Experiment: Status Updates vs. Photos in Facebook Reach

There’s been a LOT of chatter about Facebook Page Reach in general lately. More specifically, there’s been talk of how Reach is down for photos while it’s up for status updates.

Not just a slight change. But a major change to the EdgeRank algorithm.

Is this true? If so, is this simply a cosmetic change? Has engagement been impacted?

My Experiment

For the past several months, I’ve been using photos almost exclusively when sharing my latest blog post every Monday through Friday mornings. I decided to stop last Monday and use only status updates.

I have taken the five photo posts that I made from October 22-26 and compared them to my five status update posts I made from October 29 to November 2.

Note that there are other status updates and photo posts mixed in, but I wanted to compare only the posts that were made to promote a new blog entry. Following are the posts that were used:

10/22 Photo about spam impacting Promoted Posts (Part 1)
10/23 Photo about spam impacting Promoted Posts (Part 2)
10/24 Photo about Fan Page Friday
10/25 Photo about how to merge Facebook Pages
10/26 Photo about Andrea Vahl interview
10/29 Status update about a change in Reach
10/30 Status update about the silent killer of Reach
10/31 Status update about not marketing on Facebook
11/1 Status update about Facebook Page Notifications and Pages Feed
11/2 Status update about Emeric Ernoult interview

Read to the End!

Let me say this now. It’s important that you read everything here. While some of my findings verify what everyone is reporting, there is so much here to understand.

Is Reach up with status updates? Yep. Am I skeptical? Yep. Does it matter? Probably not.

Read on…

Facebook Reach — WHOA!

Everyone claims that Reach is way up for status updates and that photos aren’t being seen by anyone. So let’s look…

Facebook Reach Status Updates Photos

Average Reach for status updates was about 2,400 while it was just under 1,250 for photos. Status updates were reaching an average of 1,635 fans while photos reached only 761. Even when using medians, the difference was close to double.

That’s crazy, right? But it is consistent with everything we’re hearing. Status updates way up, and far outperforming photos.

If you only look at Reach, of course…

Facebook Engagement — Wait, What?

One might assume that if Reach is way higher for status updates that engagement follows. After all, if you can’t reach an audience, they won’t engage.

Quick refresher. Here’s Facebook’s definition of “Engaged User:”

The number of people who clicked anywhere in your posts.

Simple enough, right? So that’s likes, comments, shares, photo clicks and other clicks. Here’s what we’ve got for that same set of data…

Facebook Page Engagement Status Updates Photos

To the naked eye, at least, these appear to be pretty even. Big spike in the beginning for photos, but they average out.

The actual numbers are consistent with the eye test. Let’s use medians for now on to avoid one piece of data that skews the results (as could happen in this set here). I had a median of 89 engaged fans and 134 total engaged users for the photos; it was 96 and 108 for the status updates.

In other words, I was getting virtually the same engagement from fans, but the photos actually got me more engagement from non-fans.

The difference is nothing definitive. But what is clear is that the engagement is very similar even though the Reach was no where close.

But I want more details than clicks anywhere within the posts. You’re probably thinking that photos have an advantage here because of photo clicks. I was thinking the same thing.

So let’s look at a few more sets of data: Likes, Shares, Comments and Other Clicks. And this time, let’s just look at the median scores for each…

Facebook Status Updates Photos Likes Comments Shares Clicks

Huh. So my photos got more likes and shares, comments were the same and status updates got more “other clicks” which resulted in more clicks overall.

By the way, you may be wondering how I found this data. It’s on the “Lifetime Post Consumers by type” tab of the post level export in Facebook Insights.

What Does It All Mean?

If you’ve detected some frustration in my words lately, this kind of stuff is exactly why.

Reach stats don’t tell us anything. This goes back to the very odd Viral Reach stats we’ve seen since the end of August which resulted in a drop in Total Reach. I’ve been tracking my Reach and Engagement closely for months now, and while Reach has become extremely erratic, my Engagement continues to trend upward.

So now that we’re talking about the difference in Reach between post types, I stand firm that this stat means nothing. The proof is the engagement.

I see virtually no difference in engagement between status updates and photos of similar content. That tells me one of two things regarding the Reach numbers, which are double in favor of status updates:

  1. Status updates are getting half of the engagement per user; or
  2. The Reach numbers are wrong.

Either way, I don’t really care. I can’t prove Reach. I can prove engagement. And engagement is what we all care about, right?

