Last month Facebook once again changed the way it ranked content in the News Feed, leading to – in some cases – a spectacular drop off rate in the number of people reading Page content. In one study, drop off was seen as high as 85%, averaging 45% across 700 Pages.
(For an introduction to Facebook’s ranking process, read “Spring Clean Your Facebook Home – Getting to grips with News Feed & Edgerank”)
Facebook readily admits that the changes will have a detrimental affect on Pages, noting in a recent post that “because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.”
Last week, they added more fuel to the fire: “Page admins can expect a decrease in the distribution of their text status updates, but they may see some increases in engagement and distribution for other story types”.
Veratisium’s viral video titled the ‘Problem With Facebook’ has amassed nearly 750,000 views in the last week, wherein curator Derek Muller is clearly irked by the fact that he has a following 118,000 fans, but on average only 9,000 sees his Facebook posts. He does also note that there are 4.75 billion updates of one type or another posted on the network per day, or as Facebook puts more succinctly, at any time “when someone visits News Feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible stories we can show”. Clearly, something has got to give.
Slate argues that “Muller’s problem is that many of his posts probably aren’t interesting enough to deserve a wider audience” – and whilst this is perhaps a little harsh, it does point to the inherent problem with the Facebook ranking system. The social network counters all criticism with the general message “be more interesting”, alluding to the fact that more interesting posts naturally gain more traction, and hence more reach. However, with 1,500 possible options at any given second, their ability to rank “interestingness” will always be rudimentary at best, and a total failure at worst.
The salt being rubbed in the wound is the suspicion that the algorithm change is an attempt on Facebook’s part to force Pages to pay for more reach. They note that “as the dynamic nature of News Feed continues to follow people’s patterns of sharing, Page owners should continue using the most effective strategy to reach the right people: a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well.”
As noted some time ago by the NY Observer, “This is a clear conflict of interest. The worse the platform performs [for a Page], the more advertisers need to use Sponsored Stories. In a way, it means that Facebook is broken, on purpose, in order to extract more money from users.”
There have of course been outcries from many quarters that the “free ride” is over – and the upshot is that we need to work harder and pay more to reach our fans. My response to that is, wasn’t that always the case? Promotion and marketing isn’t, and has generally never been, a “free ride” – those that work harder, be more interesting, be more human, be of more value and, yes, pay more money, will be the ones that cut through. This is not something that is exclusive to Facebook, this is the way of the world.
The change here however is that what was once seen as being easy and free, is now much harder and much more expensive. Facebook is a business, and its continued existence relies on longer and more frequent visitations (which rely on interesting content) and increased revenue (which relies on increased advertising).
Where Facebook’s whole premise unravels is that “being interesting” is seemingly no longer enough; only the combination of interesting content plus cash is going to reach the majority of people who follow you. This leads of course to a new Facebook economy where organisations or individuals without advertising budgets will suffer, no matter how interesting their content may be. Conversely, content of only moderate interest but with a higher advertising spend will stand a greater chance of being seen.
For many not-for-profits, small businesses and individuals, this is something of a disaster scenario – at least as far as their social media strategy is concerned. However, if an increasingly lower number of people are finding your interesting content on Facebook, and you have no budget to pay to resolve that, then maybe it’s time to go elsewhere? Maybe it’s time to ramp up your efforts to expand your e-mailing list; maybe it’s time to be more pro-active on Twitter and Instagram; maybe it’s time to develop a content marketing plan that speakers to bloggers and their readers in your target audience?
For a number of years, in my public presentations and workshops, I’ve joked that the slides once included many references to MySpace, whose time in the sun has come and gone; and perhaps one day “I’ll be standing here saying the same thing about Facebook”. That day hasn’t arrived yet just, but I get the sense that we’ll soon be hearing the sound of hundreds of thousands of exit strategies being hastily conceived.
On a totally non-related subject, did you know I had a mailing list?
Image: Facebook & after, Retrofuturs via Flickr