Retail Industry Shows Slowest Growth Period on Facebook Since 2011, Study Finds

Retailers are publishing more posts on Facebook than ever, but their efforts have resulted in a decline in engagement and volume in the first half of 2013, according to Expion's F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report.

Retailers are publishing more posts on Facebook than ever, but their efforts have resulted in a decline in engagement and volume in the first half of 2013 — the slowest growth period on Facebook since 2011, according to Expion’s F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report.

Looking at the 50 retailers, there was an even split between 25 retailers who saw a positive growth in social volume and 25 who saw a decline during this period, but it’s notable that 8 out of the top 10 brands saw a decrease in social volume.

“This is partly because of the seasonal pattern identified as the first half of the year has traditionally been slower for the retail industry than the second half of the year on Facebook,” explained Expion CMO Mike Heffring. But, “Additionally, we believe that Facebook has matured as a social platform. It’s become more saturated with brand content but there are only so many fans to engage, so fans are more discretionary about the content they are engaging with because they have more to choose from.”

The report comes out just as Facebook has reported a strong ad revenue performance in the second quarter of 2013. So what’s next?

After measuring fan reactions to more than 16,000 of the retailers’ posts, Expion analysts concluded that creating fewer, higher quality posts generated just as much volume for brands as posting more frequently.

Four out of the top 10 brands they studied focused on quality, while another four focused on quantity. Luxury brands like Tiffany & Co. successfully engaged fans with a small number of attractive photos that tied in with pop culture, such as Tiffany’s jewelry inspired by film version of “The Great Gatsby.” These luxury brands were the leaders in Facebook engagement across the retail industry, Expion found. On the opposite end of the spectrum were companies like Walmart, which made it to the top of the list by producing a high volume of posts, but it had less engagement per post.

Still, many of the retailers’ posts fell flat — forty-five out of the top 50 brands had posts that landed in the bottom 10 percent of all posts, while only 34 brands had posts in the top 10 percent.

While videos are getting plenty of buzz with the launch of Vine and video for Instagram, retailers haven’t been posting them on Facebook in large numbers just yet. Video content made up only 3 percent of all posts on the social network in the first half of 2013. Posts with images were still the most popular choice, representing 80 percent of retailers’ posts. Posts with images had a 28 percent higher success rate than other posts.

But other studies have suggested that videos are another valuable social currency on the network. Adobe’s video benchmark report, which came out in April, showed that video posts get twice as many likes, comments, and shares as other types of posts and account for 77 percent of viral reach on social media sites.

Why aren’t videos catching on?

“There are three things that could be contributing to the scarcity of video posts on Facebook,” Heffring explained. “First, in general, video content for social media platforms is still relatively new, especially when compared to images. Second, most brands have large libraries of still image content that can be approved and pushed out really quickly. Video content is more costly and most brands don’t have a large stock library of video content, especially when compared to the size of still image libraries that already exist. Images are much easier to produce and have approved than video content right now. Lastly, Facebook has created some barriers for brands looking to integrate video content from other platforms, namely Vine.”

In January, Facebook had blocked Vine, as well as Russian search engine Yandex’s Wonder and voice-messaging app Voxer, from accessing Facebook’s data. Users were also unable to find their friends using the video-sharing app and had trouble seeing the videos they had posted on their timelines. Now Facebook is rumored to be coming out with its own video ads.

Expion found that the timing of the posts also had an impact on engagement rates. On average, the month of June, Fridays, and between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. ET. were the times when Facebook was the most saturated with brand posts, which led to poor performance. In general, Facebook is the freshest in the morning between 8:00 and 11:00 a.m. and also effective between 11:00 and 2:00 p.m.