If you spend time in the social media industry, you’ve likely read articles or seen discussions about the impact posting with third-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 those tools, implementing a successful social media strategy would be near impossible. 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.
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 its site so 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.
I hope to use scientific research to end this argument once and for all.
Before we jump into my research, let’s take a look at what others have found out and then I will 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!”
Buffer did its own study using its 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. If this was true, the backlash and results would be damaging!
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, and larger businesses using apps had massively more engagement.
Engagement does not equal Reach, however. But that find does tell us that Reach may or may not be impacted by using apps per this BuzzSumo research.
The problem with such research is we have no way of knowing whether 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 social media managers.
Of those that responded, over 80% believe 3rd party apps impact Reach, and over 93% believe they impact Reach negatively.
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.
So, how will I test this theory?
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, the company only used Facebook and its app, and only posted for a short period of time. Doing so gave them what they referred to as “anecdotal” results. (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.
Pages Involved in the Test
The 3 pages are ones I admin and post to regularly.
These 3 pages are well established, all over 3 years old. And they have had lots of content published to them using both Facebook and various scheduling apps.
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:
The test ran for 3 weeks.
Types of Posts
The next decision in my test was to determine what type of posts to make. Videos require much more content creation and don’t post well via some apps, so 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.
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, so when I post a link to my website, those followers who engage with the photo are more likely to see that link post in their newsfeed due to Facebook’s algorithm.
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.
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 Facebook. These are apps that most people reading this article are familiar with and are probably the most used by social media managers. These third-party apps also each have free trials or free plans you could use to get started posting.
To get true data on whether 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)
My hope with this schedule is each app gets seen by every user and gets different post types. This will give 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.
Did posting with 3rd party apps have any impact—positive or negative—on Facebook Reach?
Let’s look at the results.
Keep in mind that the Reach numbers Facebook supplies in their Insights are for all people who 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 fan base as that would be a false number.
Space Walk Facebook Reach
Fans of Bigfoot Facebook Reach
Grace Bible Church 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.
The weekends during this test were holidays; Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
Holidays are always wacky when it comes to results, so let’s throw them out. Doing so 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.
By removing these anomalies, we will have the best possible results to draw a conclusion from.
Space Walk Facebook Reach
Fans of Bigfoot Facebook Reach
Grace Bible Church 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Agorapulse and Buffer were super-easy to schedule. I simply created a Queue schedule then queued up each piece of content and it went into the time slots I set up.
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. Doing so made it challenging to keep up with. The same had to be done on scheduling posts via Facebook.
Now that I completed this study, I know in hindsight that I would do some things differently.
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.
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.