Inbound Now #18 - Facebook marketing best practices with Mari Smith

Mari Smith, co-author of Facebook Marketing: an hour a day, joins us for another episode of Inbound Now. Mari is a social media consultant and a great resource for all things Facebook!

In the interview we discuss:

  • How she has grown her fan page to our 38,000 likers
  • The different types of content that companies should be sharing through their page
  • What Facebook “Edge Rank” is and why you should care
  • and some of Mari’s favorite third-party Facebook apps


David: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Episode Number 18 of Inbound Now. Today I have a very special guest, Mari Smith. Mari is the co-author of “Facebook Marketing:  An Hour a Day.” She’s what Fast Company has called the pied piper of the online world. She’s a social media consultant and professional speaker, and I would venture to say that Mari knows more about Facebook than Mark Zuckerberg himself. Welcome to the show, Mari.

Mari: Thank you. Thank you. Really an honor to be here. I’m looking forward to this.

David: Yeah, I’m glad to get you on the show. So, I wanted to get you here today to talk all things Facebook marketing, and more specifically, how companies and businesses can leverage all the new recent changes with Facebook fan pages because there’s a lot of stuff. Also, how companies can start thinking about how to leverage their content and what kind of messaging to push through to their Facebook fan pages. Sound good?

Mari: Sounds awesome, yeah.

David: Cool.. So, yeah, I’ve read your book before the interview. Awesome. It’s kind of a step-by-step. An hour a day how to, kind of a linear progression, setting up, and then what content to share. Then analyzing and seeing what’s working and what’s not. I’ve realized working with a lot of companies here at HubSpot, one of the biggest questions I get, and you probably know the answer to this too, is what kind of content should the companies be kind of spreading through their Facebook fan pages. What works, what doesn’t work? What have you seen?

Mari: Okay. So, content, the interesting thing is that less is more, definitely. That is both in terms of how many characters, the KISS, keep it short and simple. Also, the frequency, I think that’s actually downfall of a lot of fan pages is that they will have a barrage of information going in there and often through a third-party app. I was just actually discussing this on my own fan page that it can actually be a detriment. You are going to have fewer fans see your information if you just have it all auto-fed and if you’re actually putting too much.

I was recently reading a report put out by Buddy Media. They’re a wonderful social media management company and app developers. They have a brilliant study out that talks about numbers of characters, 80 believe it or not, very, very short about 80 characters in length. Anything longer, your engagement rate goes down because the thing is that a large portion of people that “like” your fan page never actually return to the fan page itself to engage with your content. They’re only seeing it in the news feed. So it’s crucial to get that sweet spot of a high EdgeRank score so that your content can be seen by your fans. The more verbose you are, the less that people are likely to feel compelled to actually read it in the stream and reply.

As for types of content, you know David, I like to recommend a mix of what I call your own intellectual property and OPC, other people’s content. I like to strike a balance roughly about 50/50. Then frequency, Dan Zarella, he’s written a Facebook marketing book as well, and he’s HubSpot’s social scientist. Isn’t he a social scientist?

David: Yep.

Mari: I love that title and Dan, I know Dan did some on that. I love Dan but he did some research and predominantly it was with larger brands, I believe. He was showing that once every other day is about right for posting. I think that’s going to work if you have a pretty decent sized critical mass of raving fans who are going to come and engage on your wall regardless.

But I think for most small businesses you’re going to want to post about twice a day, maybe two to three times a day. That’s my sweet spot, and I’m getting close to about 40,000 fans right now. I know if I post anymore, my hide and unlike rate goes up, unfortunately, people hiding stuff from the news feed.

Yeah, so that’s content. Questions are always great, but I always recommend questions. Photos get the best EdgeRank. It’s often, I’m a little leery, obviously, of giving people these hot tips, because then all you see is all they do is questions or all they do is photos. You still have to mix it up.

David: Right. Yeah, I post about a ton of questions on our fan page. Talking about EdgeRank, explain to the audience what EdgeRank is.

Mari: Yeah. Well, it’s a very complex algorithm that Facebook has under a lock and key. Those of us who are immersed in the world of Facebook and have a lot of expertise, we basically have to do a lot of guessing, and I learn from others and others learn from me. I love to learn from Jeff Widman. He’s at BrandGlue and PageLever. He’s done a lot of different research. As well as Vitrue and I mentioned Buddy Media.

