Maybe this is old news to people better informed than I am, but I just discovered some very disturbing developments at Facebook. What I found is ironic. Last weekend, I used screen shots of Facebook posts by metal bands as a snapshot of the kinds of difficulties that underground bands face in attempting to continue creating music and performing. Now, it turns out that Facebook is restricting the ability of metal bands — and labels and blogs like ours — to market themselves and stay in touch with their fans through Facebook.
How long has this been going on? I haven’t yet found the answer to that question. But one thing is quite clear: When a band or a label or a blog like ours adds a post on Facebook, most of our fans who have “liked” us do not receive those posts. Here’s what I know:
NCS has a Facebook page. I add a Facebook post every time we add a post on this site, as one way of telling people we’ve done something new and ridiculous on this site (or new and awesome, in the case of posts created by the other writers). At this writing, we have 1,476 Facebook “likes” — a number that’s pitifully inadequate considering the amazing quality of our content, but still better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
As the “Admin” of our Facebook page, I started noticing recently a set of statistics at the bottom of each one of our FB posts showing the number of “people reached” by each of those posts, and the percentage of all the people who “like” our page who saw the post. Since then, I’ve been looking at those stats, and the percentage has never been as high as 50%, and it’s usually less than a third of all the people who have “liked” us.
I assumed that when I added a post, it would show up in the news stream for every person on FB who had “liked” our page. When I saw those “people reached” statistics, I assumed that FB had implemented some kind of algorithm to calculate how many of those people had logged in to FB and perused their news stream. WRONG.
It turns out that FB only shares our posts — and the posts of bands, labels, and anyone else who has created a Page — only with a subset of the people who like us. It usually turns out to be a minority of the people who like us. I’m not clear on how FB determines which people who like us will see our posts in their news stream. This article says that it’s limited to “fans who repeatedly return to your page, post on your page, comment on your page, or otherwise engage on your page.”
I’m not sure that’s right. I haven’t done exhaustive research, but I haven’t yet found anything authoritative that says how FB determines which users will see which posts. If you know, I’d love to get educated about that. But what is absolutely clear is that not everyone who “likes” the page of a band or a label or a blog or any other Page is going to have an opportunity to see the posts of what they have “liked” show up automatically in their individual news streams. And most people probably have no idea that what they do see is the result of some kind of filtering process by Facebook.
Now, you can probably guess where this is headed: Recently — and at about the same time as I started seeing those “people reached” statistics — FB began offering me the opportunity to “Promote” my FB posts. What that means is that I can PAY MONEY TO FB on a post-by-post basis, and then all of the people who “like” NCS will see that post. And otherwise, THEY WON’T. Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth:
“If you’re a Page admin, you can promote recent posts directly from your Page timeline by going to the bottom of any post that’s been created within the past 3 days, and clicking on the “Promote” button.
“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 for up to 3 days from when the post was first created.
“All promoted posts will show in the news feeds of the people who like your Page and, when they interact with the post, to their friends. These posts will be labeled as “Sponsored” in the news feed. Promoted posts will not be shown in the right-hand column of Facebook.
“A lot of activity happens on Facebook and most people only see some of it in their news feeds. They may miss things when they’re not on Facebook, or they may have a lot of friends and Pages, which results in too much activity to show all of it in their news feed.
“If you don’t promote your post, many of the people connected to your Page may still see it. However, by promoting a post, you’re increasing its potential reach so an even larger percentage of your Page audience and the friends of those interacting with your post will see it.
“Your promoted posts will be seen by a larger percentage of the people who like your Page than would normally see it. It will also be seen by a larger percentage of the friends of people who interact with your post.”
Promoting a FB post isn’t free. If you have a FB page and you want all the people who like the page to see your FB posts, you have to pay for it, on a post-by-post basis — and the amount appears to be scaled in a way that depends on how many people like your FB page.
So let’s take NCS for example. I went back to an FB post I added yesterday morning about the post on this site featuring the new play-through video by Chris Ojeda of Byzantine (a post that Byzantine themselves shared through their own FB page). Facebook tells me as the Admin for the NCS FB page that my FB post reached 329 FB users, representing 21% of the people who like the NCS page on Facebook. In other words, FB chose to include my post in the news streams of 329 — and only 329 — of the 1476 people who now like NCS. The other 1147 people didn’t find out about it through FB, even if they were logged in and reading their news streams.
