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Learn Engagement Velocity – and How It Can Shape Your Strategy

Published: November 25, 2013

Author: Chad Wittman

I want to introduce a concept I like to call Engagement Velocity. The premise is that objects within social platforms have a velocity as they move through networks. When discussing Engagement Velocity, I tend to speak specifically to Facebook marketing.
The Facebook platform has mechanisms in place that enable this phenomenon more easily than in other networks such as Twitter. Most marketers and brands tend to think in a framework of “being viral” as the end goal. On a day-to-day basis, “being viral” is rarely accomplished. Therefore, I choose to focus on this concept of Engagement Velocity.
I think of Engagement Velocity as the smaller cousin of how most marketers mentally frame “virality”. In my opinion, the key difference between virality and Engagement Velocity is the people most susceptible to either. While both move through segments of people interconnected by interests and demographics, I feel that viral content tends to be contagious to the average internet user. In contrast, Engagement Velocity tends to follow a path of users already inherently connected to a brand. The jump from a person with connections to a brand, to just an everyday user, is the big draw of virality—but again, it rarely happens.
It’s important to maximize Engagement Velocity in your brand’s path. This is the everyday struggle of most social marketers. How do we maximize an object’s velocity in order to maximize results within our network of influence?
When a post is created in Facebook’s ecosystem, it’s given an initial explosion of velocity. Imagine a snowball rolling down a hillside of more snow. The snowball has inherent qualities: weight, size, stickiness, etc. The hill has qualities as well: height, slope, stickiness, etc. The snowball is your post, the hill is Facebook’s distribution (news feed algorithm / EdgeRank). Both the snowball and snowhill can be different each time you post. There are a wide variety of reasons these things may change (fans online, past success, competitive changes). To top it off you have to deal with changing weather.
When you’re crafting your post content, you may have an idea of the snowball you’re building. You may have extensively studied previous snowballs and now know your range of possibilities. You may even have a grasp of how the hill tends to operate. However, until you push that snowball over the hill, only time will tell—and it won’t take long.
What I find the most intriguing is what happens as this object rolls down the hill. It encounters bumps along the way, some of which accelerate the snowball, some that decrease its velocity. For a brand, this velocity can make an average post into something excellent, and vice versa. But what is actually happening here? How does Engagement Velocity increase or turn into more successful results?

The Elements of Engagement Velocity

A Facebook post is given a push down the hill, giving the post’s initial Engagement Velocity. This velocity is going to be dependent on a few things: How engaging is your brand normally? What’s happening in the News Feed right now? How many of your fans are online right now? Does your audience typically consume this type of content?
Facebook uses immediate feedback to determine if the object should be increased or decreased in velocity. An object that immediately begins to accumulate clicks, Likes, comments, and shares will be given a higher likelihood of being exposed to new people. Facebook is looking at things like Engagement Rate (of the people who saw this post, what percentage took action with it?). If the object is shown to a small part of your audience, and no one takes any time to engage with the post – your snowball will have a quick ride down a small hill. Ultimately, not much success.
If your post immediately attracts engagement, this will increase the velocity of your post. It will begin to roll down a steeper incline, attracting more people’s attention. Users may begin to share this object, which will distribute this content down more “hills”. An object with a high Engagement Velocity will begin to attract an audience extending past your fans (Facebook calls this Viral Reach). If these new people begin to engage with the object, this causes even more velocity – as these users have never been exposed to your content before.

What Does This All Mean For A Marketer?

You obviously can’t control the Engagement Velocity of an object. What you can do is measure and study what type of posts (or snowballs) create the most success. Posts tend to rapidly attract success in the News Feed; they rarely experience a burst of success many hours after publishing (unless you land a big share). We also have the ability to study and monitor theNews Feed (the snowhill) to see how the landscape is changing and what areas we should avoid.
Some brands monitor the “lifetime” of their posts to get a sense of how long Engagement Velocity lasts. For most brands it tends to bounce around 3 hours. It’s typically a good practice to allow posts that are experiencing velocity or lifetime to proceed unbothered.
For most marketers, this means understanding what truly drives engagement. Whatever “that” is, you need to do more of it. Take time to study your data and test your audience to begin to understand what will drive optimal engagement.

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