Growing Epicenter: Facebook

December 10, 2014

In a recent episode of the a16z podcast, a person from the venerable magazine The Atlantic mentioned that 2/3 of their traffic comes from Facebook. After Google, Facebook is the second largest website in the world, yet for Epicenter Bitcoin it has played but a minor role so far. Admittedly, we haven’t a lot: Posting links to our new episodes and recently posting links to upcoming Google hangouts. That’s all.

The results, in line with our efforts, have been weak. We have only 90 likes and our Facebook posts get little reach: On average, less than 20 people. This sounds terrible, but surprisingly it’s even above the average for Facebook: In February 2014, posts on Facebook pages reached on average 6% of the followers.

As one would expect, the role Facebook has played in generating traffic for our more important channels, the website and YouTube, has been minuscule as well. Just 0.9% of our YouTube views came through a Facebook referral and 2% of the visits to our website. Soundcloud doesn’t provide this information, but there is no reason to think it’s more significant there.

Are we missing out on some huge potential source of traffic?

Facebook: Traffic and Conversion

On a high level, there are two broad things one can focus on when it comes to generating traffic from Facebook:

1) Getting more traffic to the Facebook site
2) Getting more traffic from the Facebook site somewhere else

In our case, for 2) we could focus on getting people to subscribe to our YouTube channel, sign up for our newsletter, subscribe to our audio podcast or  watch a live hangout. If we had lots of fans, but few people who go on to other platforms to listen to our content, it would make sense to focus there. We could look into which action we most want them to take and try to increase the rate at which they do so. But since almost no one is on our Facebook page that would be futile.

Instead, if anything we should focus on increasing our reach on Facebook. In reality this means getting more fans. Here is the basic sequence: Get more fans causes more people to see the Facebook posts causes more people to convert to listeners, YouTube subscribers, etc. An important caveat has to be made: We care much less about Facebook fans than followers on other platforms. YouTube and Soundcloud are direct distribution channels for us, so followers there are more valuable. Focusing on Facebook fans only makes sense if it is much easier and cheaper than on other platforms. If we interact with people outside of Facebook and have the chance of sending them somewhere else, we will choose our website or YouTube over Facebook.

Facebook Marketing Future

The 6% average reach for organic posts used to be a lot higher. In fact, it is dropping at an astounding rate. It shouldn’t be entirely surprising: More people, more companies post content on Facebook. People also have more friends and like more pages. This creates a massive oversupply of content. So Facebook has to filter somehow. And them being business, they turned it into a business opportunity by prioritizing paid content.

Facebook Organic Traffic Reach. Source: Adage.com
Facebook Organic Traffic Reach. Source: Adage.com

Where will this lead to? Here is what Facebook apparently said: ‘assume a day will come when the organic reach is zero.‘ So that’s an important point to keep in mind before spending lots of effort trying to get fans: You’ll probably have to pay for them to see your posts in the future.

We’ll end up with a two-step system. First, companies purchase advertising to get fans for their page. Second, they pay more to ‘boost’ their posts so that the fans of the page actually see them. This is fascinating and I wasn’t aware of this dynamic before writing this post.

That’s not saying it makes no sense to engage in this game. I think running an experiment would be interesting and maybe there would even be results. But at least it makes clear that we probably have to pay money to get anywhere.

Promotional vs Value-Adding Content

All this is not saying that it doesn’t matter what you post. There are plenty of rules and guidelines on how to create effective Facebook posts. It’s also cheaper to boost paid posts.

Very roughly the idea is that there should be a good balance between promotional content and content that is purely focused on adding values for fans. We have definitely posted almost exclusively promotional content so far. That’s something to keep in mind. But for now, there isn’t too much point focusing on creating better posts if there is no one to read them.

Facebook Groups

But with all the focus on our Facebook page, we shouldn’t forget about another potentially powerful area of focus: Facebook groups. There are many Bitcoin-focused groups on Facebook with large memberships (10,000+). We could forget completely about our own page and post interesting and relevant content directly to these groups. We have made some attempts at doing that before, but I’m not sure how effective it was. There is also a fine balance to strike between adding value and spamming groups. But giving this another systematic shot would be a great idea.

Action Step

So where does this leave us? There are two things I would like to do from here.

Increased Facebook Posting

I set up the Chrome Buffer extension and I plan to post more on different social networks including Facebook. The basic idea is that I already spend a ton of time reading about Bitcoin, thinking about Bitcoin, attending events, talking to people. There are lots of opportunities to create and post content that I miss, simply because I’m not in the habit of doing something. I’d like to change that.

