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Figuring out what kind of content works on Facebook

A look at attempts in the U.S. and Europe to get a handle of what works on Facebook and what doesn't.

Three characteristics of successful posts on Facebook. Screen shot of study infographic by VI Knallgrau.

Figuring out what kind of engagement works on social media is tough. As I wrote in a recent CNET News post, it's hard to predict on Twitter what kind of items resonate online and what kind sink without a trace.

Over on Facebook, it's even more complicated, in part because Facebook keeps changing, er, innovating. Besides, any platform with a billion people is going to be automatically more complicated to figure out than smaller platforms.

Two new efforts to get a handle on Facebook content provide some useful insights.

One of the best minds in digital journalism has shared his thoughts about Facebook and the news media, but it's relevant to anyone interested in using Mark Zuckerberg's platform for business. Steve Buttry (@SteveButtry), the digital transformation editor at Digital First Media, has written a must-read blog post:

Changes to the algorithm guiding the Facebook news feed make it more important than ever that newsrooms and journalists engage effectively on Facebook. We don't fully know how the changes work or what we should do about the them. Facebook has not provided much guidance on new best practices for news brands (they should do that; Facebook users share and interact with a lot of news).

He goes on to outline several things he has learned, including the idea that photos are better than text status updates. He also created a presentation posted on Slideshare that everyone should read:

I had first-hand experience of the power of photos this week when I taught a group of visiting media executives and students from Europe. We were looking at various examples of Facebook fan pages and one of them was that of Armin Wolf (@ArminWolf), an Austrian journalist who also happens to have one of the biggest accounts on Twitter. One of the attendees, Dieter Bornemann (@DieterBornemann) tweeted a photo of the screen. Wolf, in turn posted it on his Facebook wall, generating more than 4,000 likes, 100+ comments and 16 shares:

Screen grab from Armin Wolf's Facebook fan page.

That first line, Das ist ja cool!, means "This is so cool" in German. I ended up getting a bunch of new German speaking followers on Twitter. This shows that photos, even a relatively dull one, can have an impact.

That same day, I received notice of a major study about Facebook from Susanne Zoehrer (@TheSandworm), who works for VI Knallgrau, one of the first social media agencies in Austria.

The study, called "Which Content Works on Facebook" - "Welche Inhalte funktionieren in Facebook" in German - looked at post performance of 100 consumer and retail brands in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in a four-week period.

Among its conclusions: more photos, less text updates; don't post too often; keep it short; links and videos only if necessary; post more often on Sundays.

The study isn't available in English, but the agency translated into English a useful infographic that goes with the study - you can see it below.

While these two sets of findings are just a small part of our understanding of Facebook, it's interesting to see their similarities.

If you have ideas about what works and what doesn't on Facebook, please post it in the comments.