Basically, let me just say it in a nutshell. EdgeRank is the algorithm that every piece of content on Facebook, whether posted on a personal profile or a fan page, it passes through. That content passes through this filter, and Facebook then decides which content needs to be shown in the news feed of each individual member. We’re getting up close to 700 million, as you know.

Interestingly enough, we talk about an EdgeRank score, but the score is unique to every user. It has three factors. The first factor is what’s called affinity, which really the relationship. If you and I are interacting a lot, if I interact with your fan page a lot, I’m going to see your posts more. If we’re friends and we I interact a lot, I’m going to see your content from your profile more. The less someone engages with you, the less affinity score.

The second one is simply weight, which is the type of content. I mentioned about photos getting a little bit of a better weight. Photos, videos, links, status updates, and then unfortunately third-party apps are way down at the bottom. They get less weight to them than other types of posts. They get less weight than manual posts.

Then the third score is, Facebook calls it time decay, which is basically is the recency, how recent. Something posted three hours is going to be higher in the feed than something 20 hours ago.

It’s like shooting in the dark. You literally have to keep experimenting and monitoring your numbers and tracking to see what’s getting good engagement, what’s getting good post feedback. Ultimately, I often say to people, we get really hung up on the numbers. It’s far better to have a fan page that’s really active and engage with say 10,000 fans who are highly targeted then highly engaged than a fan page with 100,000 and hardly any engagement. It’s just like a news channel. You’re just blasting stuff through there and people are not really seeing it.

David: Right. So would likes and comments come into play with that kind of what Facebook is going to show to that person in their stream there?

Mari: Perfect, you got it, absolutely. The more that you like and comment on content on a fan page, the more likely you’ll see that. As an admin, Facebook treats personal profiles and fan pages as two totally separate entities even if you’re an admin. For example, every time I go to my news feed, my own posts are at the very top. My own fan page posts are up there because, obviously, I’m interacting with my fan page. So I will often use that as a gauge as to when would be an appropriate delay, a lag time. I’m usually going to put sometimes as much as six to eight hours I’ll wait, because if you put them too close together, people who have few friends and have not joined that many pages will see all your content bunched up as well.

David: Gotcha. What about time of day? Do you see posts in the morning do better, afternoon, at night, like 3:00 a.m. for the late night bunch? What works best for you?

Mari: There’s what I call high traffic windows. They work on Twitter as well. Usually it’s going to be in the morning. I’m in Pacific time zone, so that’s going to be roughly 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m. Pacific which is about 10:00 Eastern, 10:00 or 11:00 Eastern right through to early afternoon, about 1:00 Pacific, which is 4:00 Eastern. So, like the core business hours.

Now what’s fascinating, and this was also in the recent Buddy Media study, is that it varies depending on industry. The automotive industry, the study said they do better on a Saturday, fashion on a Sunday, or something like that. So, it’s really important to experiment and see. In addition, all industries do well to throw in a little update now and again outside of business hours. Not necessarily the 3:00 a.m. But what you can do with your insights,, you can see the demographics.

You’ll be able to see, okay, we have a ton of people in Australia or Europe or whatever. It’s going to be a whole other different time zone, and you need to factor that in. Maybe you’ve got a whole subsection of your fan base who would love to engage with you if you were putting content out at these wild hours but as normal hours for them.

By the way, Friday, and I was just reading about this. It seems that as the week goes on, the engagement goes up and specifically on a Friday, because as people want to be at work less and less, they want to be on Facebook more and more, so you’ll get great engagement.

David: Interesting that the peak time is actually during work hours, right? That was actually one of my questions, getting into the insights. So what are some key insights other than demographics that people can take away from page insights?

Mari: Okay. So, let’s talk about a couple of really misunderstood. First of all, impressions, impressions actually show up on your wall within about 12 to 24 hours per post. People get confused because they think an impression is like that’s the number of eyeballs or pairs of eyeballs that have actually seen their content. In fact, it’s the number of times that the content has been what Facebook calls rendered. It’s rendered in the stream.

