Random! How’d my Facebook post get over 200,000 Likes?

  Written by Louis Gudema

“Talking About” is one of Facebook’s most important brand page metrics; they consider it so important that they place it at the top of each page, right next to its name and the number of page Likes.

Recently a small “vanity” page I created had more people talking about it than the Best Buy, Southwest Airlines, and Microsoft pages – combined.

How’d that happen? Could I replicate that?

Talking about growth

For the past 18 months or so I’ve been managing a Facebook page I created called Fit Over Fifty. (Update: I stopped posting to this page on January 1, 2014, so the engagement level now is very low.) For me, engagement has been as important as a growing community – after all, social media is about having a conversation with people, not just throwing content out into the void. There are two back-of-envelope measures of engagement that I’ve been using to gauge the success of the page, and of individual posts:

  • Talking About-to-Likes ratio. Facebook defines people “talking about” a page as those who have Liked, Shared or Commented on its posts in the past 7 days. For many pages, this ratio is very low; people talking about it are well under 1 percent of its followers. At this writing, Starbucks has over 33 million followers, but only about 250,000 are talking about it; Lady Gaga has close to 55 million followers, with less than 500,000 talking about her. While those absolute numbers are considerable, the relative engagement rates on those pages is low. Pages often have very high engagement rates when they only have a few dozen followers; I was pleased that I was able to maintain a 30-50% engagement rate for the page even after building a base of several thousand followers. I did this, in part, by watching the engagement rate for individual posts.
  • For an individual post, I measured the engagement rate as what percentage of people who saw that post engaged with it – what Facebook’s calls “Virality”. Facebook doesn’t show all of a page’s posts to all of its followers.  For my page, typically only about 10% of followers see a post unless it gets a lot of engagement, in which case Facebook shows it to more.  By increasingly posting the type of material that has high virality – like images with positive, short messages, rather than links or videos – I was able to build an engaged community. And Facebook was right when they changed their algorithm last fall saying that it would reduce impressions but increase engagement – the average virality of posts immediately went up with their change.

While I focused the page’s posts initially on nutrition and exercise, there are only so many ways you can say “eat right and stay active”. So after a few months I started to broaden the types of posts and found that there were other types that connected with my community, too. For example, I would regularly post about people over 50 who had had a significant accomplishment, won an award, or celebrated a milestone birthday. I posted short RIP notices when people who had stayed active late into their lives died. And some posts were about spiritual well-being, such as maintaining some serenity in your life and letting go of anger.  All of these were arguably about a broad definition of being fit, and welcomed by the community.

And then I experimented with another type of post, what I called a “nostalgia” post. Two or three times a week, out of 15-20 posts, I would post about something that was popular 50 years ago — Like if you remember “Bonanza”, the NBC Peacock, dial phones or metal ice cube trays. Some of these were among my most popular posts and significantly helped my EdgeRank – the algorithm Facebook uses to determine who to show a page’s posts to. And so my posts about fitness were seen and engaged with by even more people: a virtuous cycle.

And then one day a post went wild.

It was one of my “nostalgia” posts. With a picture of Dick Clark on the TV show, it simply said, “Like if you grew up watching Dick Clark and ‘American Bandstand’!”  I can usually tell in the first hour if a post will be popular, and this one was. And then it kept growing. And growing. Within a day it had a few hundred likes – equal to the lifetime total of my most popular posts. Within four or five days, during the day and evening it was getting several hundred new Likes each hour, with dozens of Shares and Comments per hour, too. After a week it was getting over 1,000 Likes an hour. Ultimately it’s gone over 200,000 Likes, 7,700 Shares and 9,900 Comments. And instead of 20-40 new Likes for the Fit Over Fifty page each day, it received over 2,500+ In just a couple weeks (approximately 1% of the people who Liked the post then went on to Like the page.)

Like growth

Likes: New (blue), Unlikes (green)

And the page achieved what I called, and always envied, a gold engagement level: the number of people talking about it exceeded the number of followers.  It’s not the typical 1% of followers talking about, or my usual 30-50% — it peaked at over 2,500%!

 Name Likes TA

But the question is why did this happen? And can it be replicated? I understand the reason for the popularity of this post; people tell me in their comments: They were watching “American Bandstand” in their teens, or even younger.  Many people had a physical connection to the show – they describe that they would come home every day and dance along in their living room with the music and dancers on the show (some of whom they still remember the names of, and had crushes on). It was a very important part of growing up for them.

But this is far from the most popular post I’ve had, if you measure by Facebook’s own virality metric. It’s virality was around 18% – 18% of the people who saw it Liked, shared, or commented on it. On the same day that I posted the American Bandstand post, though, another item had more than three times the virality; many other recent posts have had much higher virality, too. But they received one percent or less of the total Likes that that post did. Why doesn’t Facebook keep showing those posts, making possible higher numbers of Likes for them, too? It is a mystery.

Meanwhile, my little page had more people “talking about” it than the pages of those major corporations – all because of one post. Crazy. And just a bit random. And it makes me wonder why Facebook singles out “talking about” as such an important metric.

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2 thoughts on “Random! How’d my Facebook post get over 200,000 Likes?

  1. Gregory Bator

    Dick Clark is an iconic life thread. His show influenced music, dance, style, and relationships. American Bandstand located authentic sounds. Dick Clark’s vision encouraged second looks. Those looks and sounds were surrounded in a youthful context which inspired a generation so deeply that it continued to reverberate on your page.

    Using the life thread device as a beacon has the staying power of its next find or the hope that your resident content intrigues a second click. Identifying common life threads weaves interesting patterns. Thanks for your vision.

  2. Clive Roach

    Hey Louis, that was a great post. I like your metrics. Key to success is keeping a close eye on what people like and the variety. Replicating that success is going to be hard because viral success is often not predicted. You did not know it was going to be that successful before you posted it. Thanks for sharing, it is a very useful case study indeed.

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