What Facebook posts can tell us about a business’ economic recovery

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Facebook says it’s keeping track of how often businesses post on social media as a way to evaluate their progress in rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its Data for Good project has been tracking the volume and frequency of those posts by businesses in seven sectors, then comparing them to the pre-pandemic baseline as a way to measure the recovery in terms of percentage change.

In general, the more often a business posts, the better it’s doing.

SEARCH THE FACEBOOK DATA HERE

“The rate at which small businesses are posting to their Facebook page is actually a really interesting indication of whether or not they’re open or closed, and their overall activity online,” said Laura McGorman, a policy lead for the tech giant’s Data for Good program.

Facebook modeled the project on similar research by a team from a university in the United Kingdom, which measured posts by small businesses after hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

The counts of daily totals of Facebook posts by the administrators of the businesses’ pages is broken down to the county level, and does not take into account transactions, revenue or employment, McGorman said.

What it shows is how some sectors have rebounded much more quickly than others.

“What we find so startling about some of this data is that it shows how uneven the recovery has been across sectors,” McGorman said.

These charts show how the number of posts to Facebook pages for businesses in North Carolina compare to the pre-pandemic baseline and can measure the recovery of those businesses. (Source: Facebook.)

For example, grocery and convenience stores in Wake County consistently have been posting at or above their levels before COVID — which makes sense, because those types of businesses largely were open the whole time.

Conversely, those tied to local events — such as concerts — still aren’t posting nearly as often as they were before March 2020.

“It’s important to remember for economists, for local chambers of commerce and even for local communities to remember that while businesses in general are recovering from the economic effects of the pandemic, that recovery is quite uneven and that has important amplification implications for how we support these businesses across the state,” McGorman said.

The hope, McGorman says, is to provide policy makers and other leaders a tool to help them more precisely target relief programs in the future.

“We hope that local officials, local chambers of commerce can use it as part of their recovery planning,” she said. “The dataset itself is fully available to economic researchers and academics, who want to better understand what solid economic policy might look like, both now and in the future. … We really hope that this is a tool not only for policymakers, but for economists and researchers to help inform effective policy to support these small businesses across the U.S.”