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Published May 17th 2016

How To Rule Facebook: Lessons From The Most Engaging Pages

BuzzSumo recently published our analysis of 1 billion Facebook pages, identifying several best practices to maximize social shares on Facebook.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the Facebook pages that got the most interactions this Spring to see how they compare to each other, to the most popular pages in terms of likes, and to the best practices we recommended in our research.

The Cristiano Ronaldo Facebook page deserves extra consideration because it has a high number of fans, and a high level of interactions.

Key takeaways:

If you are pressed for time, here is a summary of my key takeaways:

  • A high number of page likes doesn’t guarantee that an audience will interact with your content.
  • Influencers drive brand awareness on Facebook, even if the brands they promote are far from the influencer’s own niche.
  • Diversify the focus of your Facebook page. Give people a wide variety of content to look at and think about.
  • Use research-based conclusions about what works on Facebook as a starting point for your posting strategy.
  • Post emotional content.
  • Post images or post with images, always. No exceptions. Ever.

Case study: the Cristiano Ronaldo Facebook page

Engagement vs. Popularity: Ronaldo Wins

Engagement is the key marketing metric when it comes to social networks. Page likes do not equate to post views, and those views are most valuable if they drive some sort of action–such as a like, a comment or a share.

The importance of measuring engagement, and not just popularity, was driven home to me by the stunning lack of overlap between the most popular Facebook pages, measured by number of fans, and the most engaged-with pages–measured by the number of posts with shares, likes or comments.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo, forward for the Real Madrid soccer team, ranked in the top 20 for both popularity and engagement. His page has 108.67 million followers, second only to two of Facebook’s own pages. The other pages in the top 10 for followers include Shakira, VinDiesel, Coca-Cola, and Eminem. But those pages don’t rank in the top 20 for engagement–despite having millions of followers.

In addition to being a large audience, Ronald’s fans are engaged with his content.

One comparison that warrants further consideration is the ratio of total and average engagement to audience size.

For example, in a comparison of the total number of interactions with page likes, several other pages on the performed better than Ronaldo. The French magazine page CodesMeufs has 4 million likes and 75.5 million interactions–a ratio of 17.9 interactions per page like; and the regional magazine page UrduMaza has 8.4 interactions per page like.

One point I will explore further in this article is the broad base of Cristiano’s appeal–Nike fans, Sacoor Brother fans, soccer fans (and more)–have a reason to connect with the Ronaldo page.

At first glance, it would seem that the more narrowly focused interest group pages–French-speaking women, or those with an interest in Urdu culture, can generate a higher degree of interaction per fan. More research is needed to verify this assumption.

The point stands that compared to other Facebook pages with high overall likes, Ronaldo’s is the only one with correspondingly high interactions.

The takeaway:

Don’t confuse popularity and number of fans with engagement. A high number of page likes doesn’t guarantee that an audience will interact with your content.

The Cristiano page is identified as an Athlete page, and Ronaldo’s fame is ostensibly based on his play as a forward for Real Madrid.  But, the page doesn’t rank in the top five pages for soccer.

Posts by the Ronaldo page rank highest in Engagement for:


Sacoor Brothers



CR7 footwear

The Ronaldo effect for these brands is a powerful argument for working with influencers to promote a brand. And, BuzzSumo has seen success with influencer strategies outside the realm of celebrities and paid endorsements. It’s our conclusion that this tactic is accessible at many levels for marketers in different industries.

If you were thinking of Ronaldo as primarily a soccer player, you might be curious about who gets the most attention on Facebook for posts about soccer. That honor is held by Leo Messi, Barcelona’s starring forward. Messi’s brand endorsement (Adidas) is still evident in Messi’s top soccer posts, but the posts themselves are undeniably about soccer.

This is not true for the selfie-rich Cristiano page.

None of the top posts on Ronaldo’s page are soccer-focused.

He wears a towel, swimming trunks, and a white suit, but the Real Madrid uniform doesn’t appear in the top 10 posts. It’s clear that the page is focused on the Ronaldo brand much more than his sport. And, it’s clear that the formula works to drive engagement and followers.

Ronaldo’s page is populated by selfie-like photos, pictures of Ronaldo, and videos of Ronaldo. The sheer weight of the soccer star’s pictorial presence seemed almost laughable at first. I found myself wondering how it’s possible to have so many selfies.

