As a content marketer, which is the first platform that comes to your mind while promoting a post? For most people, including myself, the answer would be Facebook. A community of over 1.59 billion monthly active users, more than the entire population of China.
With that much traffic, the potential visibility of a brand is enormous. However, one of the biggest complaints content marketers and social media managers have with Facebook is that the amount of traffic almost always increases noise and decreases the rate of conversion. Users have something better on their feed at any given point of time and posts tend to get overshadowed simply due to the volume of content on Facebook.
Which is why when Facebook introduced Audience Optimization for pages earlier this year, it piqued the curiosity of admirers and critics alike. Although the quantitative effect of the added feature remains to be explored and debated, it is imperative to understand how it functions and how it might affect your digital marketing strategy.
What is Audience Optimization
To put it simply, Facebook’s Audience Optimization is the more advanced version of News Feed Targeting. It allows you to reach out to relevant sections of your audience by specifying the interests your target audience is most likely to have.
However, unlike Interest targeting, Facebook claims that Audience Optimization does not restrict the reach of the post. The idea of the feature is to improve the overall engagement rate. This is done by serving the post to an audience that is more likely to engage with (and take an action on) the post. The targeting is based on interests that the user enters while making the post. The concept works in a similar way as keywords do with Google AdWords. Facebook recommends 6-10 interest based tags per post but you could try and experiment with both sides of the spectrum.
Why Audience Optimization
Besides the fact that the feature intends to target engagement instead of reach (which, frankly, is a little uncharacteristic of Facebook), it represents SEO like tendencies within the social network and that makes it extremely important. Relevance and not reach is what has been the driving force around SEO for a while now and the fact that Facebook has chosen to focus on the same ideology marks an important shift in the theories of social media marketing.
Audience Optimization brings together a great number of SEO practices and integrates them into content marketing. Probably the most prominent is bringing niche marketing centre stage along with promoting keyword research and understanding audience metrics and linkages. Therefore, this feature makes evident the “marriage of SEO to content marketing”, if you will. And that’s relevant because it helps us understand how SEO will evolve to support the currently evolving content marketing scenario.
Of course, one could argue that this seems like a pseudo-keyword based page optimization feature that doesn’t emulate displaying results the way Google does or how searches have matured from simple keyword based queries yet Facebook chooses to use this so-called “ancient knowledge” to predict a post’s relevance to an audience. Though this might be true to some extent but there are two things that need to be remembered here:
That this is just a part of Facebook’s algorithm and not the complete algorithm itself
That Facebook and Google handle very different queries (based on complexity, etc) and the results expected from each are also different
Another argument may be that Audience Optimization may, just like Google’s keyword based algorithm, open up a Pandora’s Box of misuse, where people might lead Facebook to believe that their post may be relevant to certain sections of the audience through Interest tagging i.e. they might try to include as many tags as possible, without considering relevance, to widen scope and visibility of posts.
That won’t work.
Audience Optimization doesn’t restrict reach. It betters engagement by helping you target relevant users. By broadening your scope, you’d be hurting your own engagement rate, maybe even your brand value. It is unclear though whether Facebook has any defensive measures to avoid people from misusing interest tagging.
How to use Audience Optimization
For pages with more than 5000 likes, Facebook has automatically set Audience Optimization on. Just head over to your page Settings and look for Audience Optimization for Posts under the General Settings tab. The description is somewhat misleading, so just go on ahead and check the box and save changes.
Now when you make a post, you can see the Audience Optimization icon at the bottom. Click on it and select the interests you want to target in the Preferred Audience tab. With each tag, Facebook estimates the potential reach of your post to people with similar interests (this figure is most likely inflated so use it only on a relative scale). If you want to exclude a particular section of the audience, go to Audience Restrictions and set the required filters.
(Audience Optimization is not available on Power Editor, probably because posts through Power Editor already have CTAs built in which bring in website traffic whereas Audience Optimization targets post engagement)
Obviously, you can view how your posts perform with interest based targeting. However, Facebook only generates data when 100 people have interacted with it. So, if you wanted to see data for Likes, Shares and Comments, you must have 100 Likes, Shares and Comments before Facebook will generate these statistics for you. Once you do reach those numbers, you’ll be able to analyse your performance.
Here are a few general tips to keep in mind:
Use Interest tagging to best describe your audience, not like you would with keywords
Try to keep targeting narrow and avoid broad matching of interests while tagging (for example, an article on Football would be best tagged with Football and Sports instead of Entertainment)
Location tagging, where possible, must be implemented
Use social media tools to best understand related interests instead of guessing
At the end of the day, Audience Optimization is just a way for Facebook to be able to provide value to marketers and the audience as a content marketing platform. For marketers, it is a tool to be able to interact beyond the noise on the platform. For users, it is a way to make the news feed a more relevant display of content.
For now, Audience Optimization looks like it is going to stay. In the future, Facebook may even make it an integral part of posting. As with any development, it relies on the user to be able to correctly understand and take advantage of it in their efforts. When increased organic engagement is at stake, there is no downside to trying.