Lately, I have seen television commercials where a web service will create a Facebook page for you for free! And for a monthly fee, even post content for you! Ah if it were only that simple.
Many organizations, including Cooperative Extension, have invested a significant presence on social media, including Facebook pages, which are free and easy to set up. It used to be simple after that – tell your friends to like the page, post content and everyone who liked your page would see the updates. Those simple days are over, and like most things on social media, a well-planned strategy is the key for success. Cooperative Extension is recognized across the world as an organization that provides unbiased, research-based information that people can trust. We have good things to share. Naturally, we want to get the word out to as many people as possible. Facebook is one such tool for outreach. There are quite literally, hundreds of Facebook page management tips to share. Here are my top ten (plus one) tips for Cooperative Extension to have in place on their Facebook pages.
1. Make sure your page is classified as “education” instead of “nonprofit” or other designation. Facebook gives preference to content from education pages as opposed, to nonprofit, retail or a politician’s page.
2. When setting up page roles, always have a minimum of two full administrators on the account. In case of emergency, relying on one administrator can be a big mistake and grind page management to a halt. Administrators can add adjunct roles like content editor to part-time contributors or interns. Administrators can remove roles or delete a page. Regardless of the role, everyone who posts content should be briefed with regard to voice and tone and your organization’s overall content plan (see #s 5 & 6).
3. Have an amazing timeline cover photo. This is part of your brand. You can change monthly or seasonally or create a mosaic. Photo dimensions are 851 x 351. Profile picture/avatar should be your logo and should be the same image as other social media avatars so that your brand is consistent across all social media platforms.
4. Mobile app and desktop versions of Facebook are signficantly different. With this difference comes limitations. Chief among these is the ability to use Facebook as a page and navigate around Facebook the way individuals can. It is important to use Facebook as your page and engage across the Facebook platform. In desktop versions, or from a mobile browser (not the app) at top right, you can drop down an arrow and leave your personal identity and switch to your page name. Once you do this, your avatar will change. Your Extension page is now able to like other pages (and should), comment on other stories (and should), and tag other pages in your content (and should). Example: If the New York Times or your local news’ Facebook page does a story on an Extension topic, your page can like that story, comment on it and share it. And should! People read comments! In a browser-based Facebook, you also have the ability to change icon identity at each post location.5. Vary content. Facebook will penalize your organic reach if you continually post the same url source or post the same type of content. Mix it up. Content should be a.) internal website b.) other people’s website or other people’s content c.) original photo d.) video, etc. Never post the identical content on Twitter or other social media platforms or use an automated service that posts on one platform and repeats it on another. Twitter and Facebook have completely different audience bases and content should reflect those differences.
6. Consider a weekly theme plan. For example: Mondays recognizes a volunteer. Tuesdays can feature trees, technology, etc. Wednesday can focus on a program area, a ‘how to’ tip. Thursdays can look back, nostalgia, or focus on outreach, a particular animal, etc. Friday can be fun, futuristic, a photo caption day, fun food fact, or the day you post a comic. Let Saturday zero in on science, feature a cool microscopic photo, infographic, an interesting statistic and set Sundays for a thoughtful or inspirational quote, a look at the week ahead, a DIY tip, trivia for audience to guess what a photo might be, or fill in the blank challenge. While Facebook has never been a hashtag haven, they can be effective tools when used sparingly. Adopting a trending hashtag into your post now and then, such as #throwbackthursday is a good idea.
7. Keep posts short. Facebook is moving toward mobile. Despite some limitations with the app, growing numbers are checking in via smartphones. No one wants to see a long paragraph of text. A strong photo is more important. Conventional wisdom now says Facebook should be as short as Twitter, if not shorter. 140 characters or less. One expert said recently the ideal Facebook post is 70 characters! Eek!
8. Timing. How often should you post? Twice a day, once a day, two-three times a week? Day, night, evenings or weekends? Pay attention to your insights, particularly when reach and engagement peaks. Post when your audience is likely to be on Facebook. Studies indicate weekends are optimal times. The frequency of your content depends on the variety and quality of the information you have to share. One of our highest engagements came on a snow day when everyone was home and on social media talking about the weather! Bottom line, know your audience and study your Facebook insights for what works and what does not.
9. Support other Extension pages and content. Share and engage with them. There is strength in numbers. We are colleagues and part of a larger community of outreach. We need to support each others’ pages and tag each other in content. This is the ‘social’ in social media! If your Extension group has more than one page (4-H, county pages, livestock, ag, horticulture) please consider cross supporting each of those pages by sharing and tagging. All of these programs and departments ultimately fall under your Extension umbrella. In Delaware, we’ve consolidated our Facebook presence down to one Extension and one 4-H page and that makes sense for our smaller state. However your pages are organized, it is important to support and to study what other Extension offices are doing in social media. What posts are getting the most comments, shares and likes? If it is appropriate to share their content on your page, do it! The public might only know Extension through a specific program, for example, Master Gardeners. But there is nothing wrong with a livestock page shouting out to a 4-H page, or a 4-H page referring to a FCS or horticulture post. This helps the public understand the broad reach and brand of trust that is Extension.
10. Request Extension staff to comment and share your page’s content on their timeline. It is great when staff likes a post, but it doesn’t help much. The key to exponential growth and reaching new audiences is getting other people to share content on their timeline. Never ask anyone to share or like a post in the post itself, because Facebook will detect that text and actually penalize your post’s organic reach. But within your organization it is helpful if you can communicate to your staff how private account sharing can help. Most people don’t realize how this works and are glad to help. In terms of value, sharing is best, followed by commenting and then last – liking. My family and friends on Facebook now know more about Extension than they ever did! I don’t share everything, but I do share a good bit on my timeline and I have seen my friends respond to the content on their own. Most are glad to get the valuable information Extension provides.
11. You may have to boost a post now and then. Never assume the number of likes your page has, whether it is 200 or 2,000, is seeing your content. They are not. You are lucky if you are reaching 5%. Facebook is no longer serving your content to your entire page fan base. Not for free. Reaching more of your audience, organically, depends on how original and clever (and shareable) your content is. If you want all your fans and their friends to see your content, you are going to have to pay. The good news, it is fairly inexpensive. A $20 investment can reach tens of thousands of people.
As social media platforms and options continue to evolve, social media managers are wise to expand beyond Facebook. Over-rely on Facebook at your own peril. When you’ve built up to 1,000 followers, but Facebook only delivers to 50, despite your best efforts, it is time to add other platforms to your strategy. Twitter is equally, if not more important. Instagram has great potential for story telling through images. Vine and Periscope are impressive short video and live feed coverage, respectively that can spice up Twitter content. Twitter owns both Vine and Periscope.
One other tip that I have not enumerated, but throw out for debate (because I have not yet seen a definitive answer) is the practice of removing a url address in the post once it populates in the preview. It has been my habit to erase the url once the preview appeared because it looked neater and cleaner. I recently read on LinkedIn a suggestion that it is beneficial for organic reach to leave the url in place, and many people chimed in on the comments that it is decidedly so. I haven’t seen the evidence. Stay tuned. More on Facebook’s algorithms here.