There’s a certain braggadocious statistic that seems to rule all others for owners and managers of Facebook pages, whether it be for a church, an author, or an organization.

This particular statistic is “People who like this page.”

It’s usually the first number asked about by a manager, a peer, or the first thing you look at when comparing your page to another’s “success.” Good news—I’m here to reduce your stress and tell you to stop agonizing over your total “likes.” That number shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the stats you’re tracking to define the success of your Facebook page.

Why? Because as the Facebook algorithm has changed, most experts agree that the total “likes” of your page has become far less relevant. Having thousands of Facebook likes does not automatically guarantee your page will have higher organic reach or engagement on your posts. In fact, case studies that I see in my day-to-day social management suggest a higher number of total likes may actually hurt your organic reach.

A Story to Illustrate

How? Let’s take a look at two Facebook pages. We’ll call them, for simplicity’s sake, Mark and Luke.

Mark has been around for a while. He’s got about 3,000 total “likes” on his page, but has a loyal audience that engages very well with his content. His average reach per post can be 1,200 to 1,500 people, and users engage with his content on a higher than average clip (stop to view, click, comment, share). But Mark wishes his total page likes was much higher.

Luke just launched his Facebook page a couple of months ago. He really wanted to make an impact, so he sacrificed some budget money to buy ads to grow the “likes” on his page. Within 3 months, he was up to 25,000 Facebook fans!

Now Luke says to Mark, “Hey, man, check out my likes… 25k already!” Unfortunately, Mark takes the bait because he doesn’t know any better. Envy sets in, and Mark considers spending some money to up his total page likes. Mark would be wise to reconsider.

Here’s the thing: Luke has virtually no engagement or organic reach. He may have 25,000 “likes” on his page, but because of the Facebook algorithm’s valuation of his page’s content, he is reaching 200-350 people, with maybe 1 or 2 engagements per post.

Here’s where the negative comes in—growing your potential audience (likes) from 1,000 to 25,000 in a week’s time, with no increase in engagement, can make your page’s valuation actually drop in the eyes of the Facebook algorithm. Think about it: 1,000 total users with 250 reach and 10 engagements is a reasonably healthy ratio. The algorithm says, “This page produces valuable content to its audience.”

The next week, if this same page has grown to 25,000, but the algorithm’s value score of the page hasn’t really changed, so the organic reach doesn’t automatically grow with the new number of page likes. The organic reach may be higher, but nowhere near the 25 percent it had before buying likes. Now, your page’s ratio is out of whack. The algorithm says “this page’s content is not valuable at all to its audience.” The page’s value plummets, and the organic reach gets even worse.

So What Then?

Engagement trumps “likes.” Period.

If you want more likes, earn them. Produce great content, create engagement with your fans, and the numbers will grow. If you want to use advertising dollars, use it to get great content in front of more people, or to convert loyal customers to sales. There are ways to convert people who engage with your content to permanent “likes” on your page, but never, ever, throw money at getting more “likes.”

Can a larger pool of “likes” help your organic reach? Sure—if you’ve grown those likes through people who regularly engage with your content. But having a large following of people who aren’t really invested in your content will ultimately only harm your efforts to get the most out of your Facebook marketing efforts.

Remember Luke? His organic reach on his much-smaller page was at 50 percent! That’s way above average for most Facebook pages in 2017. Engagement is the key metric you want to monitor. If you have a small pool of likes like Luke, but users love your content enough to share, comment, and like—focus on that. Set goals to increase your monthly post engagement, and you’ll be on the track to real success.

Kyle Brogdon

Kyle is an experienced marketing and communications strategist; having developed and managed social strategy at an Atlanta-area hospital, a state university, and several churches and ministry organizations. He is the senior integrated digital marketing strategist at LifeWay.