SUMMARY: Within the last day or two, Facebook has removed the statistics previously reported to Page Admins showing the percentage of Page fans who see their posts. Also, Facebook also made two other changes which reveal that until quite recently, Facebook has been both under-reporting and over-reporting the number of people who “see” Facebook Page posts.
DETAILS: About three weeks ago I wrote an article on this site called “The New Facebook: Fact, Fiction, and Unanswered Questions”. Wouldn’t you know it — that article has become one of the most-read posts we’ve ever published at NO CLEAN SINGING, despite the fact that we’re a blog devoted almost entirely to extreme metal. Go figure.
The focus of the article was on Facebook’s new “Promoted Posts” feature, which allows administrators of FB Pages to pay Facebook for the privilege of getting their Page posts in front of more of the people who like the Page. That new policy focused attention on something that had been true for a long time but was unknown to many FB Page admins, i.e., that only a small percentage of our fans are actually seeing what we post on Facebook — and that this happens in large part because Facebook is deciding who ought to see what posts.
That fact became painfully evident because of a new “Page Insights” feature that Facebook rolled out in late May, timed to coincide with the Promoted Posts service. This Page Insights feature included lots of bells and whistles, but the simplest one was a line at the bottom of each Page post that was visible to the Page administrator (in the case of NCS, that would be me), but not to fans of the Page or anyone else who sees a Page post. It showed two statistics: (1) the number of unique people who saw the post — which Facebook calls “people reached”, and (2) the percentage of people who like your Page who saw the post.
It’s that second statistic which made it so obvious to Page admins that their posts were reaching only a small minority of the people who liked their page. It was like an ever-present reminder that if you wanted more people to see your Page posts, you would need to pay FB — and if you did knuckle under and pay, it would also show you how much bang you were getting for your buck in the form of a higher percentage of people reached.
All of this led to a massive bitch fest directed against Facebook. Well, guess what? All that bitching had an effect! Yes, Facebook responded to the barrage of criticism: In the last day or two they removed the statistic that tells Page admins what percentage of their fans see Page posts. But that’s not all . . .
Facebook made two other changes on July 2, 2012. First, in calculating how many people “see” a FB post, Facebook began counting people reached by Page posts through mobile devices, in addition to desktop computers. It turns out that before implementing this change, Facebook wasn’t counting people reached through their mobile devices in reporting statistics on people reached. Based on the previous research I did, and as noted by others, that wasn’t exactly clear.
What this means is that more people were seeing Page posts than Facebook was actually reporting — because FB wasn’t reporting people reached through their mobile devices. Now, it appears, the reported count of people reached will be more in line with reality.
But Facebook made a second change that sort of counteracts the first one. To appreciate that change, you need to understand how Facebook defines “people reached”. I found this updated statement in the Facebook Help Center:
“Reach is the number of people who have seen your post. Figures are for the first 28 days after a post’s publication and include people viewing your post on both desktop and mobile. Your post counts as having reached someone when it is loaded and shown in news feed. Note that data from before July 2, 2012 only includes people viewing your post on desktop.”
Now, with that in mind, take a look at this “update” I saw today in poking around the “reach” statistics available to me as a Page admin:
“Updates to How Your Post Reach is Calculated
There are a few updates that may impact what you see in your insights: Information about your reach will now include mobile data along with desktop data. To improve speed, we’re changing the way posts load in news feed. This means we’ll count views of your posts when they’re higher up in news feed.”
Focusing on the language I’ve highlighted, the first question I asked myself was, “What the fuck does that mean?” Seriously, would it have been possible to write this less clearly?
Fortunately, I found a somewhat better description at the Inside Facebook web site:
“Facebook made another change this week that will affect reach total. To improve the efficiency of News Feed, Facebook will load fewer stories at a time. When a user scrolls down the feed, more stories will load. Because reach and impressions are counted upon load, the metric previously included impressions that users might not have actually seen. Now insights should more accurately reflect what users have viewed, though it should not affect how many fans will see a page’s post in their feed.”
So what that means is that, before this change, Facebook was over-reporting the number of people who “saw” Page posts. It was counting a person as “reached” even if the person might not have scrolled down far enough in their news feed to actually see the post after it was loaded into the feed.
But the Inside Facebook explanation still leaves this question unanswered: What did Facebook mean when it said “we’ll count views of your posts when they’re higher up in news feed”? The implication is that Facebook won’t count posts in the “people reached” statistics that are lower down in the news feed.
Here’s what that statement may mean: Because Facebook is now loading fewer posts into a user’s news feed when a user accesses the feed, a post will need to appear high up in the feed to be seen. Who determines which posts will appear higher up in the news feed? Facebook does — and they make that determination through the algorithms discussed in that first article I wrote. And of course, they’re going to be giving added weight to posts that have been “promoted”, i.e., paid for.
On the other hand, the Inside Facebook article reports that if a user scrolls down in the news feed, then Facebook will load additional posts for viewing, and will count them in the reach statistics when that happens. But again, that’s not clear from the statement by Facebook that I quoted above.
So what is the effect of all these changes? It doesn’t appear that any of these changes will actually affect who sees which FB Page posts and how many people see them. Instead, these changes will affect reporting, i.e., what Facebook tells us about how many people see our Page posts. And it’s really impossible to tell whether the new statistics are going to show reach numbers that are higher, lower, or about the same as what we saw before.
At this point, I would like to fall back on something I wrote in the earlier article, just because when talking about what Facebook has done or is doing, finding something that’s certain is . . . comforting: The rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, and everyone will die.
Thank you and good night.