A/B testing on social media

A/B Testing On Social Media

Marketing Deep Dive Published on 10 Sep 2020

A/B Testing as a marketing asset probably dates back to pre-internet times. Brands have been known to conduct small tests on a fraction of their contact lists by sending them various communications. Based on the response, they would choose the winning combination for their campaign and save on a lot of printing and mailing, while improving their conversion rates.

The process was time consuming as it required manual intervention and there wasn’t much of analytics available to the brands, as we have today.

Fast forward to 2020, modern marketers have access to social media A/B testing - in real time. This allows you to refine your content marketing and advertising strategies on the go. In the process, you develop a deeper understanding of what works, and what doesn’t - without spending too much time or money to make that decision.


What is A/B testing?

A/B testing is defined on Wikipedia as:

A/B testing (also known as bucket testing or split-run testing) is a user experience research methodology. [1] A/B tests consist of a randomized experiment with two variants, A and B.[2][3] It includes the application of statistical hypothesis testing or "two-sample hypothesis testing" as used in the field of statistics. A/B testing is a way to compare two versions of a single variable, typically by testing a subject's response to variant A against variant B, and determining which of the two variants is more effective.”

A/B testing - or split testing as some would know it as - is performed by splitting the audience into two random groups and show them a variation of the communication. The responses are collected and compared against the desirable metrics.

How can A/B testing help your social media strategy?

Most of the online marketing is driven by quantitative analysis. We would set targets like:

  • 10% increase in social mentions
  • 35% increase in engagement
  • 20% more retweets, and so on.

A/B testing essentially helps you find out if you are on the right path to achieving these targets, and where you should be investing time and effort to do so. The best part of A/B testing is that it is platform agnostic. You can determine what works best for you on Twitter and follow the pattern, while your LinkedIn may follow a very different line of communication altogether.

What can you A/B test?

Here’s the best part - you can A/B test probably everything on social media! That is the beauty of online marketing, even the slightest change to a communication pattern can make big differences. Here are some common ways to A/B test:

Post text

The type of language used in your social media posts is definitely a big contender to be tested. Some of the metrics you can test here are:

  • Post length (number of characters)
  • Post style: a quote versus a key statistic, for example, or a question versus a statement
  • Use of emojis
  • Use of a digit for posts linking to a numbered list
  • Use of punctuation
  • The tone of voice: casual versus formal, passive versus active, and so on

Headline and description in the link preview

Headlines and descriptions of a link have been a big factor in online marketing. It is a widely used trick in SEO, and John Mueller, the Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, recently tweeted that even though search engines don’t consider meta titles as a big ranking factor, users who search do consider the title before clicking.

You can experiment with the headline and descriptions of a link to monitor the click-through rates of the post. WordPress, for example, has a few plugins that can help you generate multiple titles to help you determine the same - a strategy widely used by top blogs like Harvard Business Review.

Call to action

Call to actions(CTAs) are a very important factor in marketing communications these days. It is where you ask readers to engage. Getting this right is critical and if you are seeking to try out A/B testing, this should be one of your first tests. Some popular CTAs are:

  • Sign up
  • Subscribe
  • Try for Free
  • Get Started
  • Learn More
  • Join Us

All of the above are easy to read and clear CTAs, that any user is familiar with.

Use of image or video

Research suggests that posts with images and videos perform best overall, but that doesn’t mean your audience will respond in the same way. It is important to test out this theory in practice for your audience set on each network. Some combinations you can experiment with are:

  • Text only versus posts with an image or video
  • Regular image versus animated GIF
  • Photos of people or products versus graphs or infographics
  • Length of video

Ad format

If you are using social media ads, testing different formats can be useful. Facebook Ads Manager allows you to perform split tests before launching a campaign. Similar experiments can be done manually on other platforms.


Hashtags are known to extend your reach. But they can get annoying to the audience, if you are using too many of them. A simple A/B test can help in determining the following:

  • Multiple hashtags versus a single hashtag
  • Which industry hashtags result in the best engagement
  • Hashtag placement within the messaging (at the end, the start, or in the middle)

If you use a branded hashtag, be sure to test it against other industry hashtags, too.

Target audience

This is more of a modern-day version of the age-old A/B testing experiments. Audiences are important factors for your brands, and reaching out to the right audience is essential in converting them.

Facebook, for example, allows you to target audiences in paid as well as organic posts. Instagram has a feature for “Close Friends” in stories. Creating tests based on them help in understanding how people react to your communication.

Profile elements

This is a different ball game. You are not creating different versions and reaching out to the audience for opinion, but monitoring your audience and making micro-changes to your profile elements to cater to the needs. This can be a profile picture change in terms with a social cause (like Pinktober or Pride Month), or updating your profile descriptions based on what your audience reacts to most.

Website content

You can also use social media A/B testing to help you make decisions about the content on your website. Based on what users react or engage with, your website content can be modified into catering to them - and in turn, getting a better click-through rate.

A/B Testing on Social Media

How to run an A/B test on social media

The basic process of A/B testing has remained essentially the same for decades: test small variations one at a time to discover what works best right now for your current audience. Social media has just made it much easier and more efficient, so you can run tests on the fly rather than waiting months for results to come in by mail.

Remember: the idea is to test one variation against another, then compare the responses and choose a winner.

Here’s the basic structure of an A/B test on social media:

  1. Choose an element to test.
  2. Dig into existing knowledge for ideas about what will work best—but never be afraid to challenge assumptions.
  3. Create two variations based on what your research (or your gut) tells you, remember to have only one element that differs between the variations.
  4. Show each variation to a segment of your followers.
  5. Track and analyze your results.
  6. Choose the winning variation.
  7. Share the winning variation with your entire list, or test it against another small variation to see if you can improve your results further.
  8. Share what you learn throughout your organization to build a library of best practices for your brand.
  9. Start the process over again.

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