Does Posting with 3rd Party Apps Impact Facebook Reach?

August 9, 2017 • By

Scott Ayres

Subscribe to the Social Media Lab Podcast via iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS

If you have spent any amount of time in the social media industry you’ve likely read articles or seen discussions about the impact posting with 3rd party apps have on Facebook Reach.

You may have even been involved in these discussions!

Using scheduling apps to post to Facebook business pages has been a long-standing element of successful social media management by businesses, as well as social media managers.

Without these tools it would be near impossible to implement a successful social media strategy. Relying on your memory to post updates to your pages would be a nightmare, and sticking to a schedule impossible if you’re just posting when you “feel like it”.

So these tools are highly important and highly accepted as part of a social media strategy and campaign by businesses of all sizes.

Do 3rd Party Apps Impact Organic Facebook Reach?

But, there has always been an argument that Facebook is somehow “punishing” posts from 3rd parties by diminishing the Reach of posts made with them.

After all, per this argument, wouldn’t Facebook prefer you to make all posts on their site so that you are exposed to as many ads as possible?

Would Facebook really have the audacity to punish these posts? Remember that every story published to a Facebook business page is another opportunity for followers of that page to be exposed to ads.

In this blog post I hope to use scientific research to end this argument once and for all!

The Problem

Before we jump into my research let’s take a look at what others have found out in order to form a hypothesis.

Co-founder of Agorapulse, Emeric Ernoult, did some research a few years ago and concluded: “ You can benefit from the power and flexibility of third-party applications without worrying about negatively impacting your reach or engagement. Don’t hesitate to use them!”

Quite a powerful statement!

Buffer did their own study using their Facebook page and concluded: “From this experiment it seems that posting using a 3rd party or natively won’t affect your reach or engagement on Facebook.”

They based this claim on the results they got from posting 1 week with their app to their Facebook page and 1 week posting using Facebook. The Reach was virtually the same.

Mari Smith released an infographic based on research conducted by BuzzSumo that stated posting with 3rd party apps results in 89.5% less engagement that posting directly on Facebook. And subsequently suggested that Reach would be lower by using apps.

Mari Smith Facebook Reach

Mari Smith says posting with apps results in less Facebook Reach!

If this was true the backlash and results would be damaging!

However there was a heated debate between Mari, BuzzSumo and Post Planner CEO Joshua Parkinson (spurred on by the backlash I had received while running support for Post Planner) that happened directly on a Facebook post by Buffer’s co-founder Leo Wildrich.

You can dig through that conversation if you’d like, but basically the gist of it is they were wrong, or perhaps misleading in their statement.

Engagement does not equal Reach. So keep that in mind.

Plus most of what they were calling “3rd party apps” were simply people cross posting with Twitter, Instagram or even automated RSS feeds. Not professional, quality, established 3rd party scheduling tools such as AgoraPulse, Hootsuite, Post Planner, Buffer, Sprout Social, etc.

Buffer broke down the data a bit more and found that some apps did have lower engagement than posting natively on Facebook for small businesses, while larger businesses using apps had massively more engagement.

Again, engagement does not equal Reach, but this does tell us that Reach may or may not be impacted by using apps per this BuzzSumo research. (Back to the drawing board!)

The problem with such research is we have no way of knowing if the pages are posting to a set schedule or simply posting at will. We also don’t know if these pages have any followers at all or are just spammy type pages.

I also surveyed a group on Facebook with over 12k members, all of whom are Social Media Managers.

Facebook Reach

Of those that responded over 80% believe 3rd party apps impact Reach, and over 93% believe they impact Reach negatively!!!

Facebook Reach

So let’s hop into my research and see if we can debunk some of these claims and finally close the case on whether posting with 3rd party apps causes a positive or negative result on our Facebook pages!

Hypothesis

Posting with 3rd party apps has no negative impact on Organic reach.3rd party app facebook reach

So how will I test this theory?