Your Turn

The problem, of course, is that I’m only one person. While my individual sample size is enough now to say that I have not been negatively impacted by poor Reach during the past few months, it doesn’t mean that my results apply globally.

So what are you seeing? Your Reach between your status updates and photos are likely quite different. But what about your engagement?

Let me know in the comments below!

  • http://twitter.com/MikeStraus Mike Straus

    Nice blog post Jon! I think you hit the important point which is focus on engagement and don’t worry so much about reach.

    I remember photos used to get 2-4x higher reach then status updates. No I see status updates getting equal to a bit more (1-1.5x). I will have to keep my eye out if text status updates are getting higher, but I am dealing with largely visual pages. As for engagement, photo posts have always had higher engagment, and most importantly higher talking about this (which can lead to viral reach). This continues to be true, I am seeing much higher engagement on the photo posts the text ones. I would rather reach even 2x as much if I am getting 2x more engagement from the smaller audience.

    In the end I think it depends on your business, but I think mixing up between photos, status updates, and links with a balance that makes sense for your business is the way to go, keeping a close eye on engagement and not going crazy over reach.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks, Mike! I really need to confirm this, but I know that I at least was getting solid engagement with status updates going back several months. When I wrote about using photos, part of the story was always that status updates got really good engagement, too, but that using them was a dead end. That didn’t consider, of course, pasting in a link and removing the preview.

      I think there has to be a natural element to this as well. Everyone was posting photos, and often unnecessarily. It gets annoying. Maybe some or most of this is a change in EdgeRank (no one knows this for sure), but I’d be willing to bet there’s a portion of this that is simply a change in user behavior.

  • Lesley Fletcher

    It’s interesting isn’t it – I’ve been reading about how poorly FB seems to be reaching people and how their sales are impacted, from my business, I’ve found that I’ve been steady all the way through, some posts attract many hits/like/comments and others not so much, but I’m growing, I’m busy and very happy with the way i’m using FB for my business, but i don’t sell ON FB, but on my own website. FB for me is used only as marketing tool, but not my only one.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      I think you hit the key there, Lesley! If people are using Facebook to constantly sell, users will respond negatively. You have the right approach!

  • Gordon Robinson

    Very good post (again) Jon – I am seeing that for engagement I am getting more value from photo posts. This could be however because my site is new and I have not defined why I have people on my page other than to give general value and insight into all things online. As I become more specialised and position myself as a leader in a particular niche I feel that will change. Thanks again ~ Gordon

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks, Gordon! I continue to feel that we shouldn’t look at this stuff in a vacuum. You can’t just say to use status updates because they work better. Post something of value first. If it requires a photo to make it more interesting, go for it!

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  • http://www.TabSite.com/ Mike Gingerich

    Good stuff Jon! Engagement gets my vote as to what matters.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks, Mike!

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  • Yves

    Great info and insights. I need to look at how I’m promoting my site. Thanks.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks, Yves! Definitely check it out. Every experiment I run shows the same thing. Photos may not reach as many people, but they are more effective.

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  • Dom S

    Does anyone else have a problem with their statistincs not being updated since Nov. 24th? My facebook stats have not been updated in 5 days. Anyone else??

  • http://twitter.com/ChasingDavies Megan D.

    Very Interesting… what I’m interested in right now is using links in any kind of post (outbound links to another/off FB site) vs. no links taking user off FB. Any insight there?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Nothing scientific, Megan, but it shouldn’t impact reach whether or not you include a link in said posts. It should certainly affect engagement, though.

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  • Sidewong

    Very interesting. I found the reach is unreliable. We used to achieve a ratio about 1 like to 10 reach, roughly, when the like went over a sizable number about 200. This is not scientific, just rough. But it stayed that way for a while until a few months ago, reach dropped significantly even though engaged users and like not. I am also puzzle why reach can be smaller than engaged user, how can one engage to a post if it did not reach him?

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  • Josh_Ellis

    I suspect Facebook slows down posts after a certain amount of reach/engagement. I have no data or tests to prove this, but it just intuitively seems true based on my past week of numbers. It just seems like the kind of thing they would do. With paid reach, once a post hits a certain number of impressions based on budget, it stops — I suspect they do a similar thing with normal posts based on an algorithm of engagement/page-likes/etc which is why you got such similar results from engagement but not from reach. Or i could just be tired and needing to go to bed.