That means it’s been shown on the fan page wall and in the different news feeds of the fans, possibly even on social plug-ins if you have a lightbox that has the stream. Somebody happens to be on your website and lo and behold there’s content. That’s counted whether people are actually reading it or not. Unless you were using eye tracking software, you can’t really the see people reading it. The impressions I usually recommend people don’t put major focus on that.

What’s better to focus on is the feedback percent. You mentioned likes and comments. It’s an aggregate total of the likes and comments divided by the number of impressions and that gives you a percent. So, I highly recommend, you don’t even need to go to you insights to look at that. At a minimum, take that information off your wall per post, usually about a day’s delay and have that tracked out on an Excel spreadsheet.

I actually have a system I developed for myself and my clients and students. It’s just a simple Excel spreadsheet, and it’s an editorial calendar. So I’m planning in advance what I’m going to sharing on my wall, on my Facebook fan page. Then there are columns. It just goes on and on with the columns. I plot how well it worked, the numbers of likes, comments, feedback percent. Now, two very, very often overlooked stats in addition with those you’ve got to be monitoring okay, how well are we doing on likes and comments, but engagement in other words.

Unlikes, which are people who have chosen to literally leave the fan page or they’re gone, they’re just the same as a non-fan, and then un-subscribes, which are the hides and you get those in under

David: Okay. So you can see the hides then.

Mari: Yeah, but you can’t see exactly who nor can you see, I know there’s like totals on Twitter that will say you can be notified when people un-follow and it will usually tell you the tweet that they decided to un-follow you, which I don’t pay any attention to that. It would be really interesting if we could find out on Facebook what exactly did you say that caused people to unlike or unsubscribe. But by using your own simple dashboards, spreadsheet, you can usually … I know I can take a pretty educated guess. I try something new, a little off the wall. Whoa, okay, that didn’t work as well. Or off-topic or you posted too quickly, things like that.

David: right. Okay, cool. So with recent changes, now you can browse Facebook as your page. That means that you can go and interact with all these different pages as your page. It’s kind of spreading your brand everywhere, right? What are some inventive ways you’ve kind of seen companies leveraging that? And how would you recommend that people use it?

Mari: It’s really interesting. When the feature first came out, February 10 of this year, what I noticed was a massive flood of spam. It was like a spammer’s paradise. Whoa, they can spread themselves all over as their fan page. It just was @ tagging whereas previously we could always @ tag, now we can @ tag in comments as well.

There’s a certain etiquette. I wrote a blog post not long ago about @ tagging etiquette and writing, networking on Facebook as your page also has a certain etiquette. I like to be mindful of whose page am I writing on. Is it something, I don’t necessarily believe in competition per see, but I wouldn’t be going and fishing in somebody else’s pond that had the exact same target market and they provided a very similar service in other words.

I might, and this has worked really well on my page, is I travel a lot and there are times where it’s not always easy for me to be live on my page and answering questions. I’m indentifying what I call super fans. They’re like in sports the ones’ that have the big foam fingers and the paint on their face. The ones that are on your page a lot, they’re quoting and they’re answering questions and they’re @ tagging. I’ve got a couple of people, just members of my community, who are in the social media industry and who reached out to me privately and said, hey Mari, if you ever need a helping hand to answer questions I’d be more than happy to.

That to me is just a wonderful use of this networking with your page and a couple of different gentlemen that have been very, very helpful in that regard. I always feel like their intent is very sweet and very pure. Their intent is to add value and to help me in my community and ultimately, sure, they might get business out of it. You can tell, you can just tell by the way that they’re writing their content that that’s not their prime intent. I just love that.

David: I totally agree, like kind of leveraging your community, finding your super fans. They’re out there. Whoever’s interacting the most, right?

Mari: Yeah.

David: So, another recent change was Facebook moving away from HTML to custom iFrame kind of task. That opened up a whole new world of Facebook, right? Where companies can now have the custom landing page tab. Is that something that you would see that’s absolutely critical for anyone with a fan page?

