Those of you who know me (or have read this blog before) know that I can get a bit uppity about certain behavior I’ve seen on Facebook. Incessant selfies, pictures of your food, vaguebooking – all of these can send me into a deep dark spiral of questions about why I’m friends with these people who have never-ending obsessions with soup and cryptic messages. I trudge along on Facebook through this mud pit of dismal mindless updates for the few shining stars that emerge from people I care about or people who are far more clever than me. And let me tell you, folks, they are a depressing fraction of the people on Facebook.
But I digress.
As I was saying, I’ve been known to feel strongly about certain behaviors on Facebook, but I was always pretty indifferent to the platform itself. Having been on it for years, it’s lost any shine it might have once had in its early years. Working as a social media strategist certainly hasn’t helped matters either. When you’re forced to operate on a platform that never sleeps day in and day out, it can get pretty exhausting. For that reason, I often viewed Facebook as a tired necessity. Something I couldn’t get rid of but something I also didn’t really need. Sure, I knew its importance for the brands I managed as well as on a personal level for keeping in contact with those whom I might otherwise have lost touch with over the years, but other than that, eh.
And then several weeks ago that all changed.
Recently, Facebook changed their algorithm for showing how much brand content you’ll see on your NewsFeed. On the surface, this might seem like it’s part of a grand plan for the platform to get back to its roots and stop annoying its users with unsolicited advertisements. They made a big show of sending out surveys to help make your ad experience better. Perhaps since then you have, in fact, seen less ads in your Feed. But Facebook hasn’t actually implemented a plan to weed out ineffective and annoying paid advertisements out of your daily scroll through our friends’ lives. In fact, they’re forcing MORE brands to put money behind their content in order for it to be seen.
See, in the Facebook world, there’s something called “organic reach”. This means how many people are seeing your post without putting any sort of media behind it. This sort of reach is what made Facebook so wonderful for brands for a long time. As long as a brand had fans, it was guaranteed that on average 16% of those fans would see the brand’s content. For smaller brands, that percentage tended to be higher and served as an excellent form of free advertising for these small companies who, often times, don’t have a lot of excess money hanging around for marketing and advertising. And here’s the great thing about organic reach, unless you liked a brand’s page, it was very unlikely you were ever going to see anything from that brand unless, say, your friend shared a post from that page.
In contrast to organic reach, there’s also “paid reach”. I’m sure at this point you can surmise that paid reach is the resulting number of people who saw a brand’s post due to that brand paying Facebook to get the post into people’s NewsFeeds, regardless of whether they liked the page or not. This is the kind of advertising that most people I know took the most issue with.
So perhaps, you’d think, Facebook would cut down on the amount of paid ads you’re seeing in your feed because, let’s face it, they really can be quite annoying.
Nope. That’s not what Facebook’s done.
What Facebook HAS done is they’ve made it virtually impossible for you to see a brand you’ve already chosen to follow’s posts in your NewsFeed. That’s right, they’ve slashed how much organic reach brands can get on Facebook. This means that Facebook has essentially made it impossible for small businesses and start-ups to build a worthwhile presence on the platform without paying to play. Ironic, for a company with a founder who thumbed his nose at allowing any sort of advertisements on the platform for so long.
And I get it. Facebook is trying to make money. But they’re trying to do so under the auspices of making the experience better for the user, when in fact, they’re quite intentionally doing it to grab as many dollars as they can before they go the way of other poorly-guided platforms, like Friendster and MySpace. Recent studies show that teenagers and young adults are fleeing Facebook because they hate what baggage the platform brings with it. You know what else teenagers and young adults notoriously hate? Being blatantly exploited by corporations. Wow, what a coincidence.
Facebook is slowly eliminating not only your ability to control what you do or do not see (you’ll never be able to get away from ads on Facebook, so just accept that they come with the platform), but also a small brand’s ability to grow. They have become the big bad corporation. They are the evil empire. And the only way that they will be able to recover their reputation – and, quite frankly, their platform – is to start making it easier again for small brands and businesses to grow on the platform and tone it down on the pay to play operation.
Or else, like the way of the teenagers, those exciting new businesses will find another platform to prosper on. And then you have to wonder, will Facebook have lost its last chance at staying relevant?