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Insights Into a Viral Facebook Post

This past weekend (Jan. 30 - Feb 1, 2015) the NDSU Extension - Lawns, Gardens and Trees Facebook Page had one of their posts go viral. The previous 10 posts on the page averaged a reach (the number of people a post was served to) of 453.8. The post below reached more than 187,000 people. By looking at the Facebook Insights for the post, we might see a couple of reasons why.

LGT Succulents Facebook Post

There are definitely reasons for this post going viral that go beyond anything that can be quantified. The photo obviously resonated with people. It got more than 10,000 likes and 2,200 shares. It might be that the photo shows a great idea that many people had not been exposed to before. I call this the "cool" factor. if something you see online makes you say, "Cool," you are more likely to share it because it might make your friends say, "Cool," and make them think that you are cool.

The photo is also timely. It was posted on January 30 (more on that later), 15 days before Valentine's Day. Some people might be looking for Valentine's Day gift ideas, and along comes this photo. The photo clearly shows it's subject. Some people may have been tempted to take a photo of the entire display table and posted it with text like "Look at all the great ideas at this event!" I don't think a post like that would have been as effective. The actual post contained a single idea that could be shared and replicated instead of a table full of ideas that were unclear.

By looking at Facebook Insights I found some more tangible reasons why this post might have spread so widely. The first thing I did was to look at where the earliest shares of the post came from. This wasn't easy. You can access the shares from the admin view of the post, but by the time I looked at the shares there were more than 2,000, which meant a lot of scrolling to get to the earliest shares.

The post was put up at 4:40 p.m. (Central) on January 30, 2015. the first share happened at 8:48 p.m. That first share got 10 likes and 3 comments. The second and third shares had similar numbers of likes and comments, but the fourth share at 10:57 p.m. got 128 likes and 21 comments. The next 3 shares again had modest numbers of likes and comments, but at 12:10 a.m. on January 31, the post was shared on the Sweetstuff's Sassy Succulents Facebook Page garnering 249 likes and 10 comments. After that more and more of the shares began coming from Facebook Pages rather than people on Facebook, and the post began to reach more people. By 10:07 a.m. on January 31, the post had found it's way to the Facebook Page of Garden Design magazine, a page with 406,403 likes. When they shared the post it received 1,941 likes and 181 comments. By the standards of other NDSU Extension Facebook posts, it had gone viral.

Facebook Pages tend to have more likes than individual people on Facebook have friends, so the numbers are in their favor. Facebook Pages also have an imperative to share content they think is valuable to their audience, so they are looking for quality information with the intention of sharing it. I'm not saying you should focus all of your Facebook Page activity on reaching other Facebook Pages, but connecting with other Pages, especially those outside your organization that may reach a different audience than you reach, should be part of your strategy.

Let's get back to the timing of this post. It was posted late in the afternoon on a Friday. If you post to your Facebook Page only when you are in your office, you might not post very often on a Friday afternoon. The NDSU Extension Service - Lawns, Gardens and Trees Facebook Page hadn't posted on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday since October 2014. By posting late on a Friday, they potentially reached an audience they had not reached before, or they reached their audience at a time when it was more convenient for them to share.

If you look at the general data, like they do here, you might think weekends are a bad time to post to Facebook, but you aren't trying to reach 1.1 billion Facebook users. You are trying to reach your audience. You need to find out when your audience is on Facebook and when they are ready to engage. The best way to find out is to post at a lot of different times, then look back at your Facebook Insights and see what you can learn. If there is a time your audience seems more engaged, you might want to schedule important posts for that time, but don't forget about the rest of your audience. Continue to spread out your posts to reach more people.

Bob Bertsch, Web Technology Specialist, (701) 231-7381

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