What Marketers Should Know About Facebook User Engagement in 2017

Opinion: Facebook’s 2016 algorithm changes put user-generated content front and center in News Feed and brand-generated content on the back burner

As Facebook made crystal clear during its fourth-quarter and full-year-2016 earnings call, its team is laser-focused on increasing user engagement.

Particularly when facing stiff competition from competitors like Snapchat, it’s critical for Facebook to do whatever it can to not only encourage its users to publish content, but also to like, comment and share content as frequently as they’re willing to.

While Facebook presented a high-level, rosy summary of engagement when discussing results from the 2016 fiscal year, we felt that the overview it offered was incomplete. In an effort to help marketers understand how they can most effectively reach audiences in 2017, our team set out to shed more light on the current state of Facebook engagement.

Our study of 25 million Facebook posts published by 1 million users between January and December 2016 shows just how difficult Facebook has made it for companies to reach audiences through brand posts.

The charts below illustrate this point, while also offering some perspective on why many marketers cite Facebook as the most important platform for their influencer marketing endeavors:

Facebook reversed seven consecutive months of declining engagement via three key News Feed algorithm changes:

Between the fall of 2015 and the winter of 2016, Facebook experienced seven consecutive months of declining user engagement. Starting in March 2016, the company began implementing three key algorithm changes focused on promoting posts that featured Facebook Live videos, keeping click-bait links out of News Feed and prioritizing friends, family and “core-value” content.

As you can see in the chart above, Facebook engagement levels steadily increased during the time that the company implemented these algorithm changes.

Engagements per post on Facebook increased by 26 percent over 2016 but decreased by 15 percent year-over-year from 2015 to 2016:

Facebook’s algorithm changes were very effective in increasing user engagement over the course of 2016. Aside from a brief dip in the fall of 2016, user engagement increased steadily throughout the year, with an overall 26.06 percent growth in engagements per post.

Interestingly, an increase in likes per post was the primary driver of this engagement boost. In 2016, Facebook saw a 30.7 percent increase in likes per post and a 19.84 percent increase in comments per post. Shares per post over this period of time decreased slightly, by 4.81 percent.

While Facebook’s algorithm changes were effective in helping to steer engagement in the right direction, engagement levels didn’t fully recover. The chart below shows that Facebook engagements per post in 2016 were about 15 percent lower than in 2015.

User-generated posts on Facebook earn 6.9 times more engagement than brand-generated posts:

Facebook’s 2016 algorithm changes put user-generated content front and center on peoples’ News Feeds and brand-generated content on the back burner.

Take a look at the chart above, which focuses on engagement levels of two types of posts—user posts that promoted a brand and company posts that also promoted a brand. Users who wrote about a brand drove nearly seven times the engagement when compared with brand-generated posts.

While marketers might find this stat discouraging, it also helps explain why many companies are investing in influencer marketing. After all, if brands can get customers to say nice things about their product on Facebook, the levels of engagement they’ll see are much higher than they would otherwise achieve with brand-generated content.

Micro-influencers generate 3.5 times more engagements per post than the average Facebook user:

People generally accept that the more influential the Facebook user, the more engagement he or she will see with each post, but quantifying how influence affects engagement is one stat that Facebook doesn’t offer.

We set out to determine the correlation between influence and engagement for Facebook users with personal accounts. You can read more about the methodology in our report, but briefly, we took a random sample of 10,500 users with an average network of 512 friends and analyzed their ability to generate a reaction when creating content. We then compared all of the users’ influence scores and gave a ranking of 0-100 to identify their influence percentile.

We determined that users who are in the influence percentile range of 75 to 100 will on average experience at least 3.5 times higher engagement in their posts when compared to users in the zero-to-75 range.

For marketers, this statistic underscores the value of being able to encourage not just anyone on Facebook to write a favorable post about their brand, but to encourage the Facebook users who are both fans of the brand and have high levels of influence. These are the people who will be able to truly move the engagement needle.

Lyle Stevens is the co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing firm Mavrck.