I’m not going to be shy with my opinion on this topic: you need to take more time off of work.

I took a week off in August and was able to increase our Facebook referral traffic by over 300%—all while being completely unplugged from work.

I want to show you how, but first, let’s take a look at how Americans don’t take vacations.

55% of Americans admit to taking less than half of their eligible paid time off each year. Not only that, but their “vacation” is often not a true vacation. Of the Americans that do take time off, 61% admit to having done some work while on vacation.

What keeps us from truly unplugging?

If you’re a business owner, it may be hard to leave your “baby” in the hands of others. If you’re working for someone else, it’s common to believe that no one else on your team is capable of doing your job, or perhaps it’s because you want to show your boss just how hard-working and dedicated you are.

There’s also a nasty misconception about vacations and time off: if you’re not at work, then there’s no output. No output means no value.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, however. When employees take vacations they reduce stress, increase productivity, lower their risk of heart attack, and recharge their psychological core. In short, they become better employees.

As Community Manager here at Bplans, I am actively involved in promoting engagement on our site and our social media platforms. By taking a week off in August, I expected that engagement would drop and our social media referral traffic would take a hit. I was prepared to come back from vacation with the task of getting our numbers “back on track.” I was wrong.

The strategy I employed for my time away ended up increasing our social media referral traffic across all platforms by 120%, and Facebook in particular by over 300%. Almost a month later, I can confirm that this isn’t a fluke: our social referral traffic is consistently higher than before.

I’d like to share some thoughts on how we hit those numbers, and what you can do to improve your social referral traffic too.

Who knows, maybe you’ll decide that you can take that vacation after all.

300% increase? Isn’t Facebook reach dead—or dying?

As you may already be aware, Facebook has come under fire over the last year as brand marketers have noticed a sharp drop in the organic reach of their Facebook page posts. Social@Ogilvy reported in March of this year that brands were seeing a dismal organic reach of around 2-6% of their fans:

Organic-Reach-Chart

In May of this year, Bplans had around 32,500 Facebook fans, and our posts had an average organic reach of about 500 people, or 1.5%. Ouch.

By mid-August, things hadn’t gotten any better. We had grown to 34,400 fans, but our organic reach had dropped to an average of 1.3% per post.

Since mid-August however, our organic reach per post is now at an average of 8%, with one post reaching as high as 35% of our fans organically.

Google Analytics tells a similar story when it comes to referral traffic coming to our website from Facebook. It had steadily been declining since March of this year, but then there’s a sudden and visible increase since August.

At this point, I want to call out an excellent post by Kevan Lee at the Buffer Blog. With Facebook’s reach on the decline, he offers some excellent tips about combating it and improving your Facebook posts.

The key takeaway for me was that while organic reach is certainly an important metric on Facebook, it is not the only one, and it may not even be the most important one to track and build a strategy around.

If you’re struggling with a low organic reach on Facebook, consider shifting your focus toward tracking your engagement rate per post. To calculate this, take the total number of people who have liked, shared, clicked, or commented on your Facebook post and divide it by the number of people who saw that post—not your total number of fans.

Image credit: InsideFacebook.com

Image credit: InsideFacebook.com

So, while our organic reach has increased, I’m most excited to see that our engagement rate per post has remained relatively consistent. As we move forward with our strategy on Facebook, I’m hoping to see our organic reach continue to grow, but I’ll be paying closer attention to the engagement rate to make sure that our Facebook posts are actually valuable to our Bplans audience.

Now with those explanations out of the way, here are some key factors that I believe contributed to our increase in referral traffic and organic reach.

4 ways to increase your Facebook referral traffic

1. Schedule or automate most of your posts

One difference between our posts in August and those in previous months is that we now automate or schedule almost every post on Facebook. For our daily articles, I’ve created a “recipe” using IFTTT.com, and for our additional posts, I use the Buffer app.

Previously, I had some posts automated, but was manually sharing our new daily articles. I was consistent in my daily posting, but I wasn’t consistent with what times of day I was posting. I’ll get into timing your posts later, but for now let’s just say that the inconsistency wasn’t helping our reach or link clicks. Here’s an example of one of our automated posts that’s triggered by an IFTTT recipe:

2. Regularly repurpose your evergreen content

While I consistently shared our new articles every day on Facebook, I was very, very sporadic about sharing some of our older, evergreen content—articles that are perpetually relevant and contain frequently searched topics. When I went on vacation however, I made sure to schedule at least two pieces of evergreen content everyday.

In the early mornings, a post would go out highlighting one of our 500+ free sample business plans. Later in the afternoon, a scheduled post would highlight one of our “classic” articles that still gets a lot of search traffic. During the week of my vacation, our evergreen articles were some of our most engaging Facebook posts. Here’s an example:

3. Share external sources and curated content

It’s difficult to confirm this from a completely scientific vantage point, but since Facebook has made some recent changes to its news feed algorithm, I’m testing a new hypothesis.

I think it’s possible that our content that exists on another website or platform may get more love from Facebook’s algorithm than content that comes from the domain we have connected to our Facebook page. In order for it to be a legitimate test, I’ll need to try sharing a variety of our content over a longer period of time, but here’s why I’m going to test it:

For the last few weeks, I’ve been creating SlideShare presentations. Some of the presentations are adaptations of our articles, and some are collections of quotes and images. Now, SlideShare has an average of over 60 million unique visitors each month, which is a bit more than we can boast at Bplans.com.

I have a hunch that content from Slideshare.net will have a more positive ranking in Facebook’s new algorithm than our website. You can test this out for yourself, and not just with Slideshare.

Take an article (that’s relevant to your fans) from any major media website, and share on your Facebook page. Track it and see if it gets a higher organic reach than your original content that you share regularly. I’d love to hear your results!

So far, the SlideShare experiment is working for me. Remember that post I told you about that got as high as a 35% organic reach of our fans? Here it is:

4. Find the best time to post on Facebook

The last, but possibly most important, factor in increasing our Facebook referral traffic has everything to do with timing. Because I wasn’t consistent with what time of day I was sharing our daily articles on Facebook, I ended up hitting some real dead spots in the day.

When I scheduled my posts for my week of vacation, I was able to optimize their posting times for our Facebook fans.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 4.05.33 AMThe optimal times for posting your content varies by Facebook audience. You can find your optimal posting times in your Facebook page’s Insights, under “Posts.”

By viewing our data, I was able to determine that we can post up to three times between 3:00am and 10:00am, then another two times between 4:30pm and 8:00pm.

Without looking at this data, I never would have guessed those later times in the afternoon. Now, the posts that regularly get the highest organic reach, likes, comments, and shares are those two afternoon posts. I can’t stress enough that it is worth it to find the optimal posting times for your Facebook page. It may take some testing, learning, and re-testing, but it will payoff.

How do you do all this for a vacation?

If you’re planning a vacation, it’s pretty easy to schedule all of your evergreen content and external sources with a tools like Buffer and IFTTT. Once you have the majority of your content scheduled or automated ahead of time, you will need to ask someone on your team to monitor your social platforms for real-time engagement.

I’m lucky to be part of a great team that helped do just that, and it allowed me to completely unplug for a full week.

Are you ready to unplug? Let me know if you’ve found success in posting to Facebook, or if you have a question about how to improve your posts. Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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