Is Facebook's Preferred Audience Tool Effective?

Chris CrumSocial Media

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In January, Facebook launched Audience Optimization, a set of features aimed at helping you better engage your Facebook audience and better understand what people who click on your posts are interested in. The most interesting feature of Audience Optimization is Preferred Audience, which changes the way you can target your organic Page posts to people's News Feeds.

Have you found the Facebook Preferred Audience tool to be effective at increasing engagement so far? Have you noticed any changes at all? Let us know in the comments.

With Preferred Audience, you can add interest tags to your post to help Facebook connect people with the topics and subtopics that are most likely to engage them. In the past, Facebook let you target users by topic, but this could severely limit the reach of a post. If you targeted people interested in certain topics, you were leaving everyone else out of the loop by default, and this most likely included people that still shared these interests to some extent, but just hadn't indicated them to Facebook.

With the new version of targeting, you're simply prioritizing users with these interests. Everyone else is still fair game to potentially be reached by the post. It's just that the "preferred audience" will be more likely to see the post than those not in the preferred audience.

Luckily, Facebook is giving pages performance of content down to the post level with breakdowns by interest tag in Audience Insights.

So how effective is this? Are pages seeing increased reach and/or engagement?

Facebook said in a FAQ section, "In tests, we've seen that organic reach stays about the same while engagement goes up. Interest tags help Facebook better match content with audiences, prioritizing posts on particular topics for the users who are most likely to be interested in those topics. Interest tags don't limit a post's distribution — they just help it reach the most relevant subset of an audience."

Beyond what Facebook has said about its tests, we haven't seen much out there discussing the effectiveness of the feature or sharing any data. SMT, however, did share some results of its own testing.

They say that so far, Audience Optimization hasn't helped them boost engagement per post in any significant way. In fact, they saw reduced lifetime post total reach and lifetime post total impressions with targeting than they did without targeting. What's up with that, Facebook? That's not what's supposed to happen, is it?

They also saw less link clicks with targeting than without, which is also not a great sign of its effectiveness. They did, however, see an increase in "other clicks."

"This may suggest that we are, in fact, reaching a more interested audience, as they’re clicking on and expanding the post at a higher rate, which likely means they are more interested in the content, but that’s not resulting in higher click throughs," writes SMT's Andrew Hutchinson. "What this shows, I think, is that we are on the right track with Audience Optimization, it is reaching a more focused audience, but that we haven’t quite mastered exactly how each audience responds and what tags to use to maximize each post’s appeal."

"Overall, I do think there’s great potential in Facebook’s Audience Optimization tools, but that it may also take some time to fully realize and rationalize the functionality," Hutchinson concludes. "I’d expect Facebook will be looking to refine this new system to make it easier to track and use, and that at some stage, AO targeting will become much more powerful. Till then, it’ll come down to individual audience testing and experimentation to learn what works, and what doesn’t work, for your audience and content. The framework is there for an effective targeting tool, but how much motivation Facebook has to improve it may be dependent on how many users are becoming Facebook ad users – if more people are paying for Facebook ads to increase reach, does Facebook really need, or want, to help you generate better content performance organically?"

That's kind of been the question for quite a while now, hasn't it? Unfortunately, the answer has mostly seemed to be "no". In fact Preferred Audience seems like Facebook is throwing a bone to Pages after months/years of declined organic reach. The quality of that bone has yet to be determined though, and I'm afraid it could be one of those grocery store bargain bin bones that causes your dog to just give you a blank look and walk away when you try to give it to him.

While it's still early days for Preferred Audience and Audience Optimization, the general consensus so far seems to be basically, "we'll see as time goes on," and "keep testing".

"As more brands jump on board with tagged posts only time will tell whether organic reach will see a big improvement," says Susan Gilbert at Business2Community. "For now it is well worth adding this function to your posts and test out the results, especially if your business needs more activity and engagement."

According to Facebook, using six to ten tags works best for most posts, but you can add up to 16 tags. They recommend including tags that describe the content in both specific and broad terms.

Facebook does have a list of best practices for tagging audiences. Among the noteworthy tips are thinking associatively about related interests (thinking about overlapping and adjacent audiences and related terms), considering the inclusion of organizations and brands, and using tags with small audiences strategically.

Do you think Facebook's tools will actually prove beneficial to pages or is this just a distraction from the real goal of making you pay to play. Tell us what you think.

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.