Imagine that you are standing at the podium in front of a large audience who purchased tickets to see you. After speaking for a while, you start to see their eyes glazing over. You are not connecting with them. As their attention wanders, you see people start to filter out of the room. Eventually, you find yourself speaking to a room where the seats are half empty.
That is, in effect, what happens to your Facebook audience when your updates fail to interest them enough to get them to react or respond in some way. Many people may like your page, but if you write a post and no one clicks on it or comments, it’s going to hurt your ability to reach your audience. It will be as if their seat in the room is empty.
How to assure that your messages are shown
Edgerank, Facebook’s system of screening content to select what is shown to people in their feeds, is based on the quality of your content, as determined largely by how much people interact with it. Facebook has not shared the details of this formula, but what we do understand is that receiving the thumbs up of the like button is like silver and getting an actual comment is like gold.
Let’s go back to that auditorium for a moment. You realize that you are losing your audience, so you look up at them, pause for a minute, and ask a question that stops them in their tracks. People start raising their hands. They want to stand up and share their responses. They start moving back to their seats, willing to hang out with you for a while now and hear what you have to say.
It’s not how many people like your page, it’s how many people like the conversation
On Facebook, you are building a relationship and that requires different types of updates. Not every one will be a thought-provoking question that stops people in their tracks, but judicious use of this device is critical to the mix. It encourages deeper engagement (a benefit in and of itself) and the resulting comments help get you through Facebook’s filter and into peoples’ feeds.
Looking at questions that elicit a high rate of comments, we can analyze what it is that moved people to spend the time to type out a response. Let’s assume you have a decent number of people who have liked your page. If you’re a local pizza shop, that may mean 300 people and if you’re Pizza Hut, it may mean 3 million. What’s more important is the percentage of those people who like or comment on a post. I’ll use .2% as a benchmark for pages with under a million likes and .1% for those with 1-2 million likes. (Once you have many millions of likes, it’s unusual to get that percentage, but when a page like Toy Story, that has over 17 million likes receives over 9,500 comments and 6,000 likes to an update, we’ll call it a winner.)
What are some examples of good, engaging questions and who has mastered this art?
Whole Foods consistently drives conversation on their Facebook page. With 565,000 likes, two recent posts received over 2,000 comments (.4%) Those questions were: “We’re curious . . . which book or movie has influenced your eating habits the most?” and “If you could eat only one thing each day for all 365 days of the year, what would it be?” These are thought-provoking, caring questions that are fun to answer. They are in keeping with the brand because they are about healthy eating and appeal to a consumer who is educated and interested in the topic. They are not necessarily about the brand’s own products but about the lifestyle that surrounds them.
NPR, with 1.6 million likes asks: “We want to know the image that first forced you, as a child, to think about the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Mushroom cloud? Bomb shelter? Chernobyl? Post your memory in the comments below.” NPR received over 3,700 comments (over .2%) This question required thought, asked for a memory and added an emotional component as well. NPR showed their understanding of their consumers by asking a politically and socially focused question that seemed to favor a demographic (baby boomers) that likely comprise a large number of people. They also explicitly asked for the comment.
The Knot, a site for couples planning a wedding, has 90,000 likes and asked “tell us about your centerpieces”, receiving 173 comments (.2%). This open ended question asks readers to share something personal about one of the issues they come to this company’s site to decide. Questions like this also encourage more people to read comments because the answers give people ideas that may help them. Readers have the opportunity to vote up a comment by hitting the like button, adding to engagement and giving extra points to your Edgerank score, while they stick around and engage with you.
Another good bet for a question that will generate comments is one with a blank at the end. Walmart asked this question: “Happy first day of Spring! We’re excited for blooming flowers, baby vegetables and longer days. Fill in the blank: I’m excited for ________.” This question received 2,500 comments and over 3,000 likes.
Toy Story with 17.8 milllion likes asked “if you were a toy from any Toy Story film, who would you be?” This question received 9,745 comments and over 6,000 likes. Although many brands ask the “What is your favorite. . . “ question–the one with the format that sets up an if/then situation is more interesting because it requires more imagination.
So, what are the three qualities of a question that will elicit a high percentage of comments?
First, it must be “on brand,” which means that you use appropriate terminology and speak about what is meaningful and important to your customers. The tone should also reflect your brand. For example, it could be whimsical, intellectual, worldly, creative, or serious. Second, the question should be posed in a way that invites engagement, which means it requires reasoning, imagination, is fascinating to think about and fun to answer. Finally, a good question by its nature, elicits a desire to share, be heard and hear others.
Getting comments is critical to your ability to get through the filters. You need to earn your readers’ engagement to earn the right to be seen in peoples’ feeds. But the fact is that although Edgerank rewards you for those comments, it is actually forcing you to behave in a way that is good for your business. It encourages you to talk, to listen and to encourage those people in the seats to talk to you as well. These are the building blocks of a relationship that will help people know, like and ultimately trust you.