Social Media Tools, Facebook

Abusing the Facebook Attention Chain for Negligible Brand Gain

Jay Baer Blog PostIt’s now accepted wisdom that successfully getting fans to engage with your brand’s missives on the Facebook platform has a linear impact on impressions due to the EdgeRank algorithm.

When you accumulate disproportionately numerous likes, comments and shares on a post, Facebook shows that post to a larger percentage of your fans. Further, because the EdgeRank framework is inherently a self-fulfilling prophecy, fans that like, comment or share post A will almost assuredly see your subsequent Post B. This creates an attention chain whereby your most loyal fans (in the sense that they habitually “engage” with your Facebook posts) have an ongoing, yet staccato, experience with your company that consists of a series of micro-moments, like holding hands and hopping between lilly pads.

In contemporary social media marketing circles, this is known as “success,” because engagement rate, reach, impressions and even the murky and Valdemortian People Talking About This metric remain high. But there are two problems with this valuation.

Facebook Chum

First, with a few notable exceptions (Oreo’s outstanding Daily Twist campaign, for instance), much of the content being published by brands on Facebook in an effort to keep the attention chain unbroken is of negligible value to the brand. Realize that the goal of Facebook is not to be good at Facebook, but rather to use Facebook to make the brand money, save the brand money, or both. Stringing together an endless series of kitten photos, “would you rather?” false constructs, and fill in the blank exercises that make Mad Libs look like Homeric literature is not creating brand value. This is the garnering of attention for attention’s sake, driven by slavish adherence to metrics that measure whether you’re good at Facebook, not business.

It’s not content about the brand, even tangentially. It’s not content about the brand’s customers, employees, partners, history, differentiating qualities, cultural values, or anything else. It’s just pablum being used as chum to hook the white whale of Edgerank.

Missing Synergy

Second, we’re too often caught in a cycle of editorial isolation on Facebook. The reality – as we found in our most recent research at The Social Habit – is that Facebook is more of a persistent social layer than a social network. Usage of Facebook and integration with it is far and away more pervasive than with any other social outpost. This ubiquity would seem to dictate that Facebook serve as the ignition point and home base for interesting and intriguing social content that can then be tweaked and syndicated out to the brand’s more specific social outposts like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and beyond. But the need to preserve the attention chain conspire against that editorial hub and spoke approach. Instead, brands are increasingly trying to win at EdgeRank by posting content that has no purpose or relevancy outside of Facebook whatsoever.

Imagine if brands wholly ignored integration the way it’s often being ignored on Facebook, and other parts of the communication apparatus were allowed to run editorially amok in an attempt to get more attention in each channel. You’d have B2B software company websites dripping with “Keep Calm And _____ On” images, and email newsletters chock full of animated .gifs, hedgehog videos and George Takei reshares.


Back up the bus.

Sure, this kind of meme hunting “works” on Facebook, but how does it tie back to a business outcome?

Likes, comments and shares are only useful if they eventually yield demonstrable brand value. Otherwise, you’re abusing the attention chain and just kicking the can of engagement down a street that will never, ever end.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Love this. So now the dilemma is, how do we change this? If we’re habitually gaming the system with no negligible effect, what’s our next step? Do we want to keep producing content that has no real value outside Facebook? Is a new approach to content the answer? Wow–you made me grab my thinking cap on a Sunday morning.

  2. says

    We do this once, just on Tuesday for our Insurance Agency. We have customers submit cute pictures of Kids, pets, whatever and post it on our Facebook page. We have 500 fans and we get like close to 50 likes from just with post each week and the number is climbing…

    I see this as integration marketing verses George Takei marketing because it’s client submitted…

    So does it have anything to do with Insurance? No. But it is our clients and they love having their kids and dogs called cute.

    So in that regard I think it works.


  3. says

    I don’t think any brand that does the “Keep Calm’s” or kitten pics ever thought of doing 100% of those, rather just mixed in with their business message. The kitten value is your Edgerank gets a boost so when you post your other pics more people will see them.
    I know what I’m saying sounds like common sense but I don’t think that what you’re saying in your article?

