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The Daily Stream

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Willie Sutton and Facebook

September 16, 2011 // By: Stream Companies

Facebook marketers were thrown into a tizzy last week by the suggestion that using 3rd party apps can be detrimental to your post’s EdgeRank.  If that sounds indecipherable, you are not alone.  There’s a lot to know when it comes to making your brand voice heard on Facebook.

Let’s look into the brouhaha more deeply.

Last week, EdgeRank Checker released a study outlining the influence of 3rd party application programming interfaces (“APIs”, more commonly referred to as “3rd Party Apps”) on Facebook engagement.  These apps are commonly used to schedule posts over time, so that an actual human being does not have to post each and every entry in real time.

Running an analysis of more than 1,000,000 updates on more than 50,000 Facebook pages (that influence over 1,000,000,000 fans), the study examined the comments and links of each post and the number of fans the page had at the moment. EdgeRank Checker determined that using 3rd party apps (such as HootSuite, Shoutlet, Direct Message Lab) to post on Facebook will decreased the “likelihood of engagement per fan (on average) by about 80%.”

In other words, page administrators should expect to reach 80% fewer fans when automate their posts, than they would if they posted directly onto Facebook.

EdgeRank Checker analysts conclude “that Facebook strategically reduced the weight of objects created through APIs to “encourage more content creation within the Facebook Platform.” According to EdgeRank Checker, Facebook penalizes 3rd party apps to increase “the value of their platform while increasing ad impressions.”

While this hypothesis may be true, it is purely speculative. No one, other than the geniuses who concoct Facebook algorithms, truly knows the formula behind Facebook’s EdgeRank. It’s also interesting to consider why Facebook would support 3rd party apps, while at the same time penalizing these applications.

EdgeRank Checker also theorized that 3rd party apps have lower engagement due to scheduled posts. EdgeRank Checker claimed that scheduled posts typically struggle to have high engagement, stating “it’s difficult to create unique engaging content several hours or days in advance.”

When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” When I asked Andre Penikis, Social Media Manager at Stream Companies, why he used 3rd party apps to post on evenings and weekends he replied, “Because that’s where the people are.”

Stream Companies uses 3rd party apps to schedule posts for times when Facebook users are most active. According to a Mashable Facebook activity study, Facebook users are most active on weekdays at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. ET.

Penikis is not persuaded by the EdgeRank Checker study. “Scheduling posts can be very effective. It makes sense to think that serving up a post at time when the largest number of people is on Facebook will result in more people seeing the post, regardless of how EdgeRank treats it.”

Penikis cites a recent experience with a national brand’s Facebook page, which Stream Companies manages. In a 4-week period only two posts (out of more than a dozen) were scheduled, but they ended up the first- and second-ranked posts (by impression count) of the month. Furthermore, those posts tied for first among all posts for feedback! Penikis believes that the reason for their popularity is that both posts went up on weekends, when people were most likely to be on Facebook.

What’s the lesson here? Running a business is hard enough. Trying to keep up with the complexities of social media today is a full-time job. Good social media campaigns result from collaboration between subject experts and social media experts. Don’t leave your social media management to amateurs.

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