The Test

To properly perform research on such a controversial subject I wanted to create a test that would eliminate any variances based on time, subject, date, etc.

In Buffer’s test they only used Facebook and their app, and only posted for a short period of time. Thus giving what they referred to as “anecdotal” results. Which means the results aren’t necessarily true or reliable.

To avoid problems such as these as much as possible I decided to run a test on 3 different Facebook pages.

The Pages Involved in the Test

The 3 pages are ones’ I admin and post to on a regular basis.

  1. Space Walk of Central Texas – This is my own business page, with 5161 Likes, for my bounce house business. It’s over 3 years old and I post to the page a few times per day. It should be noted I conduct about 90% of the business via my Facebook page for reservations, questions, etc. And I also spend on average about $2500 per year on ads to promote posts and the page on Facebook.
  2. Fans of Bigfoot– This is a page I created about 4 years ago for fun to talk about Bigfoot, yes the big hairy creature that lives in the woods! The page has an active fan base that loves to talk about all things bigfoot. I use the page primarily to push affiliate products via Amazon or other sites. When I began the page I ran ads to it, but haven’t ran any ads in over 2 years. Currently sitting at 4022 Likes
  3. Grace Bible Church – This page is the Facebook page of the church I attend and help with social media. It’s in a small town with about 100 church members, although the page has over 790 Likes. I post to the page often, primarily inspirational images and updates/announcements for the church. I will run ads on the page occasionally.

These 3 pages are well established, all over 3 years old. And have had lots of content published to them using both Facebook and various scheduling apps.

The Schedule Used During the Test

I wanted to stay consistent in the posting habits of these pages so I decided to limit the test to 4 posts per day, which was very similar to the average amount of posts these pages were receiving before the test.

Admittedly the Grace Bible Church page has been sporadic and weeks go by without posts. But the Space Walk page and Bigfoot page have stuck to a schedule of at least 3-4 posts per day for some time.

To ensure I got the most Reach on posts I spread the posts out as follows:

8am, 12pm, 5pm and 10pm.

The test ran for 3 weeks.

The Types of Posts During the Test

The next decision in my test was to determine what type of posts to make.

Since videos require much more content creation and don’t post well via some apps I eliminated them from this research. Although the Reach and engagement of videos is super high currently.

I decided to alternate between Photos and Links throughout the day.

  • 8am- Photo
  • 12pm- Link
  • 5pm- Photo
  • 10pm- Link

This also was in line with previous strategies used on these pages and also supports a strategy I’ve used for years. My goal as a marketer is to get engagement on photos in hopes that when I post a link to my website those that engage with the photo are more likely to see that link post in their newsfeed due to Facebook’s algorithm. It’s a proven strategy you can read more about here.

For Space Walk all the links will be to either blog posts from my site or product links. Photos will be a mix of mainly images of our inflatables and some funny pictures.

On the Bigfoot page I will be using funny Bigfoot related images I haven’t used in the past along with Amazon affiliate links to Bigfoot related products and a few links to articles relating to Bigfoot.

The Grace Bible Church is a bit more challenging as there isn’t a blog for the church. So most links will be either to a worship album they are trying to get people to download or to simply articles relating to Christianity. Images will be spiritual related or funny.

What 3rd Party Apps Will be Used?

The next decision to make – and perhaps the hardest one – was what apps to use?

In the end I decided on: AgoraPulse, Hootsuite, Buffer and of course Facebook. My assumption is these are apps most reading this blog post will be familiar with and are probably the most used by social media managers. They also each have free trials or free plans you could use to get started posting!

To get true data on whether or not Reach is impacted by apps I wanted to ensure every app posted different types of content and in different time slots and days per week.

