How to Build and Maintain Your Brand's Social Capital on Facebook and Instagram

Imagine there are two almost-identical rock bands: one with 50k followers, and one with 25k. Which one is likely to sell more concert tickets through a single Facebook and Instagram post? The answer might surprise you.

“Social capital” is a relative value of how easily you can influence the behavior of others, including getting people to patronize your brand or business, or spread the word about you to their friends. On social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, this basically means how many people are you able to reach with your posts. But contrary to popular belief, the number of followers you have only plays some role in this calculation. There are ways to increase and lose your social capital based on “the algorithm” that determines which content is shown to which users in feed.

Facebook employees roll their eyes when outsiders try to explain “the algorithm” because frankly, it’s intricate, almost nobody knows every line of code that impacts it, and it’s changing daily. Every day, hundreds of Engineers and Product Managers make tiny adjustments to feed ranking based on two primary metrics that Facebook Inc (including Instagram) has deemed critical to its grasp of market share: ‘Time Well Spent’ and ‘CAU’ (Cares About Users, AKA do users feel that Facebook cares about them). In Facebook’s infancy, we optimized for Time Spent rather than Time Well Spent, but quickly realized that this could lead to a worse user experience so added additional user behavior signals to estimate the “Well” factor. The main signal, of course, is engagement. The theory is that if users are engaging with a higher percentage of content in their own feeds, then the time spent consuming content on Facebook and Instagram is valuable.

When a user interacts with a piece of content (reacts, comments, shares), this sends indicates to Facebook and Instagram that this particular piece of content is compelling. This leads to two positive outcomes for the creator: first, it makes it more likely that this user will see additional content from this creator in the future. Second, it sends the signal that this piece of content may be valuable to others as well. Posts that receive a higher percentage of engagement are shown to more people than content with a lower engagement percentage. This is why some content goes viral and some never gets traction in the first place.

What does this mean for brands?

  1. Only post when it adds value for your audience. Value comes in many forms, including: entertainment, education, and social interaction. If you’re struggling to come up with things to post, don’t force it; simply don’t. It’s not going to do you any favors over time as you lose your audience.

  2. Seek engagement when appropriate. Use features like Polls in Stories; ask people to respond to a question in the comments.

  3. Organic followers are far superior to purchased or Follow-for-Follow followers. People who aren’t that interested in what you have to offer in the first place are only going to hurt your engagement figures and make your content seem less valuable to “the algorithm.”

As I’ve explained in my blog post Using Data to Optimize What You Post on Social Media, organic (non-paid) Page posts are no different than paid ads for your business, but with limited reach and targeting. So, increasing your organic reach is literally worth money.

Now, back to our original question: which band is likely to sell more tickets, the one with 50k followers, or the one with 25k? While the band with 50k followers has a definite advantage, if their followers aren’t engaged, then they may not be able to reach as many individuals through their posts, and thus have less social capital to reach the audience they’re seeking.



Michael Wright is a social media marketing/advertising consultant and former Facebook/Instagram employee. If you would like help increasing your brand’s consumer influence on social media, reach out at this link.

Michael Wright