Every second millions of users are teaching the Facebook algorithm what they want and don't want. That constantly shifting, machine-learned landscape can make it feel really hard to build an audience. But machines will always have a single fatal flaw. They're not human. They don't traffic in human emotion.
When content is powerful, through good storytelling, compelling visuals and relatability, users will interact with it and increase the likelihood that your content will be shown to users who are outside of your current audience.
Let's take these two images for example. They're both telling the same story—A soldier being honored for his humanitarian efforts. Which photo does a better job of eliciting emotion and therefore interaction?
Let's break down engaging content a little further, by focusing on three elements: emotive visuals, identity politics and social justice.
90% of the information we consume comes through visual interactions and visual content is more likely to be absorbed and shared. It makes sense that sharing emotive visuals is the most effective way to develop an audience. Still images, video, infographics and even cartoons and gifs will get your point across.
A quick tip about videos; unless you're producing a feature-length horror film, you don't need to build suspense. Three or four seconds of nothing happening is just enough time for the user to think the video is broken. Skip right to the important part of the content and set your video to auto play. Most videos can get the message across within 30-40 seconds with a high limit of 60 seconds. Even Google's "year in search" video is only two minutes. Keep it tight.
Evaluate the action you want users to take and remove barriers to use. Single images do better if you have a compelling conversation within the post. Be cautious and considerate when using multiple images and make sure the user has a reason to continue clicking through (such as voting on the photo of the week). Your social media account is prime real estate. Don’t dump garbage in your luxury condo.
Visual elements foster emotion, but then what? Optimize content by tying the visual to identity politics. Users engage with content that aligns to their personal or shared values. This is where the status, or text-based content, enters the equation. Think of an effective social media status as the title of a story, the hook. Focus on why the audience should care that you posted a photo instead of explaining what is happening. Keep your update skimmable and compelling and save your thorough storytelling for the user to choose to read.
Just as users will click through endless content as long as they feel it applies to them, they will quickly turn on you when when they feel they've been used. Avoid using hyperbolic click bait and begging for engagement such as "You won't believe what happened!" or "like, share or comment, below." Make sure your content delivers what the headline promised and provide follow-on links that are in context for the user. Watch out for users dropping link spam into your comments. Facebook might block the contributor AND you.
Finally, remember that social justice creates an opportunity for all platform users to access and engage with content equally. Diversity encourages broader engagement, so make sure to be diverse and inclusive through your content. Be aware of tone policing and inflammatory language that may exclude members of your online community.
Crafting content to resonate with your audience on an individual level is the sweet spot at the intersection of emotive visuals, identity politics and social justice. Understanding how you want your audience to feel and how you want your audience to respond is the key to social media success.