With nearly 34 million likes, President Barack Obama's page is among the most popular on the social network. But if you consult his publicly-available "talking about this" number, which measures how many likes, shares, or comments Obama's status updates receive, you'll find that only three percent of his fans are actively engaging with his content.
Contrast that with Daily Bible Quotes, which only has 244,000 fans, yet 26 percent of its fans actively engage with the content.
A recent study of 25 major Facebook brand pages by the global media investment management group GroupM Next found that the average Facebook post is seen by only 10 percent of a page's fan base. Daily Bible Quote's posts are seen, on average, by 40 percent of its fans (a post's reach is determined by a Facebook algorithm that's based on the amount of engagement the post receives). Though Daily Bible Quotes has a respectable 244,000 fans, its average weekly page reach is several multiples of that: over 1.1 million.
The page's success is no fluke; according to data compiled by the trade blog AllFacebook, six of the 20 most-engaged pages are religiously-affiliated, with the first and second slots going to The Bible and Jesus Daily pages. With over 31 percent of Facebook users in the U.S. listing a religion in their profile, it's become apparent that, when it comes to engagement, religion reigns supreme, beating out everything from pop star pages to thoseof pro sports teams.
Chris Copeland, the CEO of GroupM Next, the group that published the study on Facebook brand pages, thinks that because Facebook is trying to only show you content you'll find relevant, many of the larger brands that have amassed millions of fans over a period of time will see a much smaller percentage of engagement. "An audience of a specific group may be much more targeted and ready to engage with content than someone who likes Starbucks," he explains. "Millions of people like Starbucks and many of them maybe started that association because of some sort of reward or incentive and not because they're the purest Starbucks fan."
Facebook's social interactions, Copeland says, are often based on networks -- whether it's where you live, work, or go to school. And a religious affiliation, often centered around a church or community, may be one of the more important networks in a person's life.
Why has Daily Bible Quotes done so well? Velika Downing, its Facebook page administrator, thinks it's the positive nature of such pages that makes them so universally successful. "Users are looking for inspiration, they're looking for encouragement, they're looking for anything that will uplift them," she says. "With so much negativity going on in the world, I think they're just looking for that extra little bit of hope to get them through the day."
The Daily Bible Quotes page was initially launched as merely a sidebar to an app and plug-in of the same name. It had been created to deliver quotes to users' walls by a company called Mindspark, which has developed a number of reference apps. Sean Conrad, Mindspark's vice president of product development, assigned it to Downing, a product manager, to work on during her spare time. "One day she showed me the page and that there were 200,000 likes and members, and it had really snuck up on us," he says. "It's been a little overwhelming for the company."
Every morning, Downing will comb through the comments from the previous day, curating suggestions and looking for certain thematic elements that she can use when choosing that day's quote. If a person is complaining of an ailment or some other calamity in his life, then she can locate a quote that speaks to the downtrodden in an effort to lift that person up. The quote is often preceded by a brief introduction she writes to put it into context.
Each post on the page spawns thousands of likes, comments, and shares. Many of the page's followers will drop a simple "amen" into the comments section or sometimes respond to the quote directly. "We get a lot of 'Thank you so much for this, this is exactly what I needed, it helped me get through the day. How did you know I was feeling down?'" Downing says.
Aaron Tabor, the administrator for Jesus Daily, the most-engaged page on Facebook, launched it in 2009 when he noticed that, while there were a number of pages dedicated to the Bible, few were focused on solely Jesus and his words. "We're at 14.4 million fans now," he says. "It took about a year to reach a million fans. We saw a quite an exponential growth curve, especially in April 2011 when the New York Times did an article about the page. When that hit, we got so much publicity everywhere that it led to really crazy growth where we got five million fans in a six month time period."
Why does Tabor think his page draws higher engagement than those of Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber? "That's something I've thought about often," he says. "I think we as humans crave to believe in something. And the entertainers entertain us, but they don't fulfill our basic craving and desire to have something that we can believe in. So when you look at Jesus, he offers help, protection, and eternal life. That's a lot more powerful than what a politician or an entertainer can offer us. So people are drawn to that."
He also points out that Jesus is a universally well-regarded figure, even for those who are not Christians, and his timeless appeal supersedes the wildly-fluctuating whims of modern pop culture.
With the rise of the Jesus Daily page came an explosion of correspondence; Tabor receives upwards of 40,000 messages a month from users soliciting specific prayers and spiritual aid. The challenge now facing him is developing a method of addressing this overwhelming response. In just the past few weeks he's traveled everywhere from Iowa to Atlanta, visiting church communities to raise money and recruit potential staff who will then be paid to correspond and pray with these users.
Of course, as with any large internet company with millions of users, Jesus Daily has attracted its fair number of trolls. "They're harassing people," Tabor says. "I saw someone go in there and say, 'Please pray for me, I have stage IV breast cancer and was given four more months to live from my doctor,' and people will go in there and harass that woman for asking for emotional and spiritual comfort." Thus far, he's had to rely predominantly on Facebook's algorithm for weeding much of the abusive content out. "Facebook does the best job possible to help us eliminate those antagonists," he says, but it can still be difficult to police. A Facebook spokesperson said the company would not comment on the story.
Perhaps one reason for the dominance of religious Facebook pages has to do with the fact that, for the most part, they have nothing to sell. They're not touting a brand or a product, and this non-transactional relationship they have with their users likely provides authenticity. No matter how much Lady Gaga may love her fans, they serve as mainly as a vehicle to a paycheck. Jesus was known for a lot of things, but being a hearty capitalist certainly wasn't one of them.
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