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SASA Research Series #1: Social Media (5 of 8)

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Facebook as a Community Building and Marketing Tool

Facebook has remained, since its debut in 2003, a formidable social networking giant; boasting nearly 3 billion monthly active users, it is a locus for discussion on topics in the media, pop culture and politics. Despite the looming popularity of rival networking sites uprearing their heads from the murky depths of the internet, Facebook has retained a relatively strong hold on its user base. It continues to exhibit promising growth, with its total number of users each month in the 3 months leading up to April 2023 increasing by roughly 26 million (0.9%). It is thus evident that Facebook is a key component in the theme of engagement that has been explored throughout this series, continually proving itself to provide its users with relevant content that is frequently interacted with, building network links for creators. Facebook insights recorded in June 2021 found that the typical global Facebook user aged 18+, in the prior 30 days, had liked a median of 11 Facebook posts, left a median of 5 comments on Facebook posts, and clicked or tapped on a median of 12 Facebook ads (including sponsored posts). This proves that even almost 20 years later, Facebook remains a hub for interconnectivity, ‘providing an environment that provokes users to have active engagement behaviour’. (1)

However, it is also important to dissect Facebook’s role in the realm of academics, specifically in regard to the humanities departments of schools and universities. Facebook ‘provides timely updates on social and cultural issues and current trends’ (2), making its presence in the humanities all the more significant. Humanities subjects such as history are constantly-evolving, latent spaces, where new research means that they are constantly being knocked out of stasis by new discoveries and schools of thought. Platforms such as Facebook lend themselves to this fluidity, especially through their propensity to cultivate and host academic communities where information and opinions can be shared, contributing to general scholarship. In previous posts, the importance of community to engagement has been discussed, notably how it maximises engagement through the fostering of groups of people with common interest where passion and resources can be shared- Facebook therefore is the perfect case study for how community begets engagement, with its ‘Groups’ function allowing scholars to share information and resources with each other and network amongst themselves, as well as allowing for prospective students interested in the humanities to interact with scholarship they otherwise would not have access to. It can therefore be seen to be integral for humanities departments across the world and for the future of enrolment in humanities degrees.

In order to maximise Facebook’s utility, it is important for academic organisations and departments to understand intimately and take advantage of Facebook’s algorithmic and technical workings. This can best be summarised as ‘best practices’, of which there are six major components: The first is user generated content. Studies have shown that content shared by the employees of a brand receives 8x the engagement of brand shared content, with a considerable 85% of consumers finding this user-generated content more influential and personal than brand produced content. It is thus necessary for organisations and companies to directly involve employees in content creation and sharing, as engagement is more likely to be generated if social network users can interact with the individual rather than a company or organisation that may seem to them too inaccessible and impersonal. Employees should share content themselves, therefore, in order to better appeal to audiences who feel alienated by brand-generated content. The second component is the use of images in posting; this is likely to generate more engagement than merely text-based content which does not appeal to users of social networking sites who often use these platforms to be visually stimulated. Psychological nudges can also influence Facebook users to interact with posts; by giving audiences direct instructions, such as to respond to a prompt, or to click, comment, and like, they are more inclined to do so, thus furthering the reach of content by appealing to the Facebook algorithm as the content generates more ‘likes’. Time of day is another important factor companies and organisations must consider when posting. People most often check their social media accounts during ‘downtime’, like whilst on break from work and whilst commuting. Rather than posting at times when people are unlikely to view content, leading content to stagnate and eventually fall out of favour with the Facebook algorithm, creators should post at noon and 7pm. As more people are likely to be online during these hours, they are more likely to see the freshly-posted content. They will thus be more likely to interact with it as it is new and active, maximising engagement. Refining which type of organisational messaging a creator uses via Facebook is another way through which best practices can be exercised. The above chart based on an analysis of 1000 updates from organisations on the Nonprofit Times 100 list indicates that individuals prefer dialogic and mobilising messages from non-profits on Facebook (3). This means that companies and organisations are more likely to be successful with engagement if their posting and messaging includes calls to action, motivating users to interact and like, and not necessarily with posting alluding to events and promotion, which often goes ignored. The final variable of ‘best practices’ influencing engagement on Facebook is frequency of posting. A study carried out by Buddy Media in 2011 found that pages that only post once or twice a day receive 40% higher engagement compared to pages with more than three posts a day. This is indicative of an upper limit for posting, and implies that creators must be careful to monitor post frequency so that they do not overwhelm followers to the point of disinterest and disengagement.

