Alert to Writers Using Facebook for Marketing

Facebook is no longer as free and open as you may think.

Did you know that the average post you do on Facebook now reaches only 12%–14% of your friends?

The FB marketing director defended this, saying, “There are pieces of content you create that are interesting, and there’s some that are not.” Per their Oct. 3 announcement: Facebook will now “allow” users to pay $7 to make their posts “more visible” in friends’ News Feeds.

(Later in this post, I’ll note several things you can do to deal with this.)

It’s true. As of October, Facebook is offering you the “opportunity” to “Promote” any given post. What this means: per post . . . you pay $7, and they’ll push that specific post higher in your Friends news feeds.

The dark underbelly: to make this more compelling, they are cutting off, through a magical algorithm called EdgeRank, many of our friends’ posts, so they never appear in our News Feed!

How bad is it now? For instance, a page I run for Crickhollow Books has 452 Likes. But a recent post (announcing a new book just released) was seen by only 7 people. (That’s less than 2%.) The Facebook message says bluntly: “7 people saw this post.”

It should say, “Pay up, dude, if you want to see your Post alive on your Friends news feeds!”

Other pages I work with are seeing similar wretched results, and this is confirmed by other social-media experts and publicists who are interested in how Facebook can help writers and other creatives to connect with fans, friends, and followers.

In my experience, the current spread of a given post ranges from a paltry 2% up to 50% (for a photo posted on a church FB page). The average post I do is seen by about 15% of those who Liked the page. No longer do I see any example of any post that reaches 100% of those who Liked that page, via News Feeds. (Yes, they could choose to go directly to a person’s Timeline page and see that person’s entire posts. But most people still think they’re seeing everything on their News Feed, subject only to older posts dropping farther down & out of sight.)

Check it out yourself. Go to your Facebook News Feed & check the posts at the top. Note the time of posting. When I recently checked my feed, the top 3 posts said “3 minutes ago”, “28 minutes ago”, and “51 minutes ago”. Those aren’t the 3 most recent posts! They were chosen, somehow, by Facebook to share with me; they also put them at the top of my feed. As you go down, you’ll see entries likely aren’t in chronological order. Facebook is ordering them. (Likely, most didn’t pay anything; FB is using “EdgeRank” to calculate how important they think each post is to you, based on your past activity on FB.)

Why is it happening now?

In my opinion (and others), it’s connected to Facebook’s need to make a bigger profit, after their dismal IPO stock offering. But, in typical FB fashion, they’re rolling it out in a way that is confusing, a bit stealthy, and poorly designed for customer friendliness. Most people don’t even know it’s happening.

Here’s the best detailed article I found, on Mashable, about the problems with Facebook’s Promoted Posts (with a few excepts below):
“Facebook is rigged: Why Personal Promoted Posts are Bad for Users,” by Matt Silverman

The average user’s News Feed is not chronological. It is determined by an algorithm called EdgeRank, which selects things that are, theoretically, most relevant to you.

. . . Essentially, the network is [now, more than ever] “hiding” your updates from friends, and then turning around to say, “Hey, if you want friends to see your updates, you could pay us!”

It’s what economists call artificial scarcity. . . . Facebook status updates are [nominally] free for everyone to post and consume. But when EdgeRank makes them scarce for some people [in their visibility] and not for others, it creates an artificial market. . . . Facebook is rigging the game and then asking users to pay to level the playing field.

What you can do?

1. Make EdgeRank (somewhat) go away. Encourage your friends to do the same.

According to that same Mashable article:

[Y]ou can make EdgeRank go away. A tiny text link at the top of your News Feed allows you to sort updates by “Top Stories” or “Most Recent.” If you want to see everything that your Facebook friends and brand pages have posted in chronological order, you always have the option.

Facebook doesn’t call much attention to this wonderful feature because it makes promoted posts less valuable.

UPDATE [from Mashable]: Facebook has informed us that some posts may still be omitted form your News Feed even when sorting by “Most Recent.”

The tiny link you’re looking for is labelled “Sort” – it is just below & to the right of the “What’s on your mind?” box. I just switched mine to “Most Recent” – it mostly (with curious exceptions) now orders posts by chronological order.

2. Use more photos.

I’ve seen reports that certain kinds of posts do much better. One analysis suggested that photos get 6 times more views.

This is born out by my own small data set, from the half-dozenn pages I manage actively.

Links, however, don’t seem to affect the ranking that much.

3. Consider establishing a social-media base elsewhere.

I’ll be looking more at Google+ (their emerging social media network). Also, I’m shifting most of my core writing back to my blog.

If you don’t already, you should question if Facebook is right for you, considering costs, time wasted, privacy concerns, annoying design . . . vs. the benefits we get from that quirky assemblage of goofy, ironic, inspirational, neo-sincere, etc. posts.

4. Decide if you do want to pay $7 to promote an occasional key post.

If I have a driving interest to make sure everyone in my Friends pool (“Likes”) sees a given post, I’ll test & try to measure the benefit of paying $7 to push a post.

For instance, I’ll post & promote a link to this article on Facebook! Sure, I’m happy to shell out $7 for that.

And I’ll pay to tell Friends I’m moving mostly away from Facebook, and how to follow me if they want to stay in touch and read my social-media posts elsewhere.

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5. Wait & hope that Facebook sees this as a hugely negative thing and drops/changes it.

FB has mostly grown with a “Hey, it’s free” mentality. As they start to charge for it . . . over-charge, and under-explain . . . will they succeed?

I’ll end with an evaluation from the Mashable article:

The very notion of the Social Graph, the data brain that makes Facebook so valuable, is absolutely genius and should be leveraged by marketers to make brand messaging more efficient. Facebook is a free service, and we pay the price of privacy to use it.

But to rig the social conversation and then ask people to buy their way back in? That’s a terrible user experience decision, and it will hurt Facebook in the long run. Power users will see the philosophical flaws here, and average users will be miffed that their wedding photos are invisible to old high school chums unless they pony up the cash.

As someone else said, this is a lot like Facebook peeing in their own pool. Most people don’t yet know this is going on. Once they do, will we all still bother to go to Facebook as often?

I will now and then . . . to read random posts, knowing I’m not seeing a lot of what friends are posting.

But will I go as often, or post as much myself? And once this starts to break down . . . I’m no longer as positive about what the Facebook experience offers me, or you.

Social media marketing for writers in a nutshell is sharing what you do, in an appealing way, staying in touch, and enjoying the diverse conversations and news about highs, lows, and yes, the mundane things about daily life we enjoy sharing with others.

It’s only worth doing if the process is clear & the results are worthwhile.

It just doesn’t matter if you have 50 or 500 or 5,000 “Likes” – if you can’t communicate easily with them.

2 comments for “Alert to Writers Using Facebook for Marketing

  1. November 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for posting this. Very interesting. Still not sure what to do about any of it. I believe the majority of people on facebook are more interested in posting than seeing and this strange phenomena or having somewhere to share or post regardless of reception will keep facebook floating as an interesting place to visit but no one I know including myself is going pay for facebook in any way. If you are a business promoting and marketing then I guess you will have to take out ads instead of trying to get free marketing.

    • PhilipMartin
      November 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      MarySusan, I agree that this is mostly just annoying and confusing. I hope Facebook will see the light and keep the main usage free and fair to those who want to use their site as a way to stay in touch, especially with casual friends, in a social-media kind of way. They need to be honest and clear.

      In the meantime, the easiest thing to do is to find your “Sort” button, on your News Feed (just below the “What’s on your mind?” box . . . and change it from the default “Top Posts” to “Most Recent.” Then, you’ll start to see things in order of when your friends actually post something.

      And tell friends to do the same. That will help defeat this attempt by Facebook to decide they are better at showing us what they think we want to see (and pushing more ads on us).

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