  4. says

    Obviously, the trick is to develop posts that have brand relevance AND bump you up in Edgerank. So, for example, let’s say it’s December and your brand is about shopping. Maybe it’s a shopping list app, or maybe you’re an online retailer, or even a brick and mortar store. A good post would anchor that kitten (or dog) post to something meaningful by talking about who’s buying Christmas gifts for their pet. Now you have great engagement and you still have a direct tie back to your brand. The post will get the customer thinking about using your product (note down a gift for the pet on the shopping list app, or maybe buy the gift in your store). Either way you win with Edgerank AND you get the business outcome. Win-win.

  5. says

    Agreed completely, Jay. I hate the “games” marketers play with EdgeRank. What they don’t understand is that short term does not always equal long term gain when your path is manipulation of an algorithm over providing value. Just see those who have been punished by Penguin or Panda as examples.

    The core problem is the way we measure “success.” It certainly shouldn’t be Likes. And while “engagement” is a reasonably good metric, it doesn’t measure the ultimately important things — those things that lead to business goals. So while we may have progressed from thinking that Like is the be-all-end-all, we need to move on from this engagement (or at least the type of engagement) focus. It’s an evolution, and I think we’re moving forward.

    As with websites, it’s not all about views and clicks, at least if you aren’t focused entirely on advertising. It’s the quality of the click, the conversion, etc. But it took some time for us to figure that out. We’ll get there eventually on Facebook, but in the meantime some brands and marketers will first need to make fools of themselves.

    Thanks for saying what needed to be said, Jay.

    • says

      Such a good point Jon, tying it back to Panda and Penguin. Wish I would have thought of that comparison and included it in the post. It’s even more relevant now, because the most recent FB tweak upped the Edgerank penalty of unlikes and hides.

      • brandonfritz says

        What’s great about Facebook’s recent “penalty” is we found our most “engaging” content judge by shares, likes, comments had the most hides, spam reports, etc. There is a real lack of transparency on Facebook’s side.

        Thanks for saying what needed to be said in this post. Let’s hope 2013 is the year that being “good” at a platform for the sake of being “good” at it dies.

  6. says

    I think that every brand should think about what they think is relevant to their page. I know that if you will publish a nice kitty or puppy you will gain EdgeRank, but is it really worth it. I think that we should really come up with some general knowledge of how to measure social media success. I don’t think that engagement rate would really solve this purpose, because if an insurance company publishes a funny photo of a kitten, how relevant it is to their business and to their marketing strategy…?

  7. Sarah - Purple Frog says

    I would agree with these comments: we try to create genuine engagement with consumers. We provide content to try to start conversations, and once these conversations start we help to continue them, whether they are directly brand related, or on a subsidiary topic. In this way we provide positive brand experiences to boost consumers’ perceptions of the brand we’re representing.

    We prefer not to use likes as a KPI, although we accept that most clients like to see these increasing over time and it is therefore hard to discard them completely. However we use engagement measures as our preference: measuring the ways in which consumers have interacted with our content, particularly commenting and sharing. We also measure our success in converting visits to our Facebook page to website visits.

    • says

      Nice. I like the Facebook page to website visits number too, although I’d argue that taking that just one step further and measuring what those FB referred visitors do once they hit your website is an even better metric to study.

  8. says

    If you run Twitter ads, you know that they provide an engagement ranking. This is based on RTs and replies. I dont pay too much attention to it, but the folks at Twitter consider this as a measurement for success. Im less interested in RTs and replies if the person does not take the action I am seeking – a conversion. In fact, I have noted that some of our poorest performing paid tweets (from an engagement ranking standpoint) are our best campaigns (low CPL, high conversion rates). Same goes for Facebook. I could get likes and replies all day long but how is that supporting my demand gen goals? It’s just not.

  9. says

    I think “get more (post) likes” is slowly becoming the new “get more (page) likes.” Many businesses see their competitors’ PTAT #s and get frantic. To them I ask, “Are high PTAT numbers — which don’t even include clickthroughs — what your boss wants to see in terms of ROI?” From them I get, “No, but the boss wants to see more likes.” It’s a tough road…

  10. says

    Nice post Jay. I agree with what Carol said here in the comments: ” the
    trick is to develop posts that have brand relevance AND bump you up in
    Edgerank” Except that it’s not a trick, it’s more about understanding
    and managing Edgerank based on knowing what your audience wants to hear
    and see.

