Thursday, April 21, 2011


There's been a lot of talk recently about the New Yorker's "shockingly successful" Facebook "Like" experiment in the last week or so.

The experiment was meant to test audience engagement: how much will your audience go through to get to your content? Because let's face it everything online is low-investment. In an environment where your audience is just casually browsing for perhaps a few minutes at a time, even expecting them to stop long enough to click a link or a Like is asking a lot. It's why people are so skeptical of paywalls like those put up by the Times (which has an awesome ad campaign, by the way).

So the New Yorker put a story written by Jonathan Franzen about David Foster Wallace up on their Facebook fan page (which has about 220,000 fans). It gained about 17,000 "likes" while it was up. Impressive! Very!

Until you consider that's (and I'm rounding up here) 8% of their fans. And these were the big guns. The names are huge, appeal to their audience, and DFW's new novel just came out. This was the perfect storm for "likes."

We say that 10% engagement of one's audience indicates a successful online presence (measured by action taken--"like" clicked, retweets, comments left). And one of the most famous brands in the world got 8%. What does this mean?

I think it means, first and foremost, that 10% is not as attainable a figure as it might at first appear. It also means that any audience engagement is impressive.

Most importantly, it means that you have to be really specific in your goals. What do you want your audience to do? You have literally one shot: the vast majority of The New Yorker's fans would click "like" once (to become a fan) but not twice, no matter the prize.

So get specific about your goals. If it's just to make friends, that's totally OK! That's the building stage. Later, you can mobilize those fans who've grown to trust you for more specific goals.


  1. I don't do Facebook and don't really understand it, but your point about the engagement really caught me. When I look at the comments left at my blog, I do hope to see 10% because that IS the benchmark I've heard represents "good engagement". My goal is to build an online presence as a writer (making friends is a lovely side effect but also an essential factor in success, I think). I just wonder if that 10% is sustainable as the number of followers grows. I guess we'll see. Great post and a nice twist on that news story.

  2. I think it's interesting to look at the participation metric as an inverse. If only 10% of people are expected to participate, click, comment, whatever, we can also assume with 10 people participating, there are likely 100 people lurking. They are viewing and possibly being influenced by the content, but don't publicly participate. But those people should not be discounted. They are an important base.

    People take action that is often not public - talking to friends for example - that is difficult to measure. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, that hidden participation may be as important as clicking a like button.

    Audience reaction is a complex thing to measure. Many like or follow without any real personal investment (it's easy to click a link) while others become true fans, buy books, suggest to friends, without ever becoming visible. It's the quality and commitment of the base that really matters.

  3. These are definitely interesting numbers. When I worked in marketing, 2-3% engagement was considered amazing. 10% is more than just ambitious - it's well-researched and heavily targeted and very difficult to obtain and maintain.

    The New Yorker did pull out the big guns to get that 8%. That's the way it has to be done. Targeted marketing - knowing the audience and what they're reading is the best, most practical way to drive that number above 5%.

    What I'd be interested to see as a follow-up, is out of that 8%, how many made a purchase that they wouldn't have normally (bought an extra issue, etc). That's where the real conversion happens. Not that anyone's releasing those numbers, but Facebook 'likes' don't pay royalities ^_^

  4. Ten percent is a magic number-- I write Fanfic, and typically 10% of my readers review any given chapter. 1,000 hits? 100 reviews typically. No matter how good, bad, short, or controversial my update was.

  5. I read a lot of links via a lot of different outlets, and I only click "like" for something I am really into or I want someone else to be aware of, via sharing the link or whatever. If I "liked" every sarcastic Onion article it would get annoying to my friends, instead I "like" they really good ones (although almost all are hilarious). I frequently read articles that I enjoy but don't "like." Must we always be quantified?!!