I’m feeling a bit hammered this morning, because I got more than a bit hammered last night (I have a bad habit of throwing caution to the wind on Friday nights). The silver lining to the cloud in my head is that I’ve found it’s best to write about Facebook when I’m already feeling miserable.
Last month I made myself miserable by exploring recent reports that Facebook had begun tweaking the algorithms they use to determine what users will and won’t see in their Facebook news feeds, reducing the reach of Page posts to 1-2% of the people who have liked those Pages. This appears to be a not-so-subtle effort to incentivize Pages to pay Facebook in order to reach more of the users who follow them.
After I published that rant, a reader named Katy sent me a link to a video, and the video is what prompted this addendum. It makes me want to spit. To be more precise, it makes me want to hawk up something nasty from my lungs and spit that, because garden-variety saliva just doesn’t adequately express my combined feelings of disgust and depression.
The video has been around for about two months, but I hadn’t seen it before. It was made by the people who run a “science video blog” named Veritasium. It’s a widely watched YouTube channel, with about 1.3 million subscribers. I haven’t tried to independently vet the accuracy of this particular video (see above re being hammered), but it’s consistent with other things I’ve read, and the narrator makes a pretty persuasive case.
In a nutshell, he makes these points (among others):
Some Facebook Pages have been paying “click farms”, mainly located in developing countries such as Indonesia, The Philippines, Egypt, and India to “like” their pages. The narrator gives an example of one click farm whose employees will give you 1,000 likes for $70. This is old news, but still disgusting. It’s also counterproductive, because those paid “likers” do not “engage” with what a Page posts, but their presence means that even fewer people who legitimately are interested in a Page will see what the Page posts.
Facebook forbids this practice and has made some efforts to stop it — because Facebook wants Pages to pay Facebook in order to generate likes. This is done by advertising your Page — and it’s clear that running ads on FB will lead to more likes.
But what the video demonstrates is that even when you pay FB to promote your Page, a high percentage of the new likes will still come from people employed by those click farms who will not engage with your Page, and no more than a tiny percentage of the people you really do want to reach are going to see what you post. But Facebook doesn’t have much incentive to remove those likes because it would be admitting that paying Facebook for ads generates phony followers.
And so your only real option — having already paid Facebook to increase your likes through advertising — is to pay them again to promote your posts, in an effort to reach people who genuinely do care about what you’re up to. (“Promote” is the word Facebook used to use for this revenue stream. Now, the option you get as a Page admin to increase the number of people who see your posts from that 1-2% margin is called “Boost Post”.)
The point of all this learning is pretty obvious: If you pay Facebook to advertise, you’re a rube.
You may wonder why I care about this scummy shit. NCS has a Facebook page for which I’m the administrator, but I’ve never once paid to advertise it and never will. (At this writing, we have almost 7,700 FB followers, but we have reached that number through very gradual natural growth over the years since we started the page in December 2009.) The vast majority of bands and labels whose work we cover at NCS don’t pay to advertise either, mainly because they’re broke and/or because it doesn’t seem true to their underground mentality.
I have paid Facebook to promote some specific posts (e.g., when I have wanted to thank people for following us or when I have wanted more than a tiny percentage of our followers to see a new song or video premiere that I’m excited about), but I’ve done that less than a dozen times and I sure don’t intend to make it a regular practice.
So why do I care? Because even though Facebook doesn’t give a shit about blogs like this one or metal bands and labels — because we’re not a meaningful source of revenue for them — all of FB’s business strategies discussed in the video screw our ability to stay in touch with the FB users who genuinely are interested in what we’re doing. And the only thing I know to do about it remains what I suggested at the end of my last rant.
With that long preamble out of the way, here’s the Veritasium video: