Evolution of measurement 

Sometime around 2008 or 2009 when a lot of brands were establishing and growing Facebook pages, early adopting social media managers were excited to see the potential number of Facebook users their messaging could reach. A page with 10,000 fans, for example, could potentially reach close to 10,000 social media users with a single post (holding other variables constant). The excitement in growing followers during these early years was directly linked to an expanding base of sustained reach. In the early days of Facebook, authentic Facebook fan likes were just about the best way we could measure success. The improvement of data on Facebook page performance since then has opened doors to other ways to measure success.

Over the last half decade, dashboard analytics have improved and enabled managers to quickly see how many people are seeing any given post. In recent years, post feedback on Facebook has become instant. As we jump to 2014, we see that Facebook's current layout allows page administrators to see accurate real-time summaries of how many people see each post. In the example post, you can see that this post introducing an Audiologist reaching approximately 20,000 Facebook users. 

The planned decline of organic reach

As previously mentioned, a post by a Facebook page with 10,000 followers would have the potential to appear in front of all 10,000 followers in the early years of Facebook. This high organic reach justified efforts to expand the number of a page's fans. But in near perfect synchronization with the improvement of Facebook page analytics from the 2000s until now, Facebook has programmatically and exponentially throttled organizations' Facebook page reach with its increasingly selective EdgeRank

Managers recently began noticing downward trends in the number of people who were seeing their content as a result of timely metrics. Studies including this report by Social Ogilvy show organic reach numbers have dropped to about 2% as of February, 2014. Translation: A post from a 10,000-fan Facebook page may show up in the news feed of as few as 200 Facebook users. Ouch.

Paying to play and tracking meaningful metrics

Facebook hopes that page managers will feel inclined to replace this lost reach with paid placements but paying for something that used to be free seems to be psychologically hard for a lot of pages managers to commit to. Several pages that I've followed over the years have engagement that has completely tanked as a result of page managers refusing to pay for any added reach. 

Yes, it's not fun to acknowledge the fact that free organic reach is disappearing, but there are some perks to "sponsoring" Facebook posts:

  1. Sponsoring posts allow you to set target demographics so each ad dollar is more efficient. Facebook allows you to target for age, sex, interests, and city of residence. A carefully-targeted post may create more value than a post sent out to anyone who follows your page.
  2. Sponsored post CPMs tend to be much more inexpensive than most traditional print ads.

But since it's 2014, it's often no longer acceptable to just show buzz and excitement around a brand evident on a Facebook page. Social media mangers need to show value, preferably ROI on their activities. I.e., what net monetary value was created as a result of their activities in social. Conversions are one of the most important metrics to measure and track in today's social media environment. Every social media manager should know her or his organization's mission, vision, and goals and know exactly what type of actions its target audience needs to engage in for the organization to meet its goals. Whenever these actions are influenced by social, the are considered conversions. 

If I manage social media for an ice cream store and the ice cream store owner's main goal is to sell ice cream, my conversion, then, would occur each time someone buys ice cream as a result of my social media activities. Focusing on conversions, not "likes," helps us to identify and communicate a lot of the value-added from a social presence. 

Why I don't care about Facebook fans

I manage a number of Facebook pages in my work as a social media manager. I don't care about how many followers or fans a Facebook page has because:

  1. The total Facebook fans a page has is an outdated method of measurement that has very little association with value that page is creating for the organization.
  2. There are now better ways of measuring success and better ways of adding value. 
  3. Focusing on metrics that are directly tied to value, (e.g., conversions), helps shape and focus content to stay on topic and stay productive.