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Is Facebook really broken on purpose?

No, this is not a badly timed April fool’s joke… Facebook has “intentionally” broken its platform. Ok, that was a little hyperbolic, but only slightly. Let’s have a closer look at Facebook to see what’s going on.

Here is the thing; since Facebook opened up its promote functionality, things have allegedly not been adding up. In fact, things were not adding up a good few months before that. You see, you would not really have noticed anything being amiss unless you have a considerably large following or generate most of your traffic from Facebook. But slowly but surely the posts that you have been making have not been reaching all of your fans.

So here is the premise of promote; it was launched under the banner that it would allow you to ensure that more of your fans / friends saw your posts as those that were promoted would be kept at the top of their timelines for longer. Thus, allowing your posts to not fall victim to the barrage of updates that a person’s timeline falls prey to on a near constant basis. Facebook also run an algorithm on this feature which allows you to target portions of your fans, followers and friends. In other words, you can guarantee that 50% of your fans see the page or that 25% see it or 100% see your promoted post.

Facebook went so far as to say the following on its Facebook promote help page:

Nothing has changed about how your posts are shared with the people who like your page.

A lot of activity happens on Facebook and most people only see some of it in their news feeds. They may miss things when they’re not on Facebook, or they may have a lot of friends and pages, which results in too much activity to show all of it in their news feed.

If you don’t promote your post, many of the people connected to your page will still see it. However, by promoting a post, you’re increasing its potential reach so an even larger percentage of your page audience and the friends of those interacting with your post will see it.

So what are people moaning about?

See, here’s the thing. Organically you will only ever reach between 15 and 20% of your fans. That’s because of a number of different things that include:

  • Fans who are not really engaged
  • Amount of news passing through a fan’s feed
  • Their Facebook not being on constantly
  • Your posts being muted on their timeline
  • And so on…

What Facebook is saying is that with promote you can now ensure that you are going to reach all of your fans and not just the 20% – but now you are going to have to pay for it.

There are a number of blog posts out there that swear that Facebook has been slowly but surely throttling the number of accounts their posts have been going to in order to ensure that they make some serious cash from promote. Some of those posts are here, here and here.

In one example, Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds does a little mathematics and comes up with the following illustration based on the cost of promoting its posts to its fans and the average frequency of its blog posts:

Dangerous Minds FB promotion

Seeing these numbers I can totally relate to his concerns and I feel the company’s pain. But here is the bottom line. Facebook owns its platform and they has every right to make money from it — in fact since its IPO it has a duty to its shareholders to make money from it. The real question here is whether or not Facebook has taken away any “organic reach” to ensure the success of its promote revenue generation mechanism.

I still personally think that depending on your customer; you need to very carefully think about where Facebook fits in to your overall marketing mix. Do you need to promote your posts to ensure that you reach 100% of your fans? Are the 15 – 20% that will see your post anyway engaged enough to make it worth your while?

Arguably, most importantly — is what you are sharing worth paying money to promote? If anything I think Facebook has done us a favour. It is forcing companies and content promoters us to ensure that their content is worth sharing — that it is useful, interesting and shareworthy.

As consumers and users of Facebook is ridding us of drivel and posts that we find mundane and uninteresting; the ones that our subconscious has already started to ignore and filter out.

Author | Jonathan Houston

Jonathan Houston
Jonathan Houston is passionate about digital marketing and digital strategy. During the day, Jonathan is the Head of Digital Marketing for HKLM. Jonathan's work at HKLM includes strategy conceptualization, focusing on the alignment of digital marketing to business strategy as well as assisting HKLM's clients on fulfilling their digital... More
  • For record I hate this promotional pages popping up on my wall, if I want to like a page I will search it & click Like on it, I don’t need your suggestion

  • jezebel

    You haven’t mentioned that one of the main reasons for the low hit rate of posts is Facebook’s very own algorithm, EdgeRank… kinda key to the whole question, wouldn’t you say?

  • Betty-Anne

    What about the fact that now I am seeing promoted content on my page that I have absolutely no interest in and have never even been to the page of these companies. Why do I now have to be subjected to this new drivel?

  • Brent Coetzee

    Interesting take on this in the end there Jonathan, I think you are right about one thing, content will become a more costly hence more quality commodity. But the end result is that HUGE amounts of their market (smaller SMEs) are going to leave Facebook completely alone, leaving the major brands to battle out the promote popularity. This is sad, and I think the start of the end of Facebook as a business tool.

  • Hey Brent, thanks for the comment. I have to agree – although Facebook has at least put a “minimum like” number of 400 before you are eligible to “promote” your posts. This in itself tells me that Facebook are aware that their product is going to hurt the SME market – and are trying to shelter them to some degree by having this minimum number in place…

  • Alex

    “Arguably, most importantly — is what you are sharing worth paying money to promote? If anything I think Facebook has done us a favour. It is forcing companies and content promoters us to ensure that their content is worth sharing — that it is useful, interesting and share worthy.”

    This is definitely arguable. It isn’t the company that determines wether it is newsworthy but the consumer. Some of the crap I see out there that millions follow and read is unbearable (Ray William Johnson on Youtube for example, utter pointless tripe). If I share a stream of 100% utter bollocks (I don’t but just for example) and people sign up and read it then who’s to tell them what is worth sharing?

  • Pingback: Narrowing it down: how to deal with Facebook’s bullying tactics | memeburn()

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