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Strategic analysis
Brand Comparison Study: What's Really Happening on Facebook?



Written by on January 29, 2014

Not a day goes by without hearing yet another story about Facebook's demise. These stories can generally be divided up into three categories. First we have the stories about how younger people are leaving Facebook and how their overall engagement is trending down. Secondly we have the more speculative posts that look at different trends and try to predict how that will affect Facebook's future. And finally, we have the increasing discontent from brands and content creators, who are annoyed by the lack of real effect they get from Facebook.

One example of this is Felicia Day, who posted (on Google+):

This is the reason why I don't enjoy interacting on Facebook, in order to have my posts pushed out to people who WANT to see my stuff, it seems like I need to post the most baseline things, like, say, me in a bikini. Or a kitten.

Dumbing down content to actually REACH my fans is ridiculous. If they're following me, they want to see my stuff. I don't have money to pay to reach all my fans for everything I post. And paying for views sucks in general, Facebook. So...yeah. Great video!

The video she is referring to is this one by Derek Muller, which in a very simple way explains the fundamental problem.

As analysts, we see all these different signals and trends, and we start to form a pattern in our heads that Facebook is in trouble. But like any other assumption, we need to test it to see if it's real or not. Does all this negative press also translate into a downward trend for brands, or do we only think that it does?

This is what I set out to investigate with this study. With the help of eight brands, I have mapped out every post in relation to their audience, over the past two and a half years, to see if we can identify any significant patterns. I wanted to find out if what we think is happening also translates to what is actually is happening.

The brands in question are two medium sized brands, two small one-person brands, two personal brands, one national newspaper, and one big magazine. So we have a wide selection of brands, which should serve as a good basis for pattern analysis.

I'm not going to give you any numbers because obviously, there is a huge difference between a brand with hundreds of thousands of likes, and one with less than a thousand. And the numbers are not that interesting either. What we are looking for here are patterns and behaviors.

We want to see if there is a change in momentum, and at what point that is happening. Facebook is obviously making small changes everyday to improve their product, but there are three periods that stand out:

  • 2nd part of 2012: Where Facebook introduced promoted posts and started to really ramp up its newsfeed algorithms to satisfy going public. This was a period of massive changes to how Facebook worked.
  • Feb/Mar 2013: When they introduced a new newsfeed design where everything got bigger.
  • Dec 2013: Facebook ramped up its continuous focus on becoming your social newspaper. If you want to know how much, just look at the newly announced Facebook Paper.

So what's really happened on Facebook for the past two and a half years?


First, let's talk about reach. This has been a heated point ever since Facebook introduced both sponsored/promoted posts and 'the-algorithm-formerly-known-as-EdgeRank'. It's the idea that Facebook will rank your stream based on how you engage with the content.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


Check out my book: THE SHIFT - from print to digital and beyond? Free for Baekdal Plus subscribers, $8.79 on Amazon.

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