Sorry Richard Metzger, but you’re WAY off re: Facebook

Yesterday a post from Richard Metzger over on his excellent Dangerous Minds website started going viral. Entitled “FACEBOOK: I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK”, it ranted about a much-covered topic, namely Facebook charging to promote posts and ensure that they are seen in news feeds. Rather than repeat the article here, I’d recommend that you take a moment to read it before returning here.

To me, this post is way, WAY off in quite a few ways. Firstly, I just don’t get the expectation that every post would be seen by every fan, every time. As lovely a principle as that is on paper, the reality is that any social network, as it scales, just won’t be able to manage that. If it did, your news feed would be in meltdown. Secondly, presuming that every post deserves to be seen is misunderstanding how social works. Every post is not a knockout; some are incredibly viral, others are, not to put too fine a point on it, dull. Hence, taking a selective approach to what is seen is actually more refined; it is reflecting the way we interact in real life.

Secondly, what’s not identified in Metzger’s piece is that when posts pick up interaction, they go more viral. So, on a post-by-post basis, Facebook is looking at how people are responding and acting accordingly. If the post is getting a load of Likes, that post shows up in more News Feeds. I’ve seen bands with near-zero engagement levels leap from nothing to thousands engaging because their big announcement has gone viral – and that is without promoting the post. Why? Because so many people are engaging with that post (often the “we have a new album coming”-type ones) that Facebook effectively concludes “this is clearly interesting content from this page – I will ensure more fans see it”.

Let’s be clear: Facebook did not suddenly start holding your posts to ransom. They didn’t flick a switch overnight and cripple the exposure levels of your content. It was ALWAYS that way. Edgerank – the algorithm that decides what content is shown in the News Feed – has been in operation for years now. The introduction of Promoted Posts was, if anything, a good thing, because it gave Page admins an override switch; a means to pay and ensure their message was shown to plenty of people. Its not perfect, but its still better than not having it at all.

I think it was probably more than a year ago now that I started repeating my mantra about Facebook to anyone who’d listen, namely: “Facebook is a place to share experiences. It is not a place to have experiences.” What I’m getting at is that Metzger’s strategy is wrong here from the get-go: he should have been using Like buttons on his website to ensure the Dangerous Minds content was shared back to Facebook via user’s News Feeds, not just repeating the content itself on Facebook. All that does is give people a very excellent reason never to visit your site. Remember: it is Facebook’s playground – you’re just playing in it. You don’t have any rights there: you are the consumer and you use their platform for free (or at least, without paying a subscription). For that reason, if you’re trying to build your empire on their shoulders, you’re already in a vulnerable position.

Relating this to my world (ie music marketing in the main), its not a massive problem. Artists simply channel news through Facebook, and news is transient. We already survived MySpace’s rise and fall, which might be why I’d argue that music marketing people are a little more savvy in this area. However if like Metzger you are a content creator and that content is your livelihood, then you should be thinking very hard about how your site interacts with Facebook. Placing too much reliance on it as a platform to engage people is foolhardy.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. It feels like a race to the bottom now in terms of content, as the visibility is based on its viral response, the end result of which might well be a News Feed festooned with LOLcats. As any social network scales it hits the same barriers of maintaining quality. MySpace fell foul of it because their own architecture didn’t allow them to innovate the site to keep up. That’s why Facebook got in: the design was more robust. Now though as Facebook hits epic usage levels, the same issues will arise and it might well also stumble and fall. However that is a separate issue – one for another post, another day.

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9 thoughts on “Sorry Richard Metzger, but you’re WAY off re: Facebook

  1. Adam says:

    “I just don’t get the expectation that every post would be seen by every fan, every time. As lovely a principle as that is on paper, the reality is that any social network, as it scales, just won’t be able to manage that.”

    Twitter?

  2. Darren says:

    But Twitter doesn’t manage it. Quite the opposite in fact. The fact that it publishes your tweet does not mean that every follower sees it. Hence Twitter lists – and similarly, hence Facebook lists to help you filter content…

  3. Adam says:

    But your tweet does appear in every follower’s timeline, whereas on FB your post is effectively hidden away from the majority of your friends/followers

  4. Darren says:

    Adam – yes it does, and similarly you have a Facebook Page you could visit to view every post from whatever it is you’ve liked. I miss tweets in my timeline on Twitter. I’m not shown posts in my News Feed on Facebook. However in both instances there are means to see all the posts made.