    Last month Facebook was the number one prospect driver
    for Marketo. The strategy we used is based on the idea that most
    companies have an editorial calendar for their blog, we have one for our
    blog and our Facebook page. It’s all about planning and having content
    in the pipeline to get creative with for posting. I think it’s important
    to remember that B2B folks are not necessarily on FB to be sold to, but
    if you can entertain them a bit while showing them relevant, helpful,
    and well produced content, it can then turn into both a lead gen tool
    and a nurturing platform. I will admit that I am guilty of posting the
    occasional cat meme or photo of a piece of bacon. But I do so sparingly
    and I customize each of those fun posts and cleverly tie them back to
    our core topics with a bit of Marketo personality. Wittiness is terribly
    underutilized when it comes to these types of posts, and the important
    thing is to make them your own and point to something useful with them.

    Jason Miller – Marketo

      • says

        Thanks for the kind words Jay. There are a couple of differences between our editorial calendar for the blog vs FB. For FB It’s a bit more simplified and we tend to stray away from posting too much technical super specific MA content (although we are always tying back to that topic in one way or another). The other difference is that we have ongoing themes. For instance, Monday is “Inspirational quote Monday” where we visualize an inspiring quote to start the week, Tuesday is Pie Chart Tuesday, Wednesday is the B2B Marketing Humpday Joke, Thursday is B2B Stat Day, and Friday is fun stuff. B2B Marketing Flashback, Non-B2B Marketing Moment of Zen, or our take on a fun meme. I feel that it give folks something to look forward to and tune back into our messaging with. All along the way, we are sure to share other thought leaders posts that we feel are important for our audience. That strategy as a whole is keeping the conversation going and keeps our page lively.

  11. says

    But doesn’t EdgeRank help drive this? It’s partially based on the previous success of the likes and shares of your posts. So the thinking is you need to do some bulls*it “Like if you…Share if You…” posts so that more people see your latest new product announcement/promotion post. Kind of a “gotta play the game to get into the game” mentality…

  12. Jeff Gonzalez beauty schools says

    Facebook operations have changed so many times in the past few years. Marketers are always going for short term gain when using edgerank, the beauty is that facebook is on to it. It’s truly amazing how facebook has come with starting at a single school in America to a world wide phenomena. Marketers have a long way to go in fooling facebook.
    jeff gonzalez beauty schools

  13. jennwhinnem says

    I’ve been talking about this post since I saw it in my Twitter feed. I’ve been struggling to articulate why I didn’t think promoted posts on FB were worth the investment, and this sums it up nicely. It’s a lot easier to get attention with those “happy Friday! what are you doing this weekend?” posts – but why pay to promote that? Would that really attract the kind of likes/fans I want? Let’s say I’m writing a more brand-oriented post – if I pay to promote that, am I really going to attract the attention I want (given my brand is not “sexy”?)? So, thank you Jay, for helping me figure this out.

  14. says

    Do you think there are some good reasons to post content similar to what you list above? Not so blatantly unrelated, but that style: fill in the blank, caption this photo, etc. A maid service saying something like “Your least favorite thing to clean is ____?”

    They wouldn’t be saying anything about themselves, but it’s still engaging. And engaging can equate to higher mind share and brand equity, can it not?

  15. says

    Great post, Jay!
    I’m always sick of flipping through Facebook to find brands doing these types of postings.
    I understand that there’s a fight for attention in the space, but just doing something non-relevant to your brand for likes doesn’t really help your brand.
    I’ll be honest and say that Facebook isn’t our best space for getting attention. But, that said, when we post something there we post it with the intention of it being relevant to our audience. Does this always get us thousands of likes? No. Does it provide something to our community that could interest them and help tie it back to our business thoughts and what we do? Yes.
    Edgerank is a tricky beast, but we’d rather approach it in a way that helps to show what our brand is about rather than approach it with cheap gimmicks that gets content in front of eyeballs that doesn’t help anyone… especially us.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos and Marketwire

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