A recent study on how brands communicate on Facebook either signifies the end of society as we know it or not much at all, depending on your perspective.
The research was conducted by competitive intelligence company Track Maven, who laboriously attached their eyes to almost 6,000 brand pages and 1,578,006 posts in an effort to tell us stuff we wouldn’t have surmised without the study.
The study does reveal several inconvenient truths about us as Facebook users, the brands themselves, and how we respond to their Facebook posts. Most troubling (and again depending on your perspective) is Track Maven’s conclusion that 67.3 percent of Facebook posts are written at a 5th grade reading level or below and that the average Facebook post has a 4th grade reading level. Even worse: the most frequent Facebook post grade level is at a grade one level, accounting for 17.5% of posts.
Say what? How can this be? Who’s the dummy, if any, here? Are the marketing people behind these posts the ones to blame for their rudimentary prose or are they simply pandering to their perceived notions about the typical Facebook user? So many questions, so few answers.
Well, maybe there are some answers. For one, marketing students are always taught to keep the message simple. I’m sure if we were to listen to all of the high-stakes business pitches going on in boardrooms across the country today we’d frequently hear the following being uttered: “Explain what your company does as if I’m a 5th grader.” So perhaps brands are only doing what they can to speak to as many potential customers as possible.
Here’s another theory I’ll throw out there to see if it sticks: the more one spends on Facebook, the lower one’s reading level becomes - at least temporarily. I stopped writing for a second, popped onto Facebook, and it only took a few scrolls of the mouse wheel to hit several posts that certainly didn’t do anything to up my brain cell count.
Those sponsored or shared posts we’ve all grown so accustomed to see - you know, the ones with the awfully misleading headlines that usually end with something like “I laughed my ass off” - are there because they work. People click on them. It’s in our nature. We’re wired to click on “Awesomely stupid prank goes terribly wrong” over “The quiet theory of influence in today’s internet subculture” time after time. Plus, the average Facebook missive coming from your friends is probably not terribly thought-provoking. “My Game of Thrones name would be Joe The Terrible, What’s Yours?” doesn’t count as being especially challenging to the brain.
So let’s not take this 67.3% 5th grade reading level thing too seriously. What we should be focusing on is another stat that Track Maven came up with. Get this: by throwing a few exclamation points at the end of your posts, they will reap 2.7 times the engagement. No way!!! Way. That’s a 270% increase with one click of the keyboard. Who needs a marketing degree when one explanation mark can have such a great effect on customer engagement! (Notice I used an exclamation point instead of a question mark? I’m learning.)
As for the other punctuation mark that usually helps to drive extra traffic, the question mark, it doesn’t offer the same punch as its exclamatory cousin. By sticking a "?" at the end of your post, or simply asking a question, you’ll only increase engagement by 23 percent. Who knew? Or better yet, Who Knew!
What does this teach us, boys and girls? Really, not a whole lot. Like any study, we need to take it with a grain of salt. I think the only big takeaway here is that maybe Elaine Benes really was onto something when she was writing for Mr. Lippman at Pendant Publishing.
Top of the muffin to you!