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The mystery of the missing Facebook likes

When I come to collect the previous three months of charity social media audience growth, the sets of data don’t usually look that different.

One charity might do slightly better one quarter; another might do slightly worse the next. But it’s generally tended to feature the same charities, and been a picture of ever-increasing audience growth across the sector.

But not this quarter. Not with Facebook.

For one thing, Comic Relief has increased its Facebook likes by a massive 653,444. This is easily the biggest quarterly increase to a Facebook audience since I started measuring it a couple of years ago. But this seems to be to do with it deciding to consolidate its Comic Relief and Red Nose Day pages into a single page.

But that’s not the thing that stands out.

We’ve also seen an amazing performance from Versus Arthritis – it didn’t even have one of the 50 fastest growing Facebook audiences in 2018, but it’s got the 2nd fastest growing audience so far in 2019 (and probably only kept off the top spot by Comic Relief’s consolidation).

Let me put this in context – over the last three months its audience has been growing 11 times faster than it did in 2018. Yes, 11 times faster.

But even that’s not the thing that stands out.

The thing that really surprised me was that what I’d grown to assume was the reverse gravity of charity social media – that audiences size will, by and large, continuously keep going up – has been turned on its head.

In the past, one or two charities might see a fall in their number of likes. But it’s always been the exception rather than the rule.

But this quarter, 39 of the 86 charities I track have seen their Facebook audience shrink.

And not just a bit. Three charities now have a Facebook audience that’s more than 50,000 smaller than three months ago. And 17 of them have seen a drop of more than 10,000.

The next question is what this means. And here, I’m afraid I’ll be less helpful.

It’s not like when lots of charities lost Twitter followers last year because of Twitter’s mass-freezing of accounts.

There is no obvious reason why this has happened. The best I can do is to venture a guess that there’s been a culling of accounts or maybe a change in how Facebook operates that’s affected some charities but not others.

Does anyone know if this is right? Or have any better ideas?

Anyway, here are two top 10 lists – one for the charities that have seen the biggest increases and one for those that have seen the biggest falls.

Biggest increases in Facebook likes, Jan to Mar

  1. Comic Relief, 653,444
  2. Versus Arthritis, 23,723
  3. Donkey Sanctuary, 18,928
  4. Mind, 17,528
  5. National Trust, 16,633
  6. Guide Dogs, 15,668
  7. RSPB, 14,922
  8. Prostate Cancer UK, 11,504
  9. Dogs Trust, 10,764
  10. World Animal Protection, 8,357

Biggest falls in Facebook likes, Jan to Mar

  1. Save the Children, 63,357
  2. Cats Protection, 62,377
  3. SSAFA, 50,074
  4. NSPCC, 48,552
  5. Rethink Mental Illness, 25,206
  6. Shelter, 23,552
  7. Teenage Cancer Trust, 21,702
  8. Islamic Relief UK, 20,233
  9. Oxfam, 17,451
  10. Amnesty UK, 16,066

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