To accomplish this task I set up a rotating schedule per day of the week. (Hootsuite = HS, Agorapulse = AG, Buffer = B, Facebook = FB)

Monday- 8am- HS, 12p- AG, 5p- B, 10p- FB

Tuesday- 8am- AG, 12p- B, 5p- FB, 10p- HS

Wednesday- 8am- B, 12p- FB, 5p- HS, 10p- AG

Thursday- 8am- FB, 12p- HS, 5p- AG, 10p- B

Friday- 8am- HS, 12p- AG, 5p- B, 10p-FB (Same as Monday)

Saturday- 8am- AG, 12p- B, 5p- FB, 10p- HS (Same as Tuesday)

Sunday- 8am- B, 12p- FB, 5p- HS, 10p- AG (Same as Wednesday)

My hope with this schedule is each app gets seen by every user and gets different post types. Thus giving us a truly equal playing field for our results.

I decided that the Grace Bible Church page would use 1 app per day instead of alternating throughout the day. This is so that we can compare results to see if it makes a difference.

Monday- FB , Tuesday- HS , Wednesday- AG , Thursday- B , Friday- FB , Saturday- HS , Sunday- AG

Monday- B , Tuesday- FB , Wednesday- HS , Thursday- AG , Friday- B , Saturday- FB , Sunday- HS

I stuck to the same daily schedule however of 8am- Photo, 12pm- Link, 5pm- Photo, 10pm Link.

All content was scheduled in advance before the test started so that no days were missed.

The Test Results

Ok, so this is what you came for right?

Did posting with 3rd party apps have any impact – positive or negative – on Facebook Reach?

The Answer?

Let’s look at the results.

Keep in mind that the Reach numbers Facebook supplies in their Insights are for all people that saw your post, these could be people that Like or don’t Like your page. So don’t use these numbers to determine a Reach percentage of your fanbase as that would be a false number.

Space Walk Facebook Reach:

  • Hootsuite: 805
  • Buffer: 706
  • Agorapulse: 637
  • Facebook: 622
  • 3rd Party Apps Average: 716 (15.11% higher Reach)

Facebook Reach

Fans of Bigfoot Facebook Reach:

  • Agorapulse: 1032
  • Buffer: 955
  • Hootsuite: 782
  • Facebook: 951 (3.03% higher Reach)
  • 3rd Party Apps Average: 923

Facebook Reach

Grace Bible Church Facebook Reach:

  • Buffer: 303
  • Hootsuite: 188
  • Agorapulse: 182
  • Facebook: 253 (12.44% higher Reach)
  • 3rd Party Apps Average: 225

Facebook Reach

Based on these results it’s hard to draw a definitive conclusion as Facebook performed better than the 3rd party app average on 2 pages, while the 3rd party apps performed better on 1 page.

But let’s take this a bit deeper so that we get the BEST possible analysis of our data.

Diving Deeper into the Data

The weekends during this test were holidays; Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day.

Holidays are always wacky when it comes to results, so let’s throw them out – as I think this gives us the better results with the data we have.

We’re also going to throw out the highest and lowest performing post for each app, including Facebook.

The reason we want to do this is we could have a post that went “viral” throwing off our results, and a post that was a complete failure dragging down the results.

Removing these anomalies – weekends and hi/lo performing posts – we will have the best possible results to draw a conclusion from.

Space Walk Facebook Reach:

  • Hootsuite: 764
  • Buffer: 495
  • Agorapulse: 454
  • Facebook: 438
  • 3rd Party Apps Average: 545 (24.43% higher Reach than Facebook)

Facebook Reach

Fans of Bigfoot Facebook Reach:

  • Agorapluse: 923
  • Hootsuite: 848
  • Buffer: 843
  • Facebook: 721
  • 3rd Party Apps Average: 871 (20.8% higher Reach than Facebook)

Facebook Reach

Grace Bible Church Facebook Reach:

  • Buffer: 256
  • Facebook: 243 (3.4% higher Reach than 3rd Party Apps Average)
  • Hootsuite: 238
  • Agorapulse: 210
  • 3rd Party Apps Average: 235

Facebook Reach

You can see the Reach dropped quite a bit for Facebook and the 3rd party apps on the Space Walk and Fans of Bigfoot pages, when compared to the raw numbers with no exclusions.