    Mr Jones – you have the option to set Facebook to show you every post from a Page. So again, you are able to see every post if that’s what you decide. However I’d argue that if you were seeing every post from every friend, and every post from anything you’ve Liked, your News Feed would reach critical mass fairly quickly. Of course that’s variable; if you only have 10 friends and have Liked one thing, that wouldn’t be the case. But Facebook has been around a while now and over that period we inevitably gain more friends and add more interests – which then presents the filter problem.

    I think we could debate the merits of auto-filtering vs human filtering for ages, but the main thing is that Facebook has opted to do it automatically. That may not be right, but its been that way for years. To claim visiblity has been reduced overnight and posts effectively held to ransom is just incorrect. As I touch on above, the failing of the whole thing is that what Facebook considers “viral” will rapidly mean a race to the bottom with decent, valuable content getting ignored amid LOLcats and other throwaway items. So, I certainly don’t like aspects of this either – but that doesn’t mean Richard’s argument in his post is correct. Its not.

  5. Adam says:

    “To claim visiblity has been reduced overnight and posts effectively held to ransom is just incorrect.”

    I don’t think Richard Metzger is claiming it’s been overnight Darren – he’s saying that Facebook has altered how posts are displayed in *recent months*, ‘turning down the volume’ for content providers in an effort to up its revenue from promoted posts.

  6. Darren says:

    Personally I think Promoted Posts as a concept are fundamentally flawed, because again they cannot possibly scale. If everyone is paying for promoted posts, then what happens? For one, it would reach a point where Facebook cannot deliver on its remit. There’s already some evidence to suggest that on Promoted Posts, Facebook will show them to the least congested areas among your userbase.

    Again though, I think this is missing the larger point, which is that you must always remain pragmatic about how you use free social networks to promote you band, site, brand or whatever. As I touch on above, the music industry weathered the MySpace fallout, but I think from that it rapidly learned not to over-rely on any social network. Some still do and will pay a price for that longer-term.

    I still think in Richard’s case the error was a strategic one. If fans were socially sharing his content from the Dangerous Minds site back to Facebook, he’d be seeing a strong level of referrals all the same – without, arguably, this issue of visibility around Page posts.

  7. “They didn’t flick a switch overnight and cripple the exposure levels of your content.”

    That’s exactly what they appear to have done, maybe not as abruptly as overnight but certainly over the past few months. Yes the EdgeRank algorithm has always been responsible for the exposure of content in user’s news feeds, however the issue people now have is that this exposure has been penalised for no other reason than to push paid advertising. The statistics are out there to clearly demonstrate it.

  8. Darren says:

    Hi Liam – the context of the quote you’ve pulled was more that Facebook has had EdgeRank deciding what would be shown in feeds (or not) for years now. I’m seeing numerous blog posts where people are claiming as I’ve stated – ie that on one day you could post and 100% of fans would see it, and that overnight that was massively handicapped by Facebook to be about 10%. That was never the case. The comment does not relate to the September tweak to Edgerank, where it would seem people are now claiming there’s been an impact of between 25 and 65% depending on where you look.

    I still maintain that in the music industry its not the end of the world; we only make select announcements and if necessary therefore can pay to ensure we reach all fans. However what all this flags up far more is the need for people to think long and hard about their strategies in reaching fans. Metzger is a case in point, which I outline in paragraph five in the article.

    Another case in point: one of my clients is a new, unsigned band. In their case, I’ve told them that they’d be better off building a mailing list than focussing on Facebook. Why? Because they just don’t post enough to maintain relevance in Edgerank’s eyes anyway. So, even if they did gain fans, they wouldn’t reach many because the infrequent posts would only been see by a small percentage. For that reason then, they’d be better off collecting email addresses and using a Freemium, whitelisted email tool like Mailchimp to reach fans. That way you know mails are getting delivered and every fan will see it. They might not read it, but they will at least see the message is there and have to take action on it. That immediately makes it more effective than Facebook’s model.

  9. […] — Facebook isn’t running an advertising charity“. This took quite a similar stance to my own piece, with a few choice quotes – this being […]

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