Facebook Engagement: The New Focus Group

By Stevie Sleeter, Content & Social Media Manager

Published: June 3, 2014

Facebook engagement won’t necessarily rev a brand’s sales, but it does serve one purpose, according to a new report: It acts as market research.”

Facebook Focus Group

A recent article on Mashable heralding Facebook engagement as the “new focus group” is a must read for business leaders looking to articulate value behind social media efforts. And while this value may not translate to short-term transactional dollars it does speak to a powerful return on investment overtime and in internal efficiencies and brand strategy.

Typically, when businesses or executives request a valuation of social channels – asking “what’s the business impact” – community managers struggle to connect a dollar value with number of likes or number of comments. That’s because “consumer engagement with a brand’s Facebook posts have a weak correlation with [direct transactional] sales.”

Yet, that doesn’t mean engagement on Facebook is useless. Facebook engagement – when Facebook users like, comment, or share your brand messages – does correlate to long-term brand affinity and improved internal strategy.

The Difference Between Reach and Engagement

“Reach” and “Engagement” are tossed haphazardly around as the latest buzzwords when it comes to social media. But if their definitions aren’t clear, their place in your social strategy is irrelevant.

Reach is defined as the number of people who are exposed to your brand on Facebook – whether it’s through a post, your Facebook business page, an ad, or otherwise. If someone see’s your company name or a product of yours anywhere on Facebook, that person is factored into your overall reach. When you’re first starting out with a Facebook business page or are looking to gain new product awareness, reach is what you’re going for. The goal is to get the message out there; reach does not get as deep into audience sentiment.

If reach is a broad approach, engagement is the sniper method. Engagement is the conversation. It’s the likes on your Facebook posts, the comments, and how many people share. The goal of engagement is to get people talking – asking questions about products, giving feedback, and sharing ideas. It is the central point to leveraging Facebook as a focus group.

Facebook Focus Group

How Facebook Engagement Improves Your Strategy

Picture this. Twelve participants funnel into a stark, fluorescent-lit room. Armed with notepads and pencils, they are instructed to answer carefully pre-determined questions, have discussions, share their opinion and then just as quickly funnel back out of the room and on with their day. This is how traditional focus groups function. They take time and effort to gather people together, they can be costly, and sometimes produce inaccurate results. After all, people in traditional focus groups can be easily swayed by popular opinion or by what they think they should say.

Now, switch gears to Facebook as a focus group. You have hundreds, maybe thousands, of people already assembled. They’re offering truthful feedback, not constrained to a list of pre-determined questions. They’re showing us in their actions (and words) what they want and need from a brand rather than telling us what they think we want to hear. It’s real, it’s unscripted and it’s extremely valuable.

It’s valuable to help better understand your customers, to improve your products, and to guide your content strategy – ensuring you are giving them the information they want, when and where they need it.

An Example: In June 2014, we launched a brand new Facebook business page for one of our customers prior to the launch of their new eCommerce website. Historically, a Facebook brand page came after the website was launched and buttoned up. Starting with the Facebook page gave us the opportunity to:

  • Fully understand the audience; how they talk – tone, vocabulary, etc. – to help shape website content development and upcoming social posts.
  • Look at engagement on Facebook posts to see how the new social community responds to different types of content. What YouTube videos bring in the most traffic or comments?
  • Get feedback on product development, necessary features, accessories and more; taking an approach outside the lens of an engineer and into the minds of the people actually using the product.

In short, it was critical to helping us guide content strategy.

It particularly helped in building our fan base and spreading brand and product visibility, using engagement as a way to test which Facebook ads work the best. According to SocialCode, who put out the report cited by Mashable, “the threshold rate of engagement [on a Facebook post] is around 2% to 5%, though it varies by industry.” At this point, putting money behind a post and turning it into a promoted post or ad guarantees higher advertising results and further justified spending. Because at the end of the day, when it comes to social media, the return on investment is not calculated in immediate transactional sales; it’s calculated in long term brand loyalty, interaction, and the value added to your internal process and strategy.