Mari: Oh, gosh, yes, oh, absolutely. I mentioned Jeff Widman, BrandGlue, PageLever. He had done a study not that long ago. It was written on inside Facebook where they did a split test ads and they drove ads to custom landing tab and another set was driving just to the wall. They found that the custom landing tab will convert visitors to fans at a rate of about 46% versus the wall which is about 26%. For many years I’ve been an advocate of that custom landing tab. I call it welcome tab. You can call it whatever you want but the purpose is to say, hi, you’re in the right place. This is what we do. This is who we serve. This is what you’ll get by becoming a fan and the quickest and most simplest way possible.

Zappos do a wonderful job of that. I love their landing tab. Conversely, a landing tab like Threadless the t-shirt company you can tell that their intent is not necessarily to convert people to fans as it is to sell t-shirts. Their landing tab is a shop. You can go and browse their t-shirts. They have all the plug-ins, you can like, and comment, and share. It’s just really brilliantly done.

David: So, with companies that aren’t really that web savvy or don’t have an internal web guy to do this stuff. Are there custom apps that they can kind of leverage to make this welcome apps and what have you?

Mari: Fortunately there are and even when the switch went from FBML to iFrame most good Facebook template companies just made the switch. It’s really on the users end. There’s not a lot for them to do. There’s some great like North Social and Involver, [Lejour] those are all suites of apps and then there’s some wonderful free ones, Wildfire app does one, it’s just called iFrame for pages. They have even two fields where you can put the fan and the non-fan content, it’s called fan gating or like gating, there are different terms for it.

Basically, a non-fan sees, click like and you’ll some benefits. Free eBook coupon, code, whatever, I use that, I tend to recommend that sparingly because you don’t want to get fans coming and liking your page solely to get that coupon or code and then unliking and disappearing. You have to use that with some discretion.

There’s another app called [HTML 00:00:18.24] Nice clean white label, unbranded, I recommend that and I’ve used it on my own fan page. The big shift really from FBML to iFrame the main thing is that we now have even more ability to customize our pages but you have to host your own content on your own server or use own of these third-party apps. I think, just really, there was a lot of confusion around but we do actually have a lot more flexibility and choice now.

David: Right, right, cool. So what about other apps out there that you might recommend. I know if you use third-party apps to kind of post that can kind of hide it in the stream, right? So, what other apps do you use and recommend?

Mari: There’s a couple, I love Network Blogs. I’ve been a fan of Network Blogs from many, many years. What I do, though, interestingly enough, I like to take advantage of anything that will give me extra SEO and visibility, and you know search engine optimization. Install the Network Blogs on your fan page and then there’s a setting where you can say do not post to the wall.

What’s happening is the tab, and you can actually change the name of the tabs now, I think mine’s called my blogs doesn’t have to be called Network Blogs, and that’s populating in and behind the scenes as well as the website and people can follow the blogs. You have a little widget that you can add to your own blog. That is just kind of set and forget it’s behind the scenes.

Then I always manually post my own blog posts on my fan page wall. In addition, Facebook own notes app because Facebook being less ranking of two, they’re the number one social network - tremendous Google SEO. Sometimes for fun I’ll do a search on Google for a specific subject and my own Facebook note will come up higher than my own website.

So, I do the same thing. I import my blog, post through the notes app but I disable that posting to the wall. You’re getting that set and forget SEO behind the scenes but you’re still getting that better edge ranking score by putting the manual post on your wall.

David: Nice, nice, and with the manual post you’re leveraging the tagging, right? Where if you’re referencing a different source or whatever … and basically what that allows is posting on your wall and on their wall, so it’s kind of like more eyeballs. I think that’s one of the more underutilized features, right? Of the wall.

Mari: Yeah, I love like you were mentioning earlier about OPC other people’s content, absolutely. I think @tag is one of the greatest uses of an @tag is attribution, so you’re sharing a piece of content you’ve found somewhere. It’s kind of like re-tweeting, the Facebook equivalent when you put an @tag in there for credit.

David: Totally, totally, so I’ve got some fan questions for you. I’m going to through them at you. Adam on our Facebook page asks, “What is the best way to promote the liking of a post or getting more comments on a post.” What have you seen work?

Mari: You know what and this is fascinating, if you literally give clear CCAs, clear calls to action. So, you’re actually saying to your fans, maybe you’re asking a question. Remember we’re keeping it short as possible. I tend to be verbose and my posts are long - I have to trim them back.

