I happened to stumble across a post by fashion and portrait photographer Dani Diamond on Fstoppers about his experiences, opinion on (or actually disappointment with) interaction rates on Facebook vs Instagram . His complains are something I hear almost every day. Not only by photographers but also from other people I follow or in groups. Most of those complains or theories, however, are coming from self employed people or owner run businesses. Sorry to say but to me it just sounds like being a famous photographer doesn’t stop you from losing perspective of the business aspect of the internet.
How I behave on Facebook
I’m a Facebook addict. I work on the computer day by day, and a tab with Facebook is almost always open somewhere. When I’m on the road, I have my iPhone and check out Facebook when I’m sitting around in a train, bus or in a station. I don’t post something daily but almost. Either on my private wall or on my Facebook page. As of today I have 628 people in my “friends” list, and 629 “Likes” on my business page. It’s purely coincidental that the numbers almost match – I would guess there is an overlap of maybe 200-300 people but I do get Likes on Facebook from people I never heard about. And my the friend list on my personal account consists of many photographers from around the world which I have some things in common with, many of which I have met at some event – and some of them I would really call friends despite never having met them in real life.
I just checked for this article: With my profile, I have liked 525 pages and services to date. I have been on Facebook since 2008, so it looks like I am averaging around 70 likes every year, between one and two new ones each week.
How does Facebook work for me
As you see, there are 1,200 people and pages potentially posting something that I could be served in my news stream. I think it is rather obvious that I would not want to go through these – even if only 20 per cent of them would post once a day. And factually there are several – both people and pages – that publish multiple posts daily. Add to that several groups that I am a member of which several have multiple posts each day again – actually there is the Photoshop & Lightroom group alone with 100k members and probably hundreds of posts each day.
As a user, I certainly do not want to go through the each and every post that is potentially posted for me as an audience. And frankly, even if I once “liked” something does not necessarily mean I am actually interested in every single post coming from that page. Especially if posts contain on actual valuable information for me but just showing off some new feature or product – or the newest photo someone shot – I am not all that interested. See some of them, yeah, sure. All of them? No way, I would either “unlike” many pages (which I occasionally do) or Facebook would get much less attractive for me.
Sometimes odd things happen in that process. Someone found one of my images I uploaded more than a year ago to my private wall yesterday. And as it happens in those cases, if one person suddenly clicks “like” on something, others will join quickly. All of a sudden an image I uploaded 15 months ago received fifteen new likes today.
So Facebook filters posts, trying to find out what we like best. And overall it seems to do this well. By far not perfect, luckily, because that would mean it could read my mind and find out what mood I am in. But it keeps a preference to personal friends I interact with on a regular basis, and less of the pages and groups that I don’t use as often. And I believe if you happen to post on your page some content that I don’t interact with (give a like or leave a comment), that page will get less preference. Rightfully so.
And this is the main reason, in my honest opinion, why pages will never reach their full potential audience. Because people just don’t care as much as we publishers would wish. On my own rather small page, I easily see the fluctuations in my posts. Some of them reach 10 or 20 per cent of my “potential audience” – people who clicked the “Like” button on it – but some reach 50 per cent or more. Usually the latter happens with posts that get a lot of likes or comments from the people who saw it. Obviously Facebook is also trying to figure out if a post itself is interesting enough before it pops up for even more people.
So what explains those differences shown in Dani’s post?
Having all that in mind, and assuming there is some logic in my assumptions, there still is a visible difference in the interaction rates Dani Diamond sees for his posts. So, why do these numbers in Dani’s post seem to support his statement of a sudden decrease?
Because as creative people we tend to measure ourselves against the best we have done so far. We are proud of our successes, even the little ones. The image or post with the most likes is becoming our standard. And so it appears just natural if Dani picks some of his most successful posts from the past to measure his “potential”. But if you go to his page, you will find that the post right after the most recent one he shows “only” received some 800 likes compared to the 1700+ he shows – and by the way, this is a very personal post which tends to get more likes. And if you scroll down a bit, his posts were liked by 600, 800, 600 again.
