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Posting effectively on Facebook: the art of listening

The following is a guest post by Jessica Winters, owner of jLink Marketing and Coordinator Marketing & Social Media at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

One of the biggest struggles we seem to face on social media, specifically Facebook, is posting effectively.

Posting the ‘right’ content creates engagement and having good engagement on your networks is the essence of social media and is what will draw people to you. There is, however, no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for Coca-Cola or Texas A&M, will most likely not work for your institution. The trick is to figure out what does work for you.

An often-heard question is, “Why don’t my fans like my posts?” Well, as harsh as it may sound, it is because they probably could care less about your post. They might find your posts irrelevant or even boring (and definitely too ‘wordy’).

We tend to revert back to our old habits when we don’t know what to post. We start treating Facebook like our website and begin pushing our corporate content: the president’s blog, university news, research accomplishments, a partner’s visit, and so on… all Facebook engagement killers.

Figuring out what works for your institution consists of three tasks you have to perform, followed by a set of basic rules that apply to everyone who is a social manager.

Your tasks:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Know your tools
  3. Listen

Know your audience

Realise, accept and act on the fact that your audience, GenY/Z, is different than you are. This is something you have to wrap your GenX or Babyboom brain around. To them, social media is like breathing air. They are online, always connected, and visual. So don’t throw those wordy posts at them. Relate to them and their lives, which is different from yours.

Furthermore, your audience is not a homogenous group. They come from different parts of the world and have different customs. Their social media lives are no different. For example, on Facebook the more privacy-sensitive Germans won’t use their real name or easily like, comment, tag, or share a post. They’re also not big fans of Twitter, for the same reasons.

Know your tools

This means two things: know which network to use where, and know how to use each network individually.

First, Facebook frequently makes changes to the platform’s design, interface and functionality, so be sure to stay abreast of the latest developments and react quickly.

In the US, Facebook is reaching its point of saturation – although it’s still the reigning social network – while in India, Vietnam, South Korea, it’s booming… use that!

But if you’re planning on using social in China, you are better off venturing out onto other regional social networks like Weibo, RenRen, or WeChat, instead of Facebook. The same goes for Russia: VKontakte is the place to be, not Facebook. Before you go out into the great unknown, find out which network works where.

SocialBakers is also a great resource to find information on this. It will also give you other interesting demographics you should learn about. Whereas in most of the world the male-female ratio on Facebook is approximately 50/50, in India and Saudi Arabia, the ratio is 75/25. This is something you should know before you start using social in a country.

Some of us, due to time-constraints, post the same content on every network we manage. Yes it saves time, but it is a) considered lazy by your users and b) it simply doesn’t work. Each network has it’s own specific nature and user experience. Facebook is personal and informal, LinkedIn is corporate and professional, Twitter is fast and more ‘newsy’, and Pinterest is all about beauty and design. To make social media work, use each network for what it is intended.


Knowing which network to use where is not all. Now you have to listen and learn. This means finding out what your audience really likes and relates to. Stop thinking about what you find interesting or want them to hear, and start thinking about what it is they want to hear from you, on Facebook. This is a trial-and-error process, but you can measure your efforts.

Facebook Insights is a great tool for this. It tells you exactly how many people were engaged with your post and what the reach was. Low reach means Facebook’s algorithm (formerly known as EdgeRank) didn’t think your fans would find your post relevant. Low engagement implies that even those who saw the post didn’t really care about it.

In all likelihood you’ll soon find out that corporate posts on Facebook are not the way to go. So think outside the old habits box and explore new things. Instead of posting information you want your audience to like, think about what they would like.

This again differs per Facebook page. Keep that in mind. Your main university Facebook page will work differently from the page you use for international students.

In Groningen we found out that on our main page posts about ‘pride’ (student-, university-, or local), college humor/student life, and specific student-related information worked best. Posts with the highest engagement all had a typical ‘Groningen’ edge to it: like a post about the new city bike parking rules – never come between a Dutch student and his or her bike.

When it came to our international student page, it was posts about Holland, Groningen landmarks, study abroad, blogs, and a visit from the King that scored best.

Basic rules

When you post – and it doesn’t matter what the content is or who you are as an organisation – always follow some basic rules on how to post on Facebook:

  • Keep it informal and personal – Facebook is a place where people go for fun, relaxation and personal connections. Address your audience like a person, lose the corporate tone and be a human being. Facebook can give your organisation a face and a personality, something your website can’t, so use it.
  • Keep it short – The best posts are shorter than tweets! It should be a catchy tagline rather than a ten-line paragraph. Your fans will scan their timelines for interesting and fun information. If they are triggered, they will click on the link and read additional information.
  • Keep it visual – Facebook is a visual social network, so add an image to your posts. Dropping a link, with a thumbnail image, doesn’t do the trick. Adding an image to the link will make your post stand out in user’s timeline and create more engagement.
  • Keep it fun and relevant– As said, Facebook is a place for fun and personal time. So when you post, relate to what your audience is interested in. If you persist on posting some corporate content, try a 1/4 scheme: one corporate post to four other, more informal posts.

For more tips on effective Facebook posting, see ICEF Monitor’s previous article.


In June, Facebook joined the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, and Pinterest by rolling out hashtags to enable users to search by topics, add context to a post or indicate that it is part of a larger discussion.

It is a good idea to start experimenting with them. They have the potential to expand your reach and increase engagement. However, don’t use hashtags like you use them on Twitter – Facebook is a different tool, so don’t go overboard – but try using them to promote your events or run a contest for example, or to amplify your brand.

As always, measure the results to find out what worked and what didn’t. Remember though that privacy settings are still in effect, so only publicly posted content will be found.

Content curation

Now we know what to post, how to post and where to post what, we still need to find this relevant content. This is where content curation comes it: finding, organising and sharing relevant content.

To help you along the way, check out these 8 tips for better content marketing on social media.

There are also several free tools to help you find relevant content like, PearlFinder, or Storify.

Facebook can be a great tool if you want to engage with your students, if done right. You as a social media manager have to figure out what works for you. Keep at it and try different things. It’s okay to make mistakes and you will make them – just try not to upset the powers-that-be or have your mistakes go viral. Set aside some time to check out other college pages – you might not find content that you can use, but you might get inspired. Working social media effectively requires a different mindset than in the pre-social-media era – it’s no longer about you, it’s about them.

Jessica Winters was an early adopter of social media in higher education and regularly presents on social media and online marketing topics at conferences like NAFSA, EAIE and DAAD. Follow her on Twitter @jlinkmarketing.

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