Actually saying, if you agree with this click the like button, tell us what you think, share with us below your experience. It seems obvious, everybody knows how to like and comment but when you literally put that in the post. Keep it nice short and distinct. A question that hooks the mind, that triggers them thinking, wow, I know the answer to this question. I want to share my answer. That really helps with the engagement.

I’m not, well see David, I’m not a big fan of the questions product quite frankly. I’ve done it since last summer in beta even with the new and improved version, it just doesn’t seem to work right in the feed to me. I’d just assume do a regular status update. I like to use photo or screenshots. Ask a question and the thread is nice and easy on the wall. Whereas with the question, you get this pop-up and it’s kind of confusing.

David: And you can’t see the thread either, you can’t see the thread of comments on it, so it’s …

Mari: Right, yeah.

David: Cool, good advice. Another question from the Christian Brothers Automotive, their fan page and liked our page so it’s kind of like spreading the wealth, right? Basically, they’re asking what would you do to promote or build brand awareness for, their business locally that hasn’t launched yet. Do they have a place to kind of build up a following before they even open their doors or should they kind of wait and get started first?

Mari: They have a physical location so I could come there on foot. This is wonderful because Facebook are really, really ramping up their efforts to cater to the local business, the location-based business. They’re ferocious competitor for Four Square. When you create a Facebook fan page and you select local business and they’re going to ask you for your physical address it will automatically create what’s a place page for you. When people come in and they check in on their mobile devices, you’ll see the check-ins, they’ll have a little map, everything else functions the same way as a fan page. People get a little alarmed by, whoa, what’s this place page thing, I thought a I wanted a fan page. My recommendation for local business is just go with the flow and use the place page to your best advantage.

Now, with this automotive company people are not going to be coming through the door and checking in just yet. But by all means they can set up the place page and begin putting content. Begin promoting the page maybe through Twitter if they have an email newsletter, a blog, if they have a physical mailing address list, post cards, things like that. Really blending the old school with new school, if you will and then when they have the shops open, some wonderful things.

The moment when somebody comes in through the door, even in the window, you can put signs and decals. Actually, Renault, there’s this big auto show in Europe and they had this really cool kiosk set up where people had their little badges and they could check in and then like. Facebook like and it would go on the post.

There’s some cool stuff going on for in person.

David: Yeah, definitely and when people are checking in, it’s just spreading the word through their entire social graph, hey, this place exists. It kind of gets the word out much faster. So, yeah, cool.

Mari: Yeah. It really does and then even incentivize them too, give them a free oil change or something for every ten check ins or whatever the case may be.

David: Your fan page has over 38,000 likers or fans whatever you want to call them, right. How did you do it? What was the thing that you think made the biggest impact on building that community?

Mari: Persistence and consistency. It’s interesting because the tipping I have found across all social profiles, all social networks, is that 500 to 1,000. That also goes for your email subscriber list, your blogs, blog subscribers. If you can get yourself to around 500 to 1,000 tipping point you’ll start to see some traction and some momentum. I’ve just really having the page for about three, over three years now.

I feel like I haven’t, sometimes it’s so funny, even I just think about this in my whole world allows me to do business. One of these days I’m going to really get started. I want to do a contest. Like a big major contest with some major, major prizes. That’s on my list of things to do.

The consistency and the persistence, what I mean by that is just there is at no time ever have I neglected my page, ever. It’s become an integral part of my day-to-day life. It’s as important as checking my email and checking my tweets. I’m not on Linked-In as much because there’s just limited time in the day. Facebook and Twitter are my two sites of choice.

On a personal level and Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this a lot and Chris Brogan, I think Chris, Gary, and I have very, very similar approaches to social media management and scaling. That is to just be very, very warm and inclusive and using people’s first names and thanking people. You know, Gary’s new book “The Thank You Economy” it’s like those two little words go so, so far. I know I don’t always answer every single question on my fan page but I really do my utmost and people can see that.

Now, with my super fans coming and helping it’s really allowed me to scale at low cost, it’s just such a win-win for everybody.

