As of March 31, Facebook reported 1.44 billion monthly active users — 936 million of whom access the website every day. Therefore, Facebook continues to be an essential social media platform for business communications.

By 2012, 74 percent of Fortune 100 companies had already set up at least one Facebook page for business communications. Moreover, a large number of companies have seen an increase of unique visitors to their Facebook pages, while many of them are also experiencing a decline of unique visitors to their websites. Companies want to make good use of this social media tool to better engage their target customers on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Facebook never stops reinventing itself so that it can maintain its dominant position as the top social networking site. For example, it introduced the "share" button in 2011, and it just announced a new feature of video chat a few days ago.

This constantly-evolving landscape brings up two questions:

  • How have companies' B2C communication strategies on Facebook evolved over the years while the website is also reinventing itself?
  • How have Facebook users reacted to such changes?

To answer these two questions, I led a research team in conducting a time-series or longitudinal-like study, which was recently published in Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes.

In this study, we first adopted the framework presented in another publication of mine on Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, where Facebook messages were categorized into four media types for analysis: hyperlink, photo, status and video.

Then, we retrieved a total of 2,463 Facebook messages initiated by 10 selected restaurant chains in three different periods, including October to December 2010 (824 messages), October to December 2012 (806 messages) and October to December 2014 (833 messages). Lastly, we summarized the descriptive data and compared companies' usage of these four media types in three different periods.

We measured whether consumers' reactions to Facebook messages with various media types changed over time according to number of likes, number of comments and number of shares a message received. Our findings include:

  • Photos remained the most frequently used media type.
  • Status updates became the least used media type.
  • Usage of video experienced a growth from 4.3 percent in 2012 to 10 percent in 2014, turning video into the second-most used media type in 2014.
  • Usage of hyperlink experienced a substantial decline.
  • Among the four media types being analyzed, hyperlinks received the least number of likes, comments or shares.
  • Photos received the largest number of likes and shares.
  • Status updates received the largest number of comments.
  • Video was slowly gaining more likes, comments and shares from Facebook users over the years, probably because Facebook is now allowing user to watch videos directly on the Facebook wall.

The results indicate the sample (10 restaurant chains) was able to adjust their communication strategies according to the new features or changes introduced by Facebook as well as the reactions of consumers. Drawing from our findings, managers may consider the following suggestions to better engage their target customers on Facebook:

  1. Engage with Facebook users in a consistent manner. We found that companies could win more customers over time by posting about the same amount of messages over the years.
  2. Post high-quality photos. Because it seems "everyone" knows the power of photos on Facebook, now it may take more than just a regular photo to catch people's attention.
  3. Use other picture-based social media tools to engage customers, such as Instagram and Pinterest.
  4. Choose an eye-catching screen shot for a video cover.

Due to copyright concerns, I will not be able to share additional insights from our findings. If you are interested in reading more of our findings and implications, please email me for a desk copy of the article for personal usage or download the article online on Emerald Insight.

Have you observed any changes among organizations' or people's behavior on Facebook? If so, please share your observations in the comments below.