Turn Facebook engagement into a content rocket with these 3 steps

Jim Walter is the proud father of a young girl with autism.

And a social media evil genius.

Sort of.

During a recent trip to Target, he discovered that the retailer hired an employee with symptoms similar to his daughter’s.

Inspired, Jim turned to Target’s Facebook page to commend management for its impressive decision to hire, regardless of the employee’s clear and present disability.

Jim’s post, on Target’s page, went viral. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of likes.

Thankfully for the rest of us, though, Jim is also a blogger with a passion for detail.

On his site, Just a Lil Blog, Jim went into greater detail about his encounter with Target’s social media team.

“I searched for Target and figured I’d write a quick ‘kudos’ to them and ask a few people I know in the autism blogging community to just go read and like it because when I wrote it, it was wedged (I’m not even kidding) between a wall post that said, ‘Target sucks’ and ‘Eat a dick, Target.’ So I wasn’t particularly confident that what I posted would be seen by Target.

At the very least, I was trying to say, ‘Hey, friends who have kids with autism and know me … or friends who have autism who know me, look at what I saw at Target. Neat, right?’ Also, I was hoping that maybe Target corporate would look at the dozen or so likes and comments from these friends and communicate to the Target where I shop: ‘Good work, local store, your patrons appreciate your hiring diversity.’ ”

How Does This Happen?

While Facebook likes when you share content with your social network, they LOVE when your social connections add conversation to the content. Engagement is key on Facebook and is reflected in the Affinity ranking component of the Facebook EdgeRank algorithm, which determines what appears on someone’s news feed .

The more engagement, the more likely your content will reach a larger audience.

So back to Jim.

Group engagement is very powerful on Facebook

Whether he knew exactly what he was doing in advance can be left up for debate.

We know, though, that when Jim asked his friends in the autism community to engage with his comment, those actions showed up in their friends’ news feeds and/or tickers.

A similar instance was covered on Social Fresh last week, when two Publix fan posts went viral like the Target post above. Here is an example of how that sharing happens. We cannot “share” another fan’s comment from a page, but when we like and comment on those posts, they still can post to our newsfeed as a story.

For the Target post, those friends likely had some semblance of an interest in autism and engaged with Jim’s initial comment, too – even if they didn’t actually know Jim themselves. The content (Jim’s original message to Target) started within a topic-specific community and spread from there.

From niche viral to viral viral

If you had friends who were active and connected within the autism community, you were more likely to see the comment in your news feed early in its life cycle. Eventually, the emotional nature of the post took over and friends with no connection to the autism community started engaging, and the “conversation” shifted from niche to mainstream, essentially “going viral.”

As renowned social media author Jesse Stay explains:

“Don’t think about what your fans will like and share. Think about what your fans’ friends will like and share with their friends. Your most explosive target audience usually aren’t your fans and existing customers.”

Let’s suppose that, unlike Jim, you’re actually TRYING to spread your content as far and wide as possible. How, then, do you leverage those second- and third-level connections to send a post into the viral stratosphere?

Here are a few steps to help you get there.

1. Getting to the next level of viral requires a community

Before launch, most social campaigns already have an existing set of stakeholders. Sometimes those stakeholders are clearly identifiable, but other times we need to allocate sizable resources to build the coalition.

By forming these groups in advance, we can leverage them later to ensure that specific pieces of content get an extra boost through social sharing and engagement.

Try building a small Facebook group composed of your top evangelists in advance, or as an augmented component, of your large-scale Facebook community (page).

You may also supplement this approach through more traditional methods like e-mail lists or ListServs to distribute vital messaging to top influencers. I’d highly recommend checking out Addvocate when it comes out of private beta as one of many social group content-sharing platforms that can be used to simplify this process.

2. Relevance is still key

Remember that when identifying those you believe will be the most beneficial stakeholders, the conversation will stem from the topic of your content, and most experts/influencers will carry sway because of their knowledge of specific topics or geographic areas.

Just because an expert helped make the case on one topic doesn’t mean he or she will have the same influence on an unrelated matter.

3. Build a relationship

Once you’ve established this core group of strategic influencers, provide them with VIP information and/or other unique benefits to keep them active and honest with their feedback.

If you can trust your stakeholders, start releasing advance content to them – content you’re planning to release to the public at a later date. You can get a quick focus group-like reaction and a better view on whether or not the content will be embraced by the larger community.

If the stakeholders do embrace your content, let them know when and where it will be posted publicly. Encourage them to voice their opinions and share the content with friends who might have a vested interest in your topic area. After all, it is their friends who will make up your all-important second- and third-level connections.

Turn on the megaphone

A mere 12 days after first posting to Target’s Facebook page, Jim’s comment had already received more than 630,000 Likes and 15,700 Comments.

If you estimate that 15 people passively read the post for each one who interacted with it (a very modest estimate), then more than 10 million people would have seen Jim’s content in less than two weeks.

How much would Target pay to get 10 million people to see a third-party recommendation of their top-quality hiring practices and policies that support those with disabilities?

How much would you pay for one of your supporters’ testimonials to reach 10 million people?

Facebook is the megaphone that can amplify your top-quality organizational initiatives to a much larger audience. You merely have to know how to turn on that megaphone.

Ryan Cohn is Vice President of Social/Digital Operations at Ron Sachs Communications, where he primarily specializes in social media’s use within the public affairs and grassroots advocacy arenas. Ryan is a sociology nut and spends tons of time outside the…

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