David: With your page have run any contests to kind of build it up? Would you recommend businesses starting out running those contests to kind of build up a following kind of, once you kind of, like you said, reach a kind of, like around 5,000 fans - it kind of builds organically from there. Would say to start off kind of, post your content but also maybe do some kind of contests to kind of build that up or?

Mari: Well, interestingly enough contests don’t do so well if you’re starting from ground zero unless you have a decent sized community somewhere else. Let’s say you’ve been working on your Twitter following, Linked-In, your email list, where ever it is where you’ve got a decent - when I say decent like maybe 5,000 or more names on a list - where you can actually have them come over and get that momentum going.

If you are starting out with your social media presence, it’s going to be a little trickier to run a contest because you need that volume of people coming in and participating. Best you can, I love to recommend a blend of online and offline and offline public speaking and on the back of your business cards, any opportunity you get to promote your Facebook page.

People could join your fan page through text message. They just text the word “like,” page, user name, all one word. Whatever page user name is to 32665, that spells “Fbook.” I often tell people if you’re in a situation, you’re on the radio, or you’re in front of an audience, get everybody to pull their phones out and join your fan page.

I recommend waiting until you’ve got probably a few hundred fans before going ahead and doing a contest. There are various rules about doing contests, you’ve got to use a third-party app or Wildfire - one of the most popular - Strutta is another good one.

David: Okay, cool, cool. So, we’ve got another question. This one’s from Twitter. I’m sorry it’s not from Facebook but it’s from Twitter, Andrew Malone, he asks, “Where should an entrepreneur new to Facebook start to learn promotion and different techniques through this medium?” So, basically some resources that you would recommend, obviously, your blog is great.

Mari: Thank you, yes, so, and my own fan page, and I don’t profess to know everything. I not a big ads person. My co-author, Chris Treadaway, he’s one of the world’s leading experts on Facebook ads. There are case studies that you can find on the internet too with Facebook ads and split testing and all that.

I love organic marketing. I’m a big organic and free, it’s my Scottish roots. I learn from all Facebook, Social Times, Inside Facebook,  a lot of different books, any book out there on Facebook, and obviously Hubspot and the blog there and your webinars, great webinars you guys do.

I actually have a Twitter list. You can create your own Twitter list, or people can check mine out, I have a Twitter list called Facebook Marketing and I have maybe about 50 different accounts in there that anybody who ever talks about Facebook like The Next Web, or [00:30.26] a lot of different … aggregate your accounts and I just sift and sort through.

I think that earlier on and how I managed to build my fan page, I’ve really deliberately carved out a reputation for being a really trusted source. People know if I’m sharing something it’s really gone through some internal filters that I’ve researched it and checked it out. It’s not just some kind of throw away thing. I’m really careful what I put my name to. I’ll sift through this Twitter, Facebook marketing list and I’ll cherry pick what [TD].

David: I’ll link that up in the show notes for sure.

Mari: Cool.

David: One final question with the, there’s a new button out for Facebook, it’s like the Facebook send button. So, what are your thoughts on that? Like is it an email killer?

Mari: No, no, no, but yeah, the like button has a new cousin. The send button interestingly enough was created because every time you’re surfing the web and you see a piece of content you may or may not want to share that with absolutely in your personal profile. I’m looking forward to the day that we can just click a button and share it on our fan page, hopefully that’s coming at some point. The purpose of the send button you can choose to share content on the web with groups that you’ve joined or that you’ve created. You’re choosing a subset of your friends or a subset of your Facebook network to share that with.

I don’t think it’s an email killer because … I think it’s an email enhancement. I think we’ll always use regular email. Maybe, you know what David, maybe the teens and early 20-somethings. If we have this conversation in another five to ten years, email would have morphed to significant …

David: They’ll be going, like what is email? No, I think it will always be around. Facebook owns the messaging platform, no one owns email that’s kind of what Chris Penn from Blue Sky Factories always talks about that. Yeah, I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

Cool, so Mari where can people find you online and connect with you?

Mari:, - and Google me, as I say.

David: There you go. Or search Facebook, there you go. Okay, cool. Thanks for coming on the show Mari, hope to get you back sometime. I really enjoy talking with like all things Facebook. I think you’re a smart mind and want to get you back someday.

Mari: My pleasure, glad to be here.

David: All right, thanks.

Mari: Thank you.