What I am about to tell you is not found in any textbook and is not openly discussed among many of the social media elite. It is a lesson learned from experience and honest observation. The lesson is that every social media platform, particularly Facebook, has a point of critical mass that you must reach to be effective. This critical mass is a function of size and engagement.
Defining Critical Mass
Everyone’s first question is “how many fans do I need to reach critical mass?” The answer is simple yet un-gratifying: it varies. I have seen critical mass occur at all different times, once at 100 fans, once at 4,000 fans, and once at closer to 8,000 fans. Critical mass is the point where a high enough percentage of your fan base becomes organically engaged with your content so that fans become advocates. It sounds complicated, but let me break down the early life cycle of a Facebook page along with the thoughts of its administration:
1) A page is first created and no one knows about it except the owner and a few dozen of their friends. The world is at your fingertips!
2) An initial audience is established via some type of marketing or PR effort, be it on Facebook or otherwise. You are either spending money or time, but you see it as an investment.
3) Quality content is posted but a very small number of fans are engaging regularly. You figure this is just a phase.
4) The audience grows and content continues, seemingly with minimal improvement in engagement. Discouragement begins to set in.
5) Some period of time passes before BOOM!!!! Critical Mass!
6) Organic engagement rates escalate, reach increases, and people begin to talk and share regularly. Confusion is mixed with happiness as you try to figure out if you can take credit for this.
7) Community begins to form and relationships between users and the page deepen. You are hoping this is not just a passing phase.
8) A core group of users engage regularly and a large number of users engage periodically; you can begin to see the impact of your message and measure its results.
9) Satisfaction sets in and plans for growth, along with new ideas for engagement, begin to flow.
Critical Mass is a bit like catching lightning in a bottle. We understand some of the pieces like the Facebook algorithm, best practices, general social psychology, behavioral patterns, and a bunch of other big words. But for all that we do know, critical mass for social media is still fairly unpredictable. I have seen this happen for nearly every new Facebook page that I have been a part of, and for each one, it was a different story.
But here are some tips based on my experience that will help you get over the hump:
- Target the right audience for your page and content
- Keep regularly posting engaging visual content
- Keep growing your page; total size is not the goal, it is to get a sizeable number of engaged advocates
- Be willing to adapt and try new things, but realize that a good portion of what you are doing may be right, even though it does not seem to be working yet
- Do not give up! This is not that complicated or difficult. Time and effort will pay off.
Reaching critical mass on social media is a little bit of an art and a little bit of a science. People become good at both of these by practicing and striving for improvement. This is no different.