more recent by the time they get around to checking their feed.

It’s not that there’s no value in Facebook, for Debbie. It’s just that the return on the investment of time, money and effort is too low to make it a priority when there are other avenues into which she can be putting that energy. And that’s fair enough. If something else is working more efficiently, do that first and foremost, obviously.

Now, Keren Phillips off of The Common Room has responded, pointing out that there are more ways to use Facebook than “having chatty ‘community building’ conversation and information sharing ‘engagement’ with them, and that engagement naturally converting to real-world sales”. And she’s correct.

But frankly, I don’t think that Debbie has actually “done everything right” in terms of this traditional model of Facebook use, and I’d hope that not too many SMEs take her advice on the matter seriously. They could be turning their back on a channel that would work just fine for their business.

So if I was to sit down and look at Debbie’s use of Facebook in order to give her professional recommendations, here’s what I would say.

1. Don’t mistake quantity for quality

1056 fans are nothing to be sneezed at. Those are over a thousand people who have gone out of their way to hear what you have to say, and haven’t (yet) taken the very simple step of clicking “unlike”. While it may seem like a low number when you’re comparing it to your DM channel of 18,000 people on your mailing list, there is potential there for every one of your Facebook fans to be worth ten mailing-list contacts. It’s not necessarily a numbers game. 50 highly engaged fans are more valuable to you than 10,000 who don’t engage at all.

2. Get rid of that appalling landing tab

The first thing a visitor to the Debbie Mayo-Smith brand page sees is a roughly five-page-long wordy advertisement. There’s a request to click “like” at the top. Then there’s… this…

And also this…

No area of business improvement Debbie can help you with is any larger than another, you see.

All of which makes me think of this…

You can read the entire landing tab for yourself. If you do, you’ll probably be one of the first. Now, I’m not saying to get rid of the landing tab altogether. It’s a good idea, just poorly executed. Your welcome page shouldn’t take ten minutes to read. The call to action at the top, inviting visitors to like the page, is also a good idea – just poorly executed.

So here’s what you do. Pay a designer and a copywriter to make you two images. The first will be visible to people who have not clicked “like” and the second will be visible to people who have clicked “like”. The first tells the visitor that the tab has exclusive members-only content which will be unlocked for them when they click “like”. The second is a static image at the top, very briefly detailing who you are and what you do, and underneath it is a link to buying one of your books with a 10% discount. Or some other product or service you offer. And rotate that so that there’s a different discount offer each week.

And the visitor should not have to scroll down to see all of the content on that landing tab.

And you set up that tab so that some content is visible to fans and some content is visible to non-fans. Google it if you don’t know how.

Yeah, I'm still thinking about graphs.

3. Don’t treat your Facebook wall as a direct-marketing channel

There are far too many posts on your wall that are simply links to your blog articles with a line asking people to share them with friends. That’s boring. Imagine Facebook like you’re hosting a party. You want people to attend, you want them to enjoy themselves, to talk to you and to each other, and to recommend your parties to other people. When you’re hosting a party, you wouldn’t walk up to people, hand them an article and say, “Tell your friends if you like this.”

So your job is first of all to be encouraging a community. In the past month, you’ve posted a few things that are roughly along the right lines. You had a nice discussion on the 6th of June about Air NZ’s gaffe on Facebook. You want to be posting more conversation starters, asking your fans what they think about things. When you’re giving your own opinion on something, make it short and sweet and invite your fans to contribute their thoughts. Mix things up a bit with the odd YouTube video (NOT videos of you) of things related to your field – maybe a TED talk or two, for example.

If you get some good engagement going on your posts – some conversation, especially – you won’t have to worry about the problem you mentioned: that your target demographic will miss your posts because they don’t check Facebook often enough. Many people are not following a “most recent” feed of activity. They’re following “top news”, which favours those items that Facebook guesses you’d find most interesting. And Facebook guesses that people will be interested in posts that generate a lot of discussion.

In other words, give your fans a reason for being there. Give them value – and that doesn’t mean just links to your articles. Give them value they can’t get by just subscribing to an RSS feed of your articles.

As you noted in your column, it’s not easy to do this. It will take time and effort.

4. Sell things occasionally, and give them away too

Yes, I just said not to treat it like a DM channel. But no one’s going to click on that “books” tab you’ve got. I’d bet money that you haven’t sold any of your books through clicks from Facebook. (And you should have analytics set up on your site so that you can measure precisely where sales are coming from, by the way.) So very occasionally link to purchase of one of your books, preferably with some kind of limited-time discount offer. And very occasionally link to more information about booking you for a speaking event.

Also, consider using your books as prizes in promotions. Now, you can’t use native Facebook functionality for your promotions (e.g., you can’t make something like posting a photo or a comment or sharing something a condition of entry), but you can link to a promotion that’s running on your site.

You’ve got more than books to give away. How about a free consultation? How about a free motivational talk or workshop with the winning entrant’s employees? Now, take that promotion and consider combining it with a bit of a spend in Facebook ads. Talk to Facebook about what they can offer you in the way of demographic targeting.


That’s far from all you could do, but that’s the lowest-hanging fruit. That’s bread-and-butter standard-fare first steps. If you combine all of the above, what do you have? A page that incentivises visitors clicking “like”, gives them more value when they do, encourages the kind of engagement that gives your wall posts a higher chance of being read, which keeps bringing them back, and actually has a chance of driving traffic through to purchase on your site.

So what I’m saying is: I’m sorry, you haven’t been doing it right. There’s no shame in that. Most don’t. But it’s a concern that your column might put off people who think you’re an authority on this particular matter. You could be doing some small-business owners a disservice by discouraging them from using a channel that could really benefit their company.