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How we grew 500,000 Facebook fans without spending a dollar

Tuesday, 1 September 2015 | By Alex Wain

In the past 24 hours we hit a pretty major milestone at So Bad So Good, our Facebook Page officially reached 500,000 fans. But even more importantly, we achieved that without spending a single dollar to acquire any of them.

Today I'm going to show you how we did it.



No spam bots, no inactive accounts, no inflated numbers like countless brand pages - just real people, who love what we do.

Here's the engagement metric as proof.



Now I know the world's obsession with the value and relevance of a "Like" dimmed some time ago - Facebook's ever shrinking organic reach and the ability to pay for "Likes" both key in its declining relevance as a metric.


That being said, the larger and more engaged your Facebook audience, the greater your potential for visibility in the newsfeed, traffic to your site and ultimately revenue as a result of said traffic.


Like everyone these days, we regularly spend money boosting posts which are performing well, but the community itself has grown organically over the past 3 years and even more rapidly in the past 12 months. I've never been a fan of the idea of paying for "Likes" and then paying again to reach them.


So the question is, how did we actually do it?

I'm going to share with you the story of how we started our Facebook Page first by inviting and harassing all our friends to join, to growing it into what it has become today - a community of some of the funniest and most opinionated users online.


Firstly, there are no easy shortcuts if you want to create a genuine community so get ready for the long haul. You need to be consistent, you need to think about your tone, you need to plan your content accordingly and ultimately you need to think about your goals.


Building a community that engages with you unquestionably takes a lot of focus, handwork and trial and error. Sadly there's no magic formula, but there are certainly processes you can put in place to help increase the likelihood of people opting to follow you.


Here's 6 tips that will help you grow your Facebook audience, regardless of whether you have 10 fans or 10,000:

1. Add a Facebook Like Button or Box to Your Website / Newsletter

Go to your homepage right now and see if you can find a call to action to "Like" your company on Facebook - if it's not there, how do you expect to grow your audience? If you don't want to interfere with the design of the site or can't afford to update it presently, why not try a quick pop-up instead?



Secondly, have you included social links in your newsletter, e-mail signature and communications?


What's the motivation for people to follow you on Facebook? Make sure you include a compelling call to action, maybe its a contest you host each week, a monthly Facebook chat or discounts that are exclusive to your Facebook fans.


2. Update Your Facebook Page At Peak Times


Whilst Facebook's organic reach limits the number of fans who see your updates at any one time, you can help improve your visibility by posting when the highest number of your fans are online. Facebook Insights allows you to see the peak times your audience is using Facebook.


It could be between 6am and 9am on the way to work, or even 9pm to 11pm after dinner. Rather than posting an update when you have time or when you've created it, be strategic in the way you target it. The more people that see your content, if it's compelling enough, the more will share it and pass it onto their friends.


3. Cross Promote On Your Other Social Media Platforms

With so many social networks to service and continually update, it's very easy to get stuck in individual silos. Someone who follows you on Instagram might not follow you on Facebook for example.

To counteract this, include reminders and prompt users to follow, like and add you across other social networks, including Facebook. It's a great idea to diversity your following to ensure your business isn't solely reliant on the whims of a 3rd-party app.

So don't forget to tell your audience and make them aware that there's numerous touch points where they can follow and interact with you.


4. Interact As Your Page

Facebook gives you the ability to like, message and reply as your Page. It's a great idea to do this when "Liking" comments on your own Page as it creates a sense that you're active, responsive and listening to your community.

Using your Page to reply to messages on your wall or when you leave comments on other pages is also important. It builds trust between partnerships and it allows the community to see that you are responsive and listening. All factors which help broaden your reach and general engagement.


5. Surface Quality Facebook Content On Your Site

You'll see a large number of sites these days having Twitter streams or Instagram feeds built into their site.

Occasionally you might see the odd Facebook "Like" box - but you rarely see an actual stream of content from Facebook. Each week as a content piece, start doing a list of the Most Popular posts from your Facebook Page.


You can embed Facebook Posts into your site - so the benefits are two fold, firstly you're creating content that you already know is successful and secondly you're driving awareness and promotion of your own Facebook Page.

If I visit your site and see your latest blog post titled "Our 10 Most Popular Facebook Updates This Week" because its the best of the week, it might encourage me to actively become part of your community so I can see more content that I'm likely to enjoy.


Think of it as a little preview / teaser for your audience.


6. What Kind Of Content Works And What Doesn't?

In the past 3 years, we must have posted close to 10,000 updates through the So Bad So Good Facebook Page. Generally we post 9x a day, every day of the year - that's a lot of trial and error in anyones book!


So what have we learned from that?


- Generally speaking, positivity trumps negativity.

Posting a story, video or image which is uplifting will drive a higher rate of shares, likes and engagement than a story that is negative. Here's a recent example.


Even today, "liking" a negative story seems strange, that's not to say you won't share it if you think more people need to know about it however.

But based on interaction alone, people gravitate to stories that they find inspiring and uplifting. This post we created for example, reached over 1,000,000 Likes.


Stay away from bombarding people with endless quotes however, that's been done to death.


- If It Works, Repost It Later.


Over the course of a month you'll definitely see stories and updates which gained greater traction that others. One might get 50 like and 10 comments, another 250 likes and 23 comments.


Providing its not time specific, you can always repost it a month later under the guise of "flashback friday" for example - where you repost something from that particular day.


Its highly unlikely your entire audience will have seen it based on Facebook's restrictive organic reach, plus it's likely to just as popular the second time of posting.

- Shock Them, Inspire Them Or Make Them Laugh


One post that define this -> 118K Likes, 400K+ shares and 32K comments


- It's Pays To Be Controversial


Some of the most engaged and hotly debated posts we've shared are those that entice people to get involved beyond a mere "like". When posted a photo of a plus-sized girl who campaigned for accepting your body however it was under the hashtag of #effyourbeautystandards.


A noble cause for sure, especially for younger women who feel insecure or ashamed of the way they look. Yet it turned out this same model was also Photoshopping her own images - a double standard if ever there was one. So we opened the debate to our community and asked them what they thought - over 1,200 comments was the response.


Another controversial post was this one, with it's rather confronting and risqué imagery. It turned out however, to be one the most shared and read stories of the year.



So don't be afraid to challenge, stimulate and provoke your audience - some might unfollow you, some might get offended but the payoff in terms of new Likes, higher reach and better engagement is well worth it. You can't please everyone all of the time, but you can please some people some of the time.


- Be Topical and Relevant Even If It's Not Related To Your Industry

Sometimes there are events that happen, which if you don't highlight or share with your audience - are likely to make you seem out of touch and robotic. Simple updates around Christmas or New Years are a no-brainer. But when a celebrity dies or gay marriage is passed - is that something you should post about?


Depending on the level of interest, I would say it's an absolute must. When Robin Williams died - we create this post (because like everyone else he was a huge part of our childhood) because his death upset as just as much as anyone.


We weren't calculating or jumping on the bandwagon, we wrote from the heart and as a result, our community responded and mourned with us. It still is one of the most touching and deeply affecting posts I think we've created.



- Post Killer, Not Filler


This seems like a pretty logical thing to say, but you see it happening every day when brands and companies post content they think matters, which their audience has little care for. Don't post junk or filler posts simply because you feel the need to fill up people's newsfeeds.


Instead, search until you have something that is genuinely share worthy and interesting. There's two reasons for this:

1. Facebook penalise you for underperforming posts (meaning they give your following update less visibility in the feed)

2. It's likely to cause your Facebook Fans to hide or unfollow you all together - when that happens it's virtually impossible to get them back.


How Has Your Facebook Community Affected Your Site?

As our Facebook community has grown, so too has our mobile audience - the two are inexorably linked. It's the net effect of more people accessing FB through their smartphones, seeing our content in their newsfeed and then viewing those stories on that device.


They are the "2 minute" audience, people who are waiting for a bus, sitting in the park, meeting a friend, standing at the station, looking to be entertained between this moment and the next.

Fleeting, discerning and with a low boredom threshold, as publishers we have a limited time to make an impression and even less to entice them to share our content.

It's certainly a challenge and one that requires constant evolution, in terms of the design of your site, the content you provide, your calls-to-action and your capacity to grow and increase revenue.


500,000 is a huge number and a major achievement, the next challenge is ensuring we keep them coming back for more!


Looking forward to your questions and comments,


Alex Wain is co-founder of So Bad So Good. This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.