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.
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.  A/B tests consist of a randomized experiment with two variants, A and B. 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.
Most of the online marketing is driven by quantitative analysis. We would set targets like:
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.
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:
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:
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 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:
All of the above are easy to read and clear CTAs, that any user is familiar with.
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:
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:
If you use a branded hashtag, be sure to test it against other industry hashtags, too.
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.
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.
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.
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: