Garrett “Orwin” Evenson

Senior Digital Analyst

June 12, 2015

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Putting Passion Into Practice: National Cancer Survivors Month Some Unbelievable Shit!

Anatomy Of Winning Facebook Posts

The Anatomy of … series last left off sharing insights on emails and donation pages. Today, we’re digging into Facebook posts. With all the Facebook algorithm changes and new features, sometimes it feels like you’re swimming upstream trying to keep up! The BSD Optimization Lab took all the changes into consideration (so you don’t have to) and analyzed hundreds of Facebook posts from some of our clients. Here’s what we came up with so you can optimize each Facebook post.

Before we start, a quick note about our methodology. We analyzed hundreds of Facebook posts from across our nonprofit clients—accounts ranging in size from 2,500 Likes to more than 2.7 million Likes. The chart below represents our juiciest top-line findings: average engagement rate across post type.

Anatomy of winning Facebook posts

So, after crunching the numbers here are five key takeaways to optimize your awesome Facebook posts.

1. Turn negative feedback into a positive.

Are you receiving higher-than-average negative feedback rates? Well, try this out.
It’s a terrible Facebook death to have someone unlike your page, but it’s even worse to have them hide your page. Facebook’s algorithms already make it difficult for your supporters to see your content in the daily deluge of the newsfeed, but when a user unfollows your page you basically end up speaking to an empty room you thought was sold out.

For a new organization trying to acquire new fans, negative feedback, is, well, the worst. So which Facebook posts received the least negative feedback? In line with all the articles touting the need for link-share posts, our studies have shown that these posts are the least offensive as far as negative feedback goes—in fact, they drew 70% less negative feedback than non-link posts, like status updates or photo posts. So, if you’re noticing higher-than-average negative feedback rates, try dialling back on the status updates and photo posts for a while. But beware of only sharing link posts—they had the smallest average reach. And make sure the content of those links are relevant and timely (that Which-Mean-Girls-Character-Are-You? quiz might work for your personal Facebook but not your organization’s).

2. Status updates drive engagement.

While link-share posts were least likely to cause negative feedback, they were also one of the least engaging and had the smallest average reach. Status updates on the other hand were, perhaps surprisingly, the most engaging, at a rate of 10.8%. Even more surprising, they made up nearly a quarter of all of our clients’ top 10 performing posts even though status updates only made up about 4.9% of all posts analyzed. What does this mean? The key here is that status updates happen less frequently than other posts, but they tend to feature more substantive content and (often) don’t make hard asks. So it’s important to pepper meaningful and relevant status updates into your social media calendar—they’re vital for engaging with and cultivating your audience.

3. Post great content (but keep it brief).

Some best practices tell you to keep your Facebook posts as short and sweet as possible—we’ve heard as short as 30 characters. However, when we surveyed our clients’ posts, the average length of their posts was 195 characters. Some posts were short and some were long—what worked best, you ask? Well, the top fifty posts in our study had an average engagement rate of 17.6%—and an average length of 218 characters. In fact, only three posts in the top fifty had fewer than 100 characters!


For comparison, posts that had fewer than 100 characters had an average engagement rate of 5.8% and posts that were more than twice as long as the average post (more than 390 characters) had an average engagement rate of 7.8%. The takeaway: sometimes you can’t fit what you need to say in 30 characters—or even 140—and that’s okay! On Facebook, good content trumps length. Just make sure you get to the point sooner rather than later.

4. Know your audience.

No blog post or report can tell you how best to engage with your specific audience. One of our clients posts a status update nearly every day, with remarkably similar content every. single. time.

While this goes against most best practices, that particular audience responds every. single. time. The content is emotionally resonant, and meaningfully connects with its audience. This client consistently sees engagement rates in the mid-teens—that’s about double the average engagement rate from this study, 7.1%. Heck, it works for Humans of New York, too!

The lesson here is simple: take some time to learn about what your audience wants. Only by regularly examining your own Facebook data will you be able to identify what resonates the best and moves your audience toward action.

5. You don’t have to be perfect (but you better be timely).

The top 10 posts from this audit had an average reach of 220,281 and an average engagement rate of 22%—nearly three times the engagement rate of the average post. So what did our top posts have in common? A few things.

First, our highest performers were largely (though not exclusively) photo posts with a lot of reach. But more importantly than that, these posts featured timely and relevant content for their audiences. They connected holidays and newsworthy events back to the organization—like Team USA did when the US Women’s National Soccer Team beat Australia in their first match in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The point is pretty clear here: when your big moment arrives, don’t strive to craft the perfect post that may result in missing out on the conversation—instead pull the trigger thoughtfully and quickly!

And what about video posts? Recent Facebook algorithm changes point to social video gaining momentum, but for now data for video is still young. Until we can gather more insights on social video, check out this overview from our social media expert Molly Washam on how to post video on all social channels.

With that said, we hope you found this breakdown helpful! Remember, at the end of the day we want our social communities to take action—whether that’s signing up for email, attending an event, signing a petition, or making a donation or purchase. To get the most out of each post, you have to track and optimize. Obsessively. You should tie all your posts back to your digital analytics platform so you can examine which posts lead to the most revenue or signups. Yes, it can be tedious. But with that knowledge you’ll be prepared to seize big moments, give your audience the content it craves, and get them to take valuable actions. Happy testing!

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