How Publishers Are Using Facebook Interest Targeting

Chris CrumSocial Media

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Chances are you aren't seeing the same kind of organic reach for your Facebook Page posts that you once were. This is a widespread phenomenon that has been taking place for roughly the past year and a half, and has become a huge bane to marketers and publishers. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

Still, Facebook has added some features that could help publishers - maybe not enough to offset the organic reach losses, but the free ride days are over, and it's time to just accept that and try to work with what they're giving you.

Facebook announced interest targeting in December in a blog post that announced a handful of publisher tools (also including post end date and smart publishing). We talked about the launch of each of these here.

"To help you reach precisely the right people, we now offer the ability to target posts to a subset of the people that like your Page," product manager Holly Ormseth said of interest targeting. "For example, a publisher can use Interest Targeting to post a story about a sports game that will only be shown to people that like the teams playing."

She also showed this example of BuzzFeed targeting a post about Boy Meets World characters reuniting on an episode of Girl Meets World, and choosing to target its Page fans who like Girl Meets World, Television, Boy Meets World, Rider Strong, Ben Savage and Friendship.

By employing this tactic, you are reducing the size of your potential audience, but you're honing in on the people who are most likely to care about the post, which should (at least in theory) increase engagement. Facebook is only going to show your post to a small percentage of your total audience anyway, so why not try to get it in front of the right audience.

Of course just because you target a post to these people doesn't mean it will reach all of them. It just means that the people it does manage to reach will at least be those who have a greater chance of being interested in it, and therefore interacting with it. In theory, the more of these people that do engage with that post, the more of that audience Facebook will ultimately show it to.

So does it work?

The Poynter Institute recently ran a story about how The New York Times has been using the feature and seeing "spikes in engagement that sometimes reach 30 to 40 times what a normal post would elicit."

Poynter's Benjamin Mullin reported: "Facebook’s internal numbers point to a higher rate of engagement for posts that are interest targeted, too. According to data provided by the company, for the top 100 pages that used interest targeting during the last 30 days, interest-targeted posts received about 290 percent more likes per impression, 79 percent more comments per impression and 54 percent more shares per impression than non-targeted posts from those pages."

The report also quoted Lauren Boyer, the social media editor at U.S. News: “With any targeted post, we typically notice that the engagement rate (percentage of people reached who actually click, like or share the post) is much higher. It doesn’t always convert to large traffic, but there’s still value. A story could be widely shared among a small niche of people, and that’s valuable too — for brand awareness reasons.”

Digiday spoke with Cynthia Collins, the Times' social media editor, who said, "You’re going to get people who are knowledgeable and passionate about this topic. If we didn’t do any targeting at all, you might see a comment like, ‘I don’t care, I don’t watch the show.’ When you interest-target the post, you don’t see that at all. It’s anecdotal, but there seems to be more interaction between people. This is seemingly providing a better experience to all our readers.”

Digiday's Lucia Moses, who talked to some additional publishers about the feature says not everyone's sold on the idea, and that some are skeptical about depending on anything Facebook gives them as the company often changes in formula.

In fact, Facebook did indeed announce more News Feed algorithm tweaks since that report came out, though there's nothing to indicate it will diminish the impact of interest targeting. If anything, interest targeting should help Faceobok better accomplish what it's trying to do.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the company's earnings call last week that its priority is making sure users see what they want to see. Interest targeting obviously caters to that.

That said, there are some ways that Facebook could improve the interest targeting feature for publishers.

Interest Targeting Could Use Some Improvements

For one, it needs to come to mobile devices. When Facebook first announced the feature in December, it noted that it was only available for the desktop, and now four months into 2015, that's still the case, even as Facebook usage continues to trend mobile. On average, it had 798 million daily active mobile users in March. It had 1.25 billion mobile monthly active users. Its mobile ad revenue was 73% of its ad revenue in Q1.

You would think Facebook would make such a helpful tool as interest targeting available from mobile, and maybe it will eventually, but it's taking its sweet time. Facebook even has a Page Manager app specifically for managing and posting to Pages from mobile devices. The feature is also absent from that, making it pretty hard to adequately manage your page from it.

Another thing that would make interest targeting more useful to publishers would be if it showed you exactly how many people that like a given interest also like your page before you click out of the targeting box. As it stands now, you don't know how many people you're targeting until you finish selecting the interest you want to target. If the number isn't high enough, and you want to add additional interests, you have to go back in and do so. The process would save publishers time if Facebook simply updated the target count as interests are selected or de-selected.

It's a minor annoyance, but there are plenty of other minor annoyances out there, and they add up. It seems like it should be an easy tweak on Facebook end.

Another major improvement interest targeting could use is the ability to group interests and save those groups. Let's say I write a lot of articles geared toward small businesses, and I frequently select the same interests to target ("Small Business," the SBA, etc.). It would be nice to be able to select that small business interest target group every time I want to target those people with a post, without having to go back and select every individual interest again.

Of course the fact that Facebook even offers any of this at all is something publishers should appreciate because they really didn't have to offer it in the first place. They still want you to advertise, so they're probably not going to give you too much.

Images via Facebook

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.