December 21, 2011

Is Facebook Screwing over Business Advertisers?

We are all too familiar with the constant and often frustrating changes that Facebook makes to their format and their policies. You login one day and suddenly everything has changed; there was no warning, often times there was no explanation. You begin the time-consuming task of relearning the new structure, often only with the help of friendly posts sent around by friends who are a step ahead of you in the learning curve. And often times you’ll see rumors going around: rumors about Facebook policy changes that may or may not be true.

One such rumor began circling just prior to November 1st. The rumor was directed at Business Page administrators. The rumor stated that if fans of your business page had not interacted with your page in the previous week (I believe this timeframe was a guess), that that fan would cease from getting your feeds in the future. Of course many page owners were angered and panicked by this suggestion; would we still be able to reach our fans, would our advertising dollars have been flushed straight down the toilet?

As someone who likes to do my research and learn the actual facts, I began searching through the Facebook forums trying to either corroborate or debunk this rumor. Now anyone who has ever attempted the arduous task of navigating around the Facebook help forums, knows that this is a daunting proposition. At best it is searching for a needle in a haystack. At worst, you find absolutely no answers, and of course there is no way to contact a “person” at Facebook. Facebook’s customer support (that’s a joke!) is simply put, a big black hole.

After hours of searching around the forums, and of course having no luck, I took to the trusted Google search. I could find nothing. Since that time, I have attempted to do my own analysis to find out what is really going on with Facebook page stats. I began asking my friends and my fans and low and behold, I discovered that the rumor did in fact appear to be true. Friends began telling me that they had not been receiving my fan page feeds in weeks now, in some cases over a month. I began surveying other business page owners and it was the same story everywhere. Everyone was scrambling trying to figure out how they could reach those fans that had suddenly fallen into the same black hole. There was no way.

As a business page administrator, there is no way to “send a message” to all of your fans at once. We used to have this ability. It was taken away. Then we could simply reach our fans by posting a status update. But now it seems that that is only reaching fans who have interacted with our page in some undetermined, “secret” amount of time, an algorithm that seems to be undisclosed and well-guarded by Facebook.

Business owners everywhere are extremely angered and frustrated by this change to our Business Pages. But in my view there is an even bigger injustice taking place here: many of these same business owners have paid hundreds, even thousands of dollars on targeted Facebook advertising. I have raved to my peers about how valuable Facebook advertising is; rather than posting a generic billboard on a freeway, where you have no idea who you are targeting, Facebook gives you the ability to target exactly the demographic you seek to attract, those people who share the same interests that you are promoting. As far as internet advertising goes, it was brilliant. I was definitely on board. And it worked. As a result of a targeted Facebook advertising campaign, as well as my own viral marketing efforts, I have managed to gain over 25,000 fans in only six months. And I was very happy about this. That is until I stopped being able to reach those fans.

Now if I look at my Facebook Insights, at best only about 10% of my fans are receiving my feeds. Now I fully recognize that this is partly impacted by who is logging in when, how far down in one’s feed your update falls, and whether or not they are actually seeing it. I get that, and that is not what I’m talking about. I also get that fans have the right to opt out of your feeds, and that internet norms requires fans to have that option. I understand that fact as well, and am also not referring to those people. I have now surveyed dozens of friends and fans, all of whom have verified to me that they did not block my feeds, as well as dozens of business page administrators and the answers are all the same: even when scrolling back through days and days of old feeds, many of our fans are no longer receiving our updates at all.

I tested this theory by having those same fans (who are no longer receiving my updates) go back to my page and interact with it in some way: either by liking or commenting on an update. My theory was that once they interacted with the page again, they would resume getting my updates. This proved to be true. But now the question is, for how long will they continue to receive my updates? I’m sure that this same undisclosed algorithm of Facebook will still be in effect; I’m guessing that if these same fans do not interact with my page within some set amount of time, they will again cease to receive my updates.

Business owners are angry. Advertisers are even more angry, and rightfully so. It certainly does not seem right or ethical business practice that business owners and those of us who have spent substantial amounts of money on advertising, should not be able to access those same fans who still wish to be receiving our updates. I am calling on Facebook to address this issue immediately.

UPDATE- December 22, 2011

Today I received this information from a writer at TechCrunch, shedding some light on the Facebook algorithm:

“Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to determine what you see in the news feed out of all the updates from your friends and Pages you Like. Your closest friends and the Pages you interact with most get shown more prominently. However, a Page’s update’s EdgeRank is heavily influenced by the quantity of Likes and comments it receives.

If one of your updates gets a very high percentage of users who see it Liking or commenting on it, it will be more likely to appear to the rest of your fans — even if they haven’t interacted with your Page recently. There is no “expiration date” or “time limit” within which users must have interacted with your Page to see your updates, though their interaction with your Page does influence how likely they are to see your updates.”

So what this means to me is that my assumption is correct that Facebook is controlling who gets what business page updates, and Facebook is making this choice for us, the users.  This writer states there is no “expiration date” or “time limit” as my experiments suggested, however he does state of users that “their interaction with your Page does influence how likely they are to see your updates.” So this basically confirms exactly what I wrote above: that if a user is not interacting regularly with your page, they are more likely to stop receiving your feeds. As I mentioned previously, I ran this experiment with dozens of fans and fan pages and the result was the same in all cases. Those fans who had not interacted regularly did confirm for me that they were no longer receiving my feeds. And once I had them go back to my page and interact with it anew, they immediately began receiving my feeds again. So my conclusions are still the same:

1. Facebook is making choices for users and even if a user has not “unliked” a page or opted out of its feed, they may still stop receiving that page’s feeds. Users have “liked” a page because they chose to be there. They should not be having this choice made for them.

2. Many users simply like to read posts, to keep up to date about what a business is doing. They do not necessarily want or need to be interacting with posts, liking or commenting. This does not mean that they do not still wish to receive these feeds. Again, I would argue that because the users do have the tools to make this choice if they so choose, Facebook should not be forcing this choice on users.

3. Advertisers are the reason that Facebook still exists as a business. I am one of I’m sure thousands (if not millions) of advertisers who I’m sure all told have paid millions, if not billions of dollars in advertising. We did not pay to acquire fans only to not be able to reach them. Seriously. Think about this. Why would any advertiser spend money on an ad, if they knew they would have no way at all of reaching those fans later? They wouldn’t. We understand as advertisers that we run the risk of users choosing to opt out of our feeds or unlike our page. That is the risk we take as advertisers, and I accept that. But it is not inherent in that risk that Facebook should STOP displaying our feeds to our fans who are still choosing to be there. Even worse many of us had paid for advertising long before these new changes (EdgeRank) were made. I do not think it is right that suddenly I am no longer able to reach fans that I had been reaching for months. I strongly believe that Facebook needs to be held accountable to their paying advertisers. To prevent business pages and advertisers from being able to access their fans is very poor business practice and I believe unethical, at best.

Again, I am calling on Facebook to please address this issue and to answer these questions: Of what benefit is it to Facebook to prevent business pages and advertisers from reaching fans that have chosen to be there? Why does Facebook want to undermine and anger the very business owners who are keeping them in business?

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