How to beat Facebook

Brain TestingFacebook engages its visitors; with almost 500m people visiting the site every single day it must be doing something right, after all. Not only that, but people stick around on Facebook, spending up to 20 minutes at a time on the site. Wouldn’t you just love millions of visitors who spend ages on your website? The fact of the matter is that few other websites get the depth and extent of engagement that Facebook achieves. So what is it doing right?

A new neuroscience study [PDF] reveals what is going on – and it is not as spectacular a finding as you might imagine. Indeed, the research shows a fairly basic fact which any website can use to its advantage. You can take Facebook on if you use the results carefully.

The research looked at four factors – attention, emotional engagement, memory retention and cognitive functioning. Those elements were studied for three “premium” websites – Facebook, Yahoo! and the New York Times. The findings were then compared with earlier research for a range of typical business websites, for which the researchers had gathered prior data.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook had the highest emotional engagement and the New York Times had the best memory retention. The study also looked at the impact of the sites on advertising. It found that adverts on Facebook had greater psychological impact than advertising on other websites or on TV. But, the study was financed by Facebook and was co-authored by them. Even so, the findings are statistically significant.

The research will doubtless be used to demonstrate that advertising on Facebook is better than running adverts elsewhere. But that’s not an issue you should concern yourself with. What is important for every website owner are two other findings in the study, which are not the “headline” results.

The first of these is the fact that the participants felt “more connected to” the sites they visited AFTER using Facebook. In other words if you direct people to Facebook FIRST and THEN to your website, they feel more emotionally engaged with your website as a result – precisely what you want to achieve.

The second somewhat hidden factor to emerge from this study was that the engagement with the websites being tested was largely down to the prior expectations of the participants in the study. In other words it is what people think about your website BEFORE they visit which impacts most on whether or not they stick around. That means the OFFLINE marketing of your site is fundamental in getting people to stay.

So your website can benefit from the findings in this study by doing two things. Firstly, line up the expectations people have for your website by using public relations and other promotional activities so your potential visitors know what to expect in advance. And then get them to visit your website by going to your Facebook page first. They will then feel more connected with you, they will engage more and stay on your site for longer.

How to beat Facebook 1

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