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The infamous PTAT (People Talking About This) metric will soon be removed from Facebook Insights, and that is a very, very good thing. It will be available in the exports and through Facebook’s API until July 2nd 2014, which may coincide with Facebook “adjusting” its Insights dashboard. After that, PTAT won’t be available anymore, as announced on its Platform Roadmap page. The reason? According to Facebook, it’s ‘to better see how people interact with a page’s content’.

This is definitely one of the most exciting changes I’m looking forward to this year. Now, before I tell you why I dislike this metric so much, I’m going to explain what people think PTAT is, what it actually is, and why it’s not that useful, as well as a few recommendations of metrics you can use instead.

What is PTAT?

PTAT stands for “People Talking About This”, and it’s a metric that a lot of marketers and industry tools swear by. The problem with PTAT is that, while it’s been here for almost 3 years, not everyone actually understands it. The two most common mistakes are:

  • Assuming that PTAT is only a combination of people liking, commenting and sharing your Page content;
  • Taking PTAT literally, assuming that PTAT is the number of people who are actually talking about your Facebook page.

This confusion often stems from the wording that Facebook uses – “People Talking About This”. So, before going any further we need to understand Facebook’s rationale behind calling this metric what it is today.

Facebook Stories

When you interact with a Page’s content, you create an item that is then displayed on your friends’ News Feed and News Ticker (until the old layout completely fades out). An example of a Facebook story is “Ben liked a picture”, “Ben was tagged in a picture”, “Ben commented on a post”. (You can read more about this here.)

Every time someone triggers a ‘story’ from your Page or its content, it mentions your Page in the story. For instance, if my friend Paul shares your latest picture, it will show in my News Feed as “(Paul) shared (Page)’s (picture)” . Because of how this item appears in my News Feed (with your Page’s name on it), that item is telling a “story” about your Page on my feed, spreading your Page name through “Facebook word of mouth”. Everyone who triggers a story from your Page is, in a way, talking about your page – hence the wording “People Talking About This”.

However, likes, comments and shares aren’t the only interactions that can trigger a ‘story’. Here’s a list of actions that trigger a story:

  • liking a post
  • liking a comment
  • commenting on a post
  • commenting on a comment
  • sharing a post
  • answering a question/”poll”
  • responding to an event
  • claiming an offer
  • posting on the page wall
  • mentioning the page in a post
  • tagging the page in a photo
  • checking in at your place/page
  • sharing a check-in deal
  • liking a check-in deal
  • writing a recommendation
  • liking a page.

As you can see, a lot goes into PTAT, but what’s of great interest is the last one in the list: liking a page. This means that your PTAT includes people who engage with you as well as people who like your page. Liking your Page goes beyond engagement, as I can like your Page and not interact with it at all, or even worse – I can like your Page and hide all your posts from my News Feed.

The problem is that PTAT is often used incorrectly as an engagement metric, when it actually involves interactions that go beyond engagement. PTAT is better classified as an “activity metric”, as it looks at all activity going on around your Page and its content, as long as a story is triggered.

Another problem with PTAT is that it’s an aggregate metric, a mashup of several metrics together. Due to the metrics involved, it can be easily manipulated and gamified. For example, if you run ads to increase your number of fans, your PTAT will increase considerably. PTAT favours pages that have a high fan growth or who run advertising, regularly or irregularly. This makes it an unfair metric to use for page comparison, especially if your content performs better than your competitor, while your competitor invests a lot more money than you in ads.

Lastly, if one of your goals is to drive traffic from your Page to your website, PTAT won’t be of much use to you as clickthroughs don’t trigger ‘stories’. This means that a well-performing link (in terms of clickthroughs) won’t be counted towards your PTAT. The same applies to video plays and picture views.

So, all in all, PTAT is a nice-to-have metric that shows you at a high level how many users are creating stories that display in others’ News Feeds. However, if you’re looking for something to measure the performance of your content, PTAT is not what you’re looking for.

“Miscalculations and Misspending”

Facebook used to put a lot of emphasis on PTAT, making it the only engagement metric publicly available for all pages – even those you don’t own. Everything else, including reach and engaged users, is only visible to Page Owners for their own pages. Due to this, page owners who haven’t invested in a social analytics tool are forced to make do with two metrics for comparisons: the number of fans, to benchmark fan growth, and PTAT, to benchmark engagement.

This leads to other implications, such as the need for brands to have one engagement metric that factors in the size of the page, leaving some marketers to use an improvised engagement rate – PTAT out of Fanbase. While I’ve already talked about why I’m not a big fan of this engagement rate, this is the only calculation that Facebook leaves Page owners to make with what’s publicly available for other pages. The result? More spending on ads to increase this engagement rate, putting page owners in a vicious circle of miscalculations and misspending.

However, it would be wrong to put all the blame on Facebook: responsible marketers should be aware of what metrics mean if they intend to use them as Key Performance Indicators. This aggregate metric doesn’t tell you what drove engagement – in fact, if you choose to have PTAT as your KPI, it can be a very misleading indicator of engagement.

What You Need

To measure engagement and its performance, you need engagement metrics. The good news is, most of what you need is already in the Facebook exports. If you’re serious about Facebook Marketing, you can’t afford to ignore those exports.

So, what metrics can you use? Here’s Facebook’s recommendation:

To better see how people interact with a pages content, the PTAT metrics have been split into separate elements: Page Likes, People Engaged (the number of unique people who have clicked on, liked, commented on, or shared your posts), Page tags and mentions, Page checkins and other interactions on a Page. We recommend that you use these metrics moving forward to evaluate your Page posting strategy and engagement.

You can make use of metrics in the Facebook exports, like engaged users, or consumers and consumptions (although I personally prefer the last two).

Additionally, you can build your own ratios, based on what you’re looking for, such as:

–      Rate of Engaged Fan Reach: how many of your fans who saw your content later engaged with it?

–      Rate of Engaged Fanbase: how many of your fans engaged with your content?

–      Rate of Fan Reach: how many of your fans actually saw your content?

–      Rate of stories per impression: how many of your content and page impressions result in a Facebook story?

Facebook’s removal of PTAT is a great thing, as it shows how important it is to focus on the individual elements that make up aggregate metrics instead of relying solely (and blindly) on them.