For the reasons discussed in this post, I don’t expect there to be fast, great results. At least not on Facebook. But if I develop a set of rules for doing so systematically, it should pay off over time.

Explore Facebook Advertising

I also think doing some experiments with Facebook advertising would be a great idea. It’s very unclear if we would see an ROI. Measuring that is not trivial and there would be a lot of work involved in going through this process and learning all the steps. But it might at least help our branding to have a stronger and more vibrant Facebook page and would be a great learning experience. The process of finding which advertisements have the best conversion and what is the most effective targeting could also lead to some valuable insights we can use elsewhere.

References

Apart from the articles linked to in the article, here are some more resources I consulted during the research:

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As mentioned in the original overview post, our traffic on Youtube has been growing extremely well. At this point, I feel that not starting doing video earlier may have been the single most significant mistake we made with Epicenter Bitcoin. Of course, it’s not a big problem, because there will be plenty of time to grow our YouTube presence.

YouTube vs Audio

It’s useful to compare again audio downloads with YouTube views. With audio downloads, sound files are delivered via RSS to audio players that are usually on the listeners’ mobile device. Once the RSS feed has been hit, we know very little about what happens. How did they find the podcast? Do they listen to the whole episode or only parts of it? Those and many other questions can’t be answered for audio downloads. Even iTunes, which certainly knows more than we do, is not going to get data from other applications people use to play podcasts. And what analytics they do have, they don’t share.

That makes it difficult to do much, because we not only have little information but also little control over the delivery of our content.

With YouTube this is completely different. It’s a powerful platform that controls hosting and delivering the content, providing a user experience, monetizing through advertising, etc. YouTube can track every interaction with a video and they can directly control the user experience. This allows them to give excellent analytics (similar to Google Analytics) and lots of options for content creators to configure their channel and delivery.

YouTube Search & Related Videos

Here is what I wanted to focus on this week: How people find new content on YouTube. You may be surprised by this, I certainly was, but YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, after Google. There are over 1 billion monthly unique visitors on YouTube and over 3 billion searches made using its search engine.

So while the iTunes podcast search has very targeted traffic and is certainly important, it’s possible that YouTube search could be even more important for podcasts that are on both platforms. (Of course, with the lack of iTunes analytics, that’s hard to know exactly.)

Our Stats

So let’s look at our numbers to see what role discovery on YouTube has played so far. First of all, there are two ways this can happen. First, people can enter a specific search term and get shown one of our episodes as one of the results. Second, people can be shown one of our episodes as a ‘related video’ in the sidebar when they are watching something else.

YouTube Views From Search

30-Day Moving Average YouTube Views from Internal Searches

Overall, the number of people who view one of our episode because of finding it through a YouTube search is still very small (~2% of the total), but it has been growing well.

Related Videos Views

30-Day Moving Average YouTube Related Video Views

Views due to the ‘related video’ feature are even smaller (<1%), but have been increasing at even bigger rate over the last few months.

Improving Rankings

I spent quite a bit of time reading about optimizing YouTube search ranking and the results are interesting. What stands out to me is how much information YouTube has and how that influences how they rank videos. YouTube knows how many people watch each video, at what rate they drop out, where they come from, what their general viewing behavior is, how often they click on ads and how much they share the content. The more complete their information is, the harder it becomes to find some hack to get an easy, short-term boost.

It does seem that YouTube primarily ranks highly the content that is relevant and popular. What matters most will be to have lots of views, high retention, lots of social sharing and other sites linking to the videos. Title, episode descriptions and tags matter too, but looking at what we’ve been doing, it seems we do a good job already. (Here are some of the articles I read in the process: 1234).

Action Steps

Where does this leave us? While it is slightly against the framework set out in the beginning, I won’t take any specific action regarding YouTube search. Trying to optimize specifically for YouTube search ranking seems to be a pointless exercise for us.

Instead, we should strive to do other things to improve our longterm YouTube prospects. Here are a few of them:

  • Create an animated intro to the video. Makes it look much more professional. Sebastien has had this idea and I find excellent.
  • Improve our YouTube homepage. There are many things to do there. I may come back to this later, but to see what can be done look Pat Flynn‘s in contrast to ours.
  • Focus specifically on converting viewers to subscribers to our channel.

YouTube is exciting for us, because there seem to be so many things one can do. So many aspects to improve and I think we’ll be able to see very strong results over time. But YouTube search seems to be something that will just improve as a byproduct and doesn’t warrant specific attention.

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