Whilst these best practices indicate that, if used correctly, Facebook is an effective social networking platform for organisations, notably those in the realm of humanities. However, this does not mean the absence of significant drawbacks that may point to other platforms as being a better host for humanities organisations. One predominant drawback of Facebook is its monetary demands. Peruta and Shields, in their content analysis of Facebook post types and formats, find that organic reach- being the spread of social media content which has not been paid for or promoted- is very poor on Facebook, with it hovering at only 2.11% for pages with over 500,000 (4). This makes organic reach negligible or even obsolete in its entirety for pages with less than half a million followers, which encompasses many university and humanities organisations’ pages. This makes Facebook a ‘pay to play’ network, where Facebook brand page managers must pay to promote or ‘boost’ their posts to reach a larger percentage of their audience (5). This demand for monetary investment as a prerequisite for Facebook makes it less than ideal for smaller humanities organisations and especially departments in schools and universities, which are already deprived of resources and funding as it is.

Another significant drawback to the reliance on Facebook as a social networking platform is its lack of accessibility compared to other platforms such as Twitter. Facebook is optimised for desktop use, with good security measures to allow it to adapt well to this medium. However, it cannot compete with Twitter in terms of functions on a mobile phone, which is the preferred medium for social media consumption in the present. Kwon, Park and Kim find that not only is communication via Facebook more passive than via Twitter, where users can communicate with others in a more casual, conversational manner, but ‘Twitter’s simpler user interface, greater openness to the public, and more conversational interaction makes it ideal for mobile-based platforms such as smartphones and tablet computers’ (6). This indicates that Facebook cannot surpass Twitter’s accessibility, especially in the age of the smartphone. This is furthered by the fact that mobile phones better lend themselves to social media users’ ‘downtime’ which has previously been established as on their commute or on their breaks at work; one is far more likely to use their phone during these short intermissions between tasks and work than a desktop. Therefore, Twitter would be a superior platform for posting to reach an audience organically during these hours. Whilst the study also states that ‘Facebook offers more diverse functions in a full capacity as well as stronger privacy and security measures, making it more suitable for desktop users’, this point is made inconsequential when one is called to question as to whether it can even be seen as an advantage that Facebook translates better to desktop platforms when, in the domain of social media, the desktop computer is quickly being rendered redundant, discarded in favour of the mobile phone.

In addition to being less suitable for mobile use than other platforms, there is also suitable evidence to support the fact that Facebook, by virtue of the ages of its target demographic, is quickly fading into internet obscurity. Even by 2021, Facebook’s market share among social networks in the US dropped to 50.8% from where it stood at 54.3% in 2019. Furthermore, in 2023, it was found that only 2.9% of people between the ages of 13-17 use Facebook, and 18.1% of people between the ages of 18-24. This is a worrying demographic; the point would not necessarily stand if it were not for the fact that many humanities organisations and humanities departments of schools and universities specifically aim to target those of student age. Their main reason to use Facebook as a social networking site is to incite interest in and engage with those who are young and who will be influenced to enrol on humanities courses at school and university. If only 21% of Facebook’s users are student age, it greatly limits the engagement for creators who target this population.

It can therefore be concluded that, whilst there are many benefits to be found in using Facebook regarding the cultivation of community, a creator’s success as a humanities organisation or department is wholly dependent on the extent to which they abide by ‘best practices’. Even then, due to monetary restrictions and the fact that much of the target demographic is not active on Facebook, it is easy to fail in achieving the relevant engagement. There are many other platforms which still include ‘Group’ functions that are more attractive to and accessible for the younger, student-aged generation. It is still worthwhile for organisations to set up a Facebook page as its security measures mean it is good for establishing a reputable online presence, but this must only form a small fraction of an organisation's efforts to garner engagement on social networking platforms.

Research by Emma Renz

Written by Mia Felt


  1. Hamidreza Shahbaznezhad, Rebecca Dolan, Mona Rashidirad, ‘The Role of Social Media Content Format and Platform in Users' Engagement Behavior’,

  2. Kwak et al, 2010

  3. Gregory D. Saxton, Richard D. Waters, What do Stakeholders Like on Facebook? Examining Public Reactions to Nonprofit Organizations’ Informational, Promotional, and Community-Building Messages,

  4. Adam Peruta, Alison B. Shields, Marketing your university on social media: a content analysis of Facebook post types and formats,

  5. (as above) Adam Peruta, Alison B. Shields

  6. Sang Jib Kwon , Eunil Park , Ki Joon Kim, What drives successful social networking services? A comparative analysis of user acceptance of Facebook and Twitter,


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