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Hootsuite, TweetDeck & Other Third-Party APIs Kill Facebook Engagement [Study]

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A recent study by Applum, published on their EdgeRank Checker blog, proves a theory widely held in the social media marketing community: auto-posting Facebook updates to pages using a third-party API reduces the level of user engagement.

The extent of the damage is surprising, though; in comparing 10 of the top APIs to manual Facebook posting, Applum showed that Likes and comments decreased by an average of 80 percent.

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Social RSS topped the list of engagement killers at a 94 percent decrease. Dlvr.it, twitterfeed, Publisher and Twitter rounded out the five worst offenders list at 91, 90, 86, and 83 percent, respectively. They also tested auto-posting software RSS Graffiti, Networked Blogs, Sendible, TweetDeck, and HootSuite. The study examined over a million updates on 50,000+ pages.

Third-Party API Posting Affects EdgeRank – For Some

EdgeRank Checker offers a few different theories on why this is so. The first is that Facebook collapses the posts of third-party APIs, grouping them together and only displaying the most recent one and thereby negatively affecting EdgeRank by reducing the opportunity for people to view, like or comment … at least, this is what happens with those outside of its Preferred Developer Consultants program.

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By default, Facebook collapses multiple posts from the same API. However, InsideFacebook.com seems to have confirmed the existence of Facebook’s secret white list, which protects third-party publishers in their PDC program from collapsed posts, meaning their posts have a much higher chance of being read.

You can see more evidence of this in a post at AdAge’s DigitalNext blog, by Buddy Media Inc. CEO Michael Lazerow. Buddy Media is one of Facebook’s Preferred Developer Consultants and as such, is able to offer their clients the benefits of auto-posting software using multi-tenant enterprise products without running the risk of hurting their EdgeRank. In section 1.B) of his post, Lazerow shows that even single-tenant, branded applications used by large companies like Verizon, the subject of his screenshot example, are subjected to post collapsing by Facebook.

The moral of this part of the story is: auto-posting using consumer applications like HootSuite and branded single-tenant third-party APIs can hurt your EdgeRank and severely impact the level of engagement on your Facebook page. Using enterprise-level products by developers in Facebook’s PDC program may mitigate that risk, but that could change at any time.

Other Third-Party API Factors That May Affect EdgeRank

EdgeRank Checker hypothesized that three other factors may contribute to the drastic reduction of Likes and comments on third-party posts:

  • Facebook penalizes third-party APIs EdgeRank – they believe Facebook manually reduces the weight (one of the EdgeRank algorithm’s factors) of these types of posts. EdgeRank Checker purports that this could be to encourage more content creation within the platform and increase ad impressions. In his post, Buddy Media’s Lazerow disputes this, blaming it solely on the collapsing posts issue and adding, “In my four years of working with Facebook, not once have I seen Facebook prioritize an advertising product above user experience.” 
     
  • Posts through third-party APIs are likely automated and/or scheduled. It’s difficult to create timely content days or weeks in advance. They suggest that “any negative impacts of scheduled posts are most likely correlations with poorly developed content.”
     
  • The content is not Facebook optimized. Simply put, if you’re posting the same content to LinkedIn, Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter simultaneously, you’re missing your audience on three out of four. Optimize content for the audience you have on each platform.

Should you stop using third-party apps for Facebook? Not necessarily.

Bit.ly showed us last week that Facebook links have a 3.2 hour half-life (the amount of time by which half the clicks the content will ever receive is reached). It makes sense to share the same content at different times of the day, maybe two or three times over a period of a week. Auto-posting or publishing software can be useful for this, especially if you have fans in different time zones.

Other times it may be wise are when a small business owner or sole proprietor is away on vacation, or it’s simply not possible to post for a few days. Also, these apps still work well on other platforms, like Twitter.

We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water, but common sense is needed if your social media strategy is to include a publishing app. Auto-posting cannot replace a real person behind the wheel.

Targeting Users with Specific Content May Help

Facebook lists really haven’t proven themselves very useful, but Facebook has been testing new ways to filter friends and automatically categorize contacts using newsfeed filters and Smart Lists. This could be incredibly useful for businesses and marketers and ties in one of the major benefits Google Plus had going for them over Facebook. Friend filters and Smart Lists are not yet available to all users.

Another question that remains is whether this filtering capability, allowing users to target certain groups of people with content, will become available to business pages as well as personal accounts. Even so, content posted through third party APIs will continue to suffer the same fate as long as Facebook collapses posts by the same API together. Marketers will have to use these tools wisely and not rely on them for the majority of posts.

Graphics courtesy of EdgeRankChecker.com


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