But FB still gives me the chance to “promote” that post so it will show up in the news streams of everyone who likes us, for a total of 3 days from the date on which the post appeared, at a cost of $5. If I pay $10, FB estimates that the post would reach 3,000 people. I’m not clear on how they would get the post in front of people who haven’t liked the NCS FB page, but they’re clearly talking about the FB friends of people who like our FB page.
So, what are the odds that I’m going to pay $5 to “promote” that FB post about Byzantine? I’ll tell you the odds: Zero.
Why are the odds zero? Because — by choice — I don’t make one red cent from running NCS, and neither do any of the other people who write for this site. And when I say we don’t make any money from this, I’m not talking about making a profit. What I mean is that we get no revenue of any kind from doing this.
You can call it a labor of love or you can call it ego gratification, depending on how cynical you are, but the fact is that this is a hobby — it’s an obsessive hobby, but it’s still not a business by any definition of the word. And although I will continue to take money from what I earn in my day job to pay the costs of our web host and to do other things here that require bills to be paid, I’m not going to pay FB to make sure all of our fans see our FB posts.
I’ll just have to hope that people who are interested in NCS will continue registering for our RSS feed or remembering to drop by the site every day or two and see what’s going on — which I know is already happening, just based on a comparison of Google Analytics stats about visits to our site from all sources and the stats I get from FB about people who see our FB posts.
So that brings me to metal bands and labels and other blogs. I have “liked” hundreds of bands on FB, as well as many labels, PR outfits, and other blogs, and I’ve done that so I can keep up with what they’re doing and find new music and news that I’d like to share on this site. But now I’ve learned that I’m really not seeing everything they’re posting about, because FB isn’t going to share their posts with more than a fraction of their FB fans unless they pay for it.
Maybe some of the labels and some of the bands will make that payment for specific posts that are trying to drive the sale of merch or music. But they’ll obviously be very choosy about what they decide to “promote” — and most bands won’t be able to afford to “promote” anything. And that means they’ll just have to accept the fact that using FB as a way of staying in touch with their fans is a glass that’s more than half empty. Which sucks.
So, for how long has FB been restricting posts on FB pages to a minor fraction of all the people who like those pages? I’m not clear about this. Here’s what FB says: “Nothing has changed about how your posts are shared with the people who like your Page.”
Taken at face value, that means FB was limiting how many people could see your FB posts for some amount of time before they recently introduced this pay-to-promote feature. For how long have they been doing this? And was there some way to learn that they were doing this? I don’t have answers to either of those questions yet. If you know, I’d love to find out.
Maybe it’s the case that FB has been restricting the sharing of FB posts for a long time, in which case I guess those of us who rely on FB to stay in touch with fans are no worse off now than we were before. But I have to say I’m suspicious about the timing of this “promote” feature, and FB has certainly been less than transparent in the way they’ve explained it, which makes me even more suspicious.
Facebook went public on May 18, which means that it made a public offering of stock, and its stock is now trading on the NASDAQ stock exchange. That public offering was the largest ever by a technology company — the total stock sale raised $16 billion for the company’s owners, at an initial offering price of $38 per share. Since then, the trading price of the stock has declined by 32 percent, closing yesterday at a price of $25.87, which means that the company has lost more than $33 billion in market value in 18 days (I got these numbers from this source).
I assume this “pay to promote” idea was in the works long before FB’s market collapse, but we might as well get used to the fact that we’re going to be seeing a lot more ideas like this one as FB tries to squeeze revenue out of the community of 900 million users it has built over time. Like every other publicly traded company, FB will now be subjected to constant pressure from institutional investors, investment banks, brokerage houses, and individual schmucks who own their shares to generate ever-increasing profits, and FB will respond to that pressure by doing things that will piss off its users. Count on it.
It’s too bad. And it’s really too bad for metalheads, because what was once a prime, cost-free vehicle for starving metal bands and underground labels to promote themselves and interact with fans is now morphing before our eyes into something else.
By the way, that article I linked to above suggests that there may be a way for FB users to fix things so that they get all of the posts that appear on the Pages they like. I’ve seen a number of metal bands over the last 24 hours trying to get their fans to use this fix. I strongly suspect the fix isn’t going to work — even the author of that article says it may not work. And even if it works today, you can be sure FB will eventually prevent it from working, because any fix would undermine the incentive of Page operators to pay for promotion.
UPDATE: I just paid to promote this post on FB. I’ll let you know what happens.