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Before we get going today, I just want to mention quickly that I had a very interesting chat with BookBub yesterday about how it is building out the social aspects of the site, particularly in terms of how that can benefit writers, and I recommend following me at BookBub to see what I get up to over the next few weeks.


OK! We’re mixing things up this week. Attention is switching to our ongoing deep dive into the world of Facebook. Or FACEBOOK as it now insists on calling itself, like a shouty man outside a pub.

If you want your email marketing fix this week, check out yesterday's blog post 7 Expert Tricks To Improve Your Author Newsletter.

Even if you have read all my email-emails to date, I recommend reading this post as it covers new ground - more advanced ground, in fact. 

There are some high-level tips in here to boost the power of your newsletter; even expert users will get some ideas here.

Some months have passed since we last focused on Facebook. Sorry, I mean FACEBOOK. (I’ll stop doing that now.) The last episode was back in October, so you may wish to review the previous ten episodes over at the Email Archive.

Here’s what we’ve covered:

  1. How To Make A Pretty Facebook Page
  2. Content Marketing
  3. Boosting Posts For Likes
  4. Targeting Basics
  5. Can We Trust Facebook’s Data?
  6. Cloning & Mirroring To Boost Social Proof
  7. Building A Campaign I
  8. Building A Campaign II
  9. Building A Campaign III
  10. Fighting Ad Fatigue

Look at that list! And there’s so much more to share too. We better crack on…

The Danger of Engagement Bait

Everyone understands the importance of engagement on social media. Every refinement of the algorithms is trending in one, obvious direction: sites like Facebook will give preference to content which is genuinely engaging. Note the emphasis.

Like every other website, Facebook wants to keep you on its platform for as long as possible – except the nature and sheer scale of Facebook is such that if engagement drops in one single day and people click away elsewhere, Facebook loses millions of dollars worth of eyeballs.

Facebook doesn’t have an army of humans sifting through the billions of pieces of content on Facebook and giving a gold star to the best of it – AI does the heavy lifting here. 

The way the system measures engagement is necessarily crude: what is getting Likes, comments, and shares? People want engaging content, Facebook wants to show them content with high engagement, thus if you can post content which triggers engagement, then that content will get much more visibility. And visibility can be worth a lot of money, as you all know by now.

People, being people, will seek to game engagement, of course, because it is so valuable. And like virtually any cheap marketing gimmick, doing this is actually quite counterproductive.

I’m surprised that what is known as “engagement bait” - I'll have some clear examples for you in a minute - is still recommended by so-called Facebook experts because Facebook’s system has been pro-actively seeking out such content and vigorously suppressing it for over two years.

But let’s rewind. 

What is engagement bait, exactly? What are the rules around this stuff? How can you avoid being penalized? And what should you do instead to trigger this all-important engagement from Facebook users? Let’s take those in turn.

Engagement Bait Defined

Facebook show some commendable clarity here and define it rather succintly:

“Engagement bait is a tactic to create Facebook posts that goad people into interacting, through likes, shares, comments, and other actions, in order to artificially boost engagement and get greater reach on News Feed.”

It even goes on to identify multiple types of engagement bait: vote baiting, react baiting, share baiting, tag baiting, and comment baiting. It’s all variations on a theme and you’ve seen lots of these posts before. “Tag a friend who loves brisket,” is one I saw not long ago from a usually savvy BBQ festival. “Share with five people to win a weekend in Scranton,” would be hilarious but is verboeten now. 

This kind of inorganic engagement prodding is not tolerated by Facebook - so serious about it, in fact, that actual examples are provided, in another welcome moment of clarity.

Feel free to click that image to see it a little better and get more examples, but don't go looking for holes in the fences. In case you think this is a dumb algo that you can circumvent by kicking up a little dust, let me be clear: Facebook aren’t messing around here. The system can even detect engagement bait in the audio track of video content.

The message is clear: don’t do it. 

I’m sure you still see stuff like this in your feed, but I guarantee you that this content has been demoted – suppressed, essentially – and is visible to far, far less people than it would be without the engagement bait. Keep in mind that you don’t know how much the person is spending to push that content, and that they are probably torching their money too.

What Are The Rules, Exactly?

Facebook is being a little like that Supreme Court justice in the 1960s who famously defined p*rn by simply saying “he knows it when he sees it.” Instead, Facebook is suggesting some guiding principles. It wants authentic engagement, not posts which “goad” users into engagement, to use Facebook’s own words.

The bar here is higher than you might think – Facebook will consider something like “LIKE this if you LOVE kick-ass heroines!” as engagement bait and will demote that content. And this applies to both posts from Pages and individuals too.

Somewhat understandably, Facebook doesn’t want to sketch out the exact line, because it knows that those seeking to game the system will tiptoe right up to it, and then look for loopholes too. Facebook is instead urging everyone to only post content which is authentically engaging, not content which tricks people to engage, or seeks to elicit engagement responses which are not directly related to the content itself, or anything which artificially boosts engagement in any way.

To be clear - as I know many of you will ask - I don't think Facebook's target here is the kind of giveaway where you are often asked to Like someone on Facebook and follow them on BookBub and share their tweet for competition entries where that competition entry form is hosted elsewhere. The target here is the kind of pleading posts on Facebook itself begging for Likes and shares and so on.

And despite Facebook's (understandable) equivocation, I think the line is pretty obvious. "LIKE this post if you think Tom Hiddlestone is hot!" would be a problematic piece of enagement bait. But posting a picture of Tom Hiddlestone and naturally attracting Likes because he is hot would be fine. Whether doing the latter is actually a good idea or not is another matter, and depends on what kind of audience you are seeking to build - more on that in a moment.

Personally, I think the above examples (both mine and Facebook’s) are clear enough to know what must be avoided, especially when contrasted with the best practice advice you should be following instead, which I go through below. These approaches are worlds apart – there’s no point trying to map the vast hinterlands in-between.

Despite everything I have said, some of you might still think this is worth risking. I urge you to reconsider, because Facebook further goes on to say that, “Pages that repeatedly share engagement bait posts will see more significant drops in reach.”

In short, if you keep posting engagement bait, you will get shadowbanned.

How Can We Get Engaged?

Be engaging! I’m not being facetious. Okay, fine; I’m being a little bit facetious. But there’s no "trick" here. You need to put in the effort. 

Spend some time thinking about your target audience, and post things that they find engaging. 

There are landmines here too, though. You might remember, way back in the sands of time, when I talked about Content Marketing on Facebook in Episode 2 of this series of emails, I said this:

The very sustainability of your promotional efforts is increasingly dependent on developing a sense of your Ideal Reader, and then marketing to them exclusively.”

That’s just as true for building an organic audience on Facebook as it is for targeting your BookBub or AMS ads. In other words, you don’t want to post that video of 62 Labrador puppies frolicking in a swimming pool, as cute as it may be, and as many Likes as it might attract. You need to post something specific to your audience. Something that only they will enjoy, not something for a general crowd.

To inspire you, I then went on to give lots of content examples from different genres, so make sure you go back and re-read that email if you are stumped. 

And while you are in the Email Archive (link up top), quickly review the two emails on content marketing also, as those principles apply here too, and you get a lot more examples of engaging content also. The advice in last week’s email about good content also applies, and you might notice some consistency here, almost as if there were universal principles behind what makes good content!

In other words, once you internalise all that, you should now be abundently clear on exactly what kind of content you can post to keep yourself in the right side of the rules with Facebook AND still engage readers but appeal to them exclusively.

I keep hammering home that latter point as it is absolutely critical and the biggest mistake people make with this stuff. 

Constantly posting pictures of puppies will get you engagement – lots and lots of easy engagement – but ask yourself this: are you building an audience of readers or puppy lovers? Let’s term this dog-baiting and skip that too.

Sorry, Mr. Pickles! You’re still a good boy.


P.S. Writing music this week is Iko Iko by the Dixie Cups.

Broomfield Business Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin, Ireland

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