If you scroll down very far towards the beginning of 2014, you will find that some of his posts are getting less than 100 likes, others directly before or after are hitting 500. So even back then, long time ago, the fluctuation in likes was very big. I think the connection between “having run an ad” and “fluctuations in interaction rates” is more in our minds than the actual numbers support. Maybe there is an effect but if so, it is probably much smaller.
Comparing Facebook to other options
As mentioned in that blog post, Dani Diamond is seeing much more interactions on Instagram compared to Facebook. I have no doubt that this is realistic. My Instagram feed has about 800 followers and I get 60-100 likes when I post a new image, roughly 10 per cent of my followers interact. Interaction rates on Facebook are far, far below that for me, they are closer to 3 per cent.
However, this still means that Facebook is beating a lot of other options: On Google+ (which many believe Google has given up some time ago) interaction rates seems to have dropped below 1 per cent for many; I don’t use my Twitter account on a regular basis anymore because even with 1,600 followers I rarely see more than 3 or 4 people pushing the “favorite” star.
And here is a very, very interesting comparison: What do you think is the most personal electronic connection between you and your followers? Obviously it is email. There is no big company filtering content or trying to sell you advertising when you send emails to your followers. So there is no reason why you should not reach 100% of your audience and have them all interact with you, right? Wrong. Even if you have email newsletters, you will notice that on average only 25% will open your emails.
That is people who voluntarily gave you their email addresses to stay in touch. Maybe you gave some incentive like a free download. But still for some reasons they once trusted you with that. Some might have given you an email address they don’t even follow but just have for the purpose of adding it to lists; some may have moved on to a new email address. But most of them just lost interest in you and your “news” (which in most cases are not news but a way to sell them some product one way or the other). They are even too lazy to unsubscribe from your list but simply delete it from their inboxes without opening them. Yes, I am also that kind of user. I get about ten to twenty emails each day about a wide range of topics. Some of them are actually summaries of industry news which I still am interested in but I don’t open those mails every day. Most of the time I just select and mass delete them.
And the conclusion to move over to Instagram because of the higher “likes” you get over there seems a big mental jump. While I can still see that Facebook offers a realistic chance to sell products through their service, I doubt that there is an actual business case for an Instagram user at this stage. People will like your images over there, of course. But click on links to another website? Or even to a product for sale? I seriously doubt that. It’s a pure image sharing platform, the focus is on the images, not the text going along with it. It may be good for networking and finding contract jobs for some. But not as a sales platform right now.
The sad truth about people – and how to market to them
So to me the “sad truth” is not about Facebook. They are doing above average compared to all the other options. To me the sad truth is about the people who are following us. The truth is they are not all that interested in us, our products, our services and our egos after all. And the lose interest, sometimes very quickly.
And the “sad truth” as seen from a marketer point of view is that Facebook doesn’t make it easier to sell our products than any other method does. If you want to sell your product through Google Ads, you often have to pay more than $1 for each person clicking on your ad – and if you get one out of every 20 who click to buy something from you, you must have a very successful product indeed.
The “sad truth” is that Facebook filters content to serve me as a user as good as it can. And that’s what makes it an excellent social network, compared to other offers out there. And yes, it lets you pay for it if you want to get your message out there.
My personal conclusions
I have run a few ads here and there. Not with a specific purpose (usually that’s a bad idea) but to find out how all of this works. Now you may say that my FB page is much too small to measure any effect and you could be right. Because I haven’t seen any. Neither positive nor negative.
For the time begin I continue to run my page as it is. Mainly for fun and the pleasure of people asking me for advice every now and then. And I keep spending a few dollars here and there to promote some of my posts, with the (probably unrealistic) hope that someone might actually license one of my images through this channel. Problem is, I’ll never know for sure. As a matter of fact, the discussion about this inspired be to run two new boosted posts yesterday and today. If the theory is right, Facebook will “punish” me tomorrow by not showing my new posts to anyone out there anymore. I’ll let you know. 😉