In fact, if you analyze the topic “selfie,” in BuzzSumo, a post about Ronaldo has the most interactions–2.3 million–of all the selfies on Facebook!

My amusement and bemusement was curbed when I saw a video showing Cristiano trying to have a cup of tea while being approached repeatedly by fans for photos.

This brilliant piece of marketing — undoubtedly staged for PR –stopped me in my tracks.

I counted the sips of tea Ronaldo took– 4, and the photos people took of him — 92.

Is it hypocritical to illustrate the burdens of being a celebrity with a public relations piece designed to be be noticed and shared on social media? Absolutely! Did it cultivate empathy for hard-working, hard-smiling Ronaldo? Absolutely!

A lot of what works for Ronaldo is specific to him: soccer talent, looks, willingness to be a superstar. It’s not necessarily something others will duplicate.

There are, however, some principles that emerge:

Influencers drive brand awareness on Facebook. Kissmetrics summarized this point well. “Consumers trust recommendations from a third party more often than a brand itself,” is clearly the driving factor behind high-powered brands like Nike linking their name to Ronaldo’s.

Interestingly, this effect seems to benefit the brand more than the influencer. In a search for the most interacted with posts about Ronaldo himself, none of the top 20 were from the brands mentioned above. His page was his own best source of traffic, followed by the Real Madrid page.

Diversify the focus of a Facebook page. What would happen to the Ronaldo page if it was all about soccer? I’m not sure, but keeping a variety of content on a page is a recommended best practice. “Step away from your niche once in a while,” advises Social Media Examiner.

In Ronaldo’s case, it’s possibly more accurate that he has so many niches that no one gets bored with any of them.

Other diversified, successful sites:

The Jesus Daily Facebook page exemplifies the diversity principle as well. The topic–Jesus– seems narrow, and the most popular posts from the page this year are all highly Jesus-centered. That said, the page’s most-popular posts also touch on other themes– Back to School, Father’s Day, medical emergencies, and discerning purpose in life.

Overall (not just the top posts at Jesus Daily), the page is much more diversified. A small sample of posts includes: DIY instructions for making a chip clip from a trouser hanger, a cat who survived a 250 mile trip via the postal service, a boy and a deer, siblings reunited, a quiz, and 11 over-sized rodents hanging out on a porch during a rain storm. 

The Yo Amo los Zapatos (I love shoes) Facebook page, ranked #2 for interactions worldwide. Is similar to the Jesus Daily page as it initially seems to have a very narrow focus: Shoes, specifically women’s shoes, and even more specifically, fashionable women’s shoes.

But, if you look a little deeper, you find diversity of posts on the Yo Amo los Zapatos page too. In a recent 24-hour period there were a total of 49 posts. Of those, 37 were standalone photos of shoes; seven included a broader fashion emphasis by adding an outfit that would match the shoes; three were links to posts about beauty advice at yoamoloszapatos.com; and two were relationship advice.

Of those posts, the shoe-only content got the most interactions. Only one of the other type of posts–a composite with a suggested outfit for the shoes–was ranked in the top 10 for the day.

BuzzSumo vs. Ronaldo: BuzzSumo wins!

I thought it would be interesting to see how closely Ronaldo’s posting strategy follows the BuzzSumo research on Facebook posts and engagement. We recommended:

  1. The post formats that get the most engagement are questions and images.
  2. Short form text posts of less than 50 characters get the most interaction. It seems Facebook is not a place for reading but finding and engaging. That said–posts that link to longer articles (more than 1000 words) get more shares
  3. Videos that are directly embedded get over six times the engagement of embedded YouTube videos.
  4. Posts without hashtags get more interaction than posts with hashtags.
  5. Posts published between 10 PM and Midnight of your audience’s local time get the most engagement. It seems publishing when there are less posts being published, and vying for attention, increases engagement. Thus you should zig when others zag.
  6. Posts published on Sunday get more engagement on average. Again this seems due to less competition from other posts.
  7. Posts that link to longer form articles over over 1,000 words get the most engagement.
  8. Posting images via Instagram appears to provide a 23% increase in engagement.

To compare Ronaldo’s posts with the BuzzSumo recommendations, I looked at two things: all of the posts from April, 2016, and the analysis of his most engaging posts.

