Is Facebook stopping your fans from seeing your posts unless you pay?

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November 1, 2012 by dannybishopcreative

Is Facebook stopping your fans from seeing your posts unless you pay? It’s the billion dollar question right now.

There is no doubt Facebook’s introduction of a method to “promote” a post has caused a huge amount of concern. The biggest worry is that Facebook are ‘burying’ posts that haven’t had paid promotion.

Facebook themselves haven’t made any big statements about the concerns raised by many on social media. Here’s an excerpt from their own site about what the “promote” button does…

When you promote a post, it will be shown in the news feeds of more of the people who like your Page than you would reach normally. Friends of the people who have interacted with your post will also be more likely to see the story in their news feeds.

No doubt that explanation gives brands cause for concern, specifically the phrase “…shown in the news feeds of more of the people you like your page…”

Brands are screaming that Facebook is holding them to ransom, that they are blackmailing them into paying to reach their fans.

Are they?

No Facebook Likes for you!

Soup Nazi Mark Zuckerberg

The answer is yes, and no.  Let’s start with the no.

When the average user opens up Facebook they see a timeline of updates from friends and pages they’ve connected with.  You may have noticed that this timeline isn’t a true representation of time. You may have an update from 2 hours ago that appears between two posts from the past 10 minutes. Facebook display your timeline sorted by “Top Stories” as standard. That means that Facebook decides what appears in your timeline, based on a few factors including their engagement measurement metric, EdgeRank.

EdgeRank has been around for a lot longer than the promote button. As has the way Facebook automatically defaults to viewing Top Stories rather than just the most recent updates.

Why? The assumption from those who understand these things is that Facebook use the “Top Stories” method of displaying your timeline in order to reduce calls to their database. With 1 billion registered user accounts, the stress on their infrastructure must be massive. A couple of tricks to cache regularly viewed updates would make a huge difference to the amount of database queries each person makes.

The downside? It means that not every post can be seen. Facebook has to choose which updates you seen, and which you don’t.

Which leads us to the “Yes”.

Some brands are aware of the situation, but up until now haven’t been able to combat it.  Some brands noticed their engagement dropping last year. Others saw drops that seemed to coincide with the roll out of the promote button.  The brands I’m directly involved with haven’t seen any significant correlation between the release of the promote button and their fan engagement.

But still, the promote button exists to artificially alter the EdgeRank of a post, and by doing so make it more likely for the post to appear in a fan’s Top Stories timeline. Promoting a post effectively means it’s more likely to be cached by Facebook’s system designed to lower the strain on their servers.

If you dig a little deeper in Facebook’s help section they say the following:

Posting works the same way it did before. When you share a post it gets delivered to the audience you specify.
If someone you shared with didn’t notice your post it’s likely because they:

  • Didn’t check Facebook the day you posted
  • Didn’t scroll down to where your post appeared in their news feed
  • Applied their news feed controls

Promoting a post simply bumps it higher than it would otherwise appear in your audience’s news feeds.

Facebook admit that they’ll bump your post up the feed of your fans, if you pay. But they state that “Posting works the same way it did before’.

The big issue here is what level of access Facebook are providing for brands for free. In my experience, they don’t appear to have changed this recently. But neither do they promise anywhere that 100% of your fans will see 100% of your posts. And how could they? If you follow a dozen brands and don’t log in for a few days you’ll need to scroll through pages and pages of updates to see everything that’s been posted during your time away.

So the simple answer: Yes, Facebook are charging brands money to reach their fans. But the thing that they’re allowing brands to do is ‘game’ the system and use money to force their way to the top of the pile.

Is that wrong? I think so. But the reason isn’t because businesses are suffering. Facebook’s been a relatively cheap method of marketing for a long time, and having an expense to it might cause a few businesses to finally realise that they need to make money from their social media efforts. No, the reason I think it’s a worry is that it gives power to the big brands you’ve liked on Facebook to monopolise your feed, even when what they’ve posted is deemed crappy by their own fans. Up until now EdgeRank ensured posts that didn’t get much positive feedback were quickly buried. The cash to promote feature means they can push whatever they like down your throat. And in the end, the user is the loser in that scenario.

Brands are talking about leaving Facebook over this. With 1 billion users that’s not going to become a trend anytime soon. But if people stop visiting Facebook because brands are abusing this new feature, those numbers might drop, and then Facebook becomes the real loser in their drive to find revenue to support the IPO.

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