3rd party apps  won on the Space Walk and Fans of Bigfoot page.

On the Grace Bible Church page Facebook still outperformed but on this last round of numbers was at the lowest performance, with just a 3.4% edge.

Was My Hypothesis Correct?

Now that we’ve dug through this data did my original hypothesis hold up?

As you recall I stated “I hypothesize that posting with 3rd party apps has no negative impact on organic Reach.”

-It should be noted I wrote this hypothesis 3 weeks before gathering the data and before scheduling content. As I truly was going on my gut feelings that apps don’t hurt Reach.

Based on the data I would conclude that posting with 3rd party apps does NOT have any negative impact on Facebook Reach. In fact according to our study 3rd party apps had a positive impact on Reach.

The 2 larger pages, Space Walk and Fans of Bigfoot, had no negative impact by using a 3rd party app. Instead there was a very positive impact to my surprise.

3rd party apps performed on average 22.61% better on these pages combined.

Facebook Reach

The Grace Bible Church page saw Facebook have a slight advantage on Reach, but not that much in reality. Especially not enough to make me think there was a negative impact by using the apps., just 3.4% of an increase.

Hopefully this can put this argument to rest – again!

Challenges Faced During the Test

The most challenging portion of this test was scheduling out this much content!

4 posts per day per page for 14 days. That’s 168 pieces of content to schedule.

Some of it was fairly easy, while some was cumbersome and took more time than expected.

Scheduling content via Facebook was much easier than I remembered.

To make it easier to keep up with don’t schedule the posts while on your Timeline. Instead click “Publishing Tools” then  you can click “Create” to schedule new posts, and then click “Scheduled Posts” to see everything scheduled through Facebook.

Scheduling Facebook Posts

AgoraPulse and Buffer were super easy to schedule as I simply created a Queue schedule then queued up each piece of content and like magic it went into the time slots I setup.

Hootsuite was the most difficult as I couldn’t set up a Queue, so each piece of content had to be painstakingly scheduled by date and time..

Which made it challenging to keep up with. The same had to be done on scheduling posts via Facebook.

Additional Thoughts on This Study

Now that I completed this study there are a few things in hindsight I would do differently.

  • I would post only photos. The Reach was significantly lower as expected on Link posts, plus it would have been easier to schedule content had it only been photos.
  • I would have conducted the test longer. A longer period of time of at least 4 weeks, would have given us more data to build on and be certain of the trend. Although we did test with 56 pieces of content to each page over 2 weeks, so that is solid data.
  • I would use only 1 app and pair it against Facebook. Now that I can see that the app itself didn’t make the difference in Reach I would do this again and simply use 1 app to schedule the posts and subsequently schedule the same amount of content using Facebook. This would take away the pain that was involved in scheduling with so many tools as well as gathering the data.
  • I missed 4 posts on each page during the Christmas weekend (Fri-Mon) as I didn’t realize Buffer wasn’t posting. Totally my fault. Luckily it didn’t skew the numbers as I simply showed you an average from the posts that did make it out. But it’s possible the specific results for Buffer could have changed.

Conclusion

I have been using 3rd party apps to schedule content to my Facebook pages for years, at least 4 years, and now this data proves that there is no reason to hesitate doing it.

So choose a scheduling app that you are comfortable with, is easy to use, and is within your budget and start posting!

One thing I will add is I really appreciated how posts made by Agorapulse showed up on my page.

Posting with Agorapulse

Notice how it says “Manager” instead of “Agorapulse”.

As a social media manager doing the job of social media for clients this is super slick – and important! Instead of it saying “Buffer” or “Hootsuite” it has a generic name, as to not reveal what you are using to schedule content.

Keep in mind only admins of the pages see this of course.

It’s a subtle difference, but one I noticed right away and was impressed by.

social-media-lab-raw-data

283b5f8cbd552fa53aad2dfa3f8146da-------------