Here’s the summary:

All of the videos posted during April were directly embedded into Facebook. Ronaldo’s most engaging posts on average were questions and images, less than 50 characters long. They were also posted on Sunday. As an international star, it was difficult to establish what should be considered local time, so I used UTC. Ronaldo’s best posting time was 6:00 a.m. UTC–9 a.m. CST.

There were three areas where the page differed from our research findings. Ronaldo’s April posts have a lot of hashtags. The Yoamoloszapatospage, with the second highest interactions worldwide, also uses numerous hashtags. The images on the Cristiano page were not posted via Instagram; and the links were to shopping sites or landing pages–no long form content.

Final score? BuzzSumo research 4; Ronaldo success apart from our plan 3.

Other top pages:

The most interacted with page on Facebook is SiteCifras, a Portugese-language music and lyrics site.

The Facebook page is updated very frequently–105 posts in one 24-hour period. While its total interactions are almost double that of the Cristiano page, its average interactions are much lower. One possible reason for the difference is posting frequency.

In line with our research, images and short posts of less than 50 characters got the most average interactions for SiteCifras. Only one of the four videos posted during a 24-hour time period was embedded directly into Facebook. It got significantly more interactions, a total of 9434, compared to an average of 500 for the three videos linked to external sites. More research would be needed to clearly establish the pattern, but early indications are in line with the BuzzSumo research.

As with the Cristiano page, there were also some places where SiteCifra’s success diverged from our best practices. For example, the most popular time for posts was Monday at 1 a.m. And, the images used throughout the site were not posted via Instagram.

Yoamoloszapatos, 9gag, JesusDaily, and LaughingColours, all in the top 20 for total interactions, follow ambitious posting schedules, with multiple posts per hour. All of the most popular pages are image rich. Some use hashtags and others don’t.

My conclusion is that the best practices we teased from 1 billion posts are just that–best practice. I wouldn’t bother looking any further than our data-based recommendations as a starting point. But, the size and scope of Facebook comes into play as well — it’s too diverse for a one-size fits all fix, and page managers need to do their research into what their individual audiences respond to best.

The Takeaway:

Use  research-based conclusions about what works on Facebook overall as a starting point for your posting strategy. Deviate if your audience responds better to something else.

A final observation. The best pages on Facebook have a diverse range of subjects– Jesus, shoes, soccer, news. But, the posts seem to have a common factor. They have an emotional element. They make you laugh; they make you cry; they make you think about how cute babies are. Many play to sex-appeal.

The Takeaway:

Post emotional content. (And make it image-rich!)

A reminder: Facebook is not local–for anyone

For me, Facebook has the enticing feel of a hyper-local venue–it’s where I connect with relatives 3 states away and friends from secondary school that I haven’t had many face-to-face conversations with during the last several years.

This research quickly dispelled the mirage that Facebook is akin to my virtual living room and reminded me that Facebook is a behemoth, stretching way beyond any of the tiny circles I socialize with on the platform.

Of the top 20 pages, only 8 were in my first language–English, (two other pages were a mix of English and other languages).

The top-ranked page is a SiteCifras; the Facebook home of Brazil’s Cifras.com.br, a music and lyrics site with an Alexa rank of 10,867. I’d never heard of the site or service until I discovered it for this.

(in truth, the second Sumo should probably be microscopic, but that would ruin the illustration)

The size and scope of Facebook is truly staggering.

It has “1.09 billion daily active users on average for March 2016,” according to the company’s most recent statistics. Of those, almost 85% are outside of the US and Canada. If Facebook’s daily users were a country, the population would be second only to China.

There is a lot of discussion in the marketing community about differences in strategy for reaching consumers in B2B industries versus B2C industries. Some of these discussions suggest that networks other than Facebook be the primary concern for non-B2C companies. I’m not so sure. Given the size of Facebook and its power as a content discovery tool, I’d like to suggest that any marketing strategy must include a well-resourced plan for Facebook.

Learn more

We couldn’t get Ronaldo on a webinar to share his tips but we have the next best thing: Mari Smith, the Queen of Facebook. You can get her best tips for improving your reach on Facebook at our free webinar.

See the replay

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about posting in Facebook. What works for you? What doesn’t?

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