This is the latest in a series of increasingly depressing articles we’ve published about Facebook’s manipulation of Page posts in an effort to “monetize” their business. For more detailed background about changes that have come to light earlier this year, go here, here, and here.
The latest development: It strongly appears that in late September 2012, Facebook again changed the complex “EdgeRank” computer algorithm that it uses to decide what appears in its users’ news feeds so as to reduce the reach of so-called “organic” posts, i.e., un-paid posts, while it continues to push Page sponsors to pay Facebook in order to reach readers. If you’re a FB Page admin like me and you’ve noticed a dramatic recent decline in the number of FB users who see your posts, now we know why.
In this article, we’ll summarize the evidence of this change (with all sources listed at the end) and also discuss some ways of circumventing Facebook’s strategy, including one that’s increasingly being suggested around the web — use of Facebook’s “Interest Lists” feature.
This article may prove to be of general interest, but as usual, we’re writing from a narrow perspective: We’re addressing these issues as a non-profit metal blog whose mission is to spread the word about underground music made largely by broke-ass bands, distributed by largely broke-ass labels, and loved by largely broke-ass fans.
We use Facebook for much the same reason that our constituents do — to interact with the community of metal and to publicize what we’re doing. Making money isn’t in our mission statement, and although many metal bands and labels do use Facebook in an effort to generate sales of music, merch, and show tickets, it’s not like they’re raking in the big stacks. Which is why anything Facebook does that pushes metal-oriented Pages to pay for reaching their fans is particularly damaging to our (broke-ass) community.
I can’t pinpoint the exact date when I began to notice a drop-off in the reach of our Page posts (“reach” being defined by FB as the number of people who see our posts), but certainly within the last month I’ve noticed that the number of FB users who see our posts has been averaging closer to 10% of our FB fans than the 25% that seemed to be the average before that. Sometimes the reach is even smaller, and sometimes it’s larger, but the trend has been down significantly.
Over the last two or three weeks, I’ve seen similar observations by other metal bloggers and bands on FB, usually coupled with angry speculation that Facebook has been doing something to fuck with us again, before our bungholes had recovered from the last penetration. So today I finally decided to do some web research in an effort to find out whether the changes were simply coincidental or the result of FB’s conscious efforts.
As you might expect, most of the writing I found came from large advertising agencies and social media consultants, i.e., the people for whom Facebook represents a gargantuan platform for driving customers to spend money on branded goods and services. For them, changes that FB makes in the dissemination of content can have significant economic repercussions. These people also maintain much closer contact with FB than dipshits like yours truly. Here’s what I found:
It looks like the first concrete writing about the change came on September 25 in a blog post by Geoffrey Colon, VP of digital strategy for Social@Ogilvy, a division of the mega ad agency Oglivy & Mather. He disclosed an announcement by FB on September 20 that it had altered the EdgeRank computer algorithm that decides what users will see on their news feeds. As he noted, “The change comes at a time when Facebook is trying to maximize the amount of paid advertising it has on the platform, in an effort to bump its share price after a struggling stock share post-IPO.” Here are a few excerpts from his post:
“Facebook usually tinkers with the algorithm on a weekly basis, but this is the first time the change has been made in an effort to minimize brand page posts being seen by those who have opted in to “liking” that page. While Facebook says this isn’t to penalize brand pages, and that engagement shouldn’t be affected, it does make one wonder if they are experimenting with the algorithm to serve up more sponsored stories in the newsfeed, as users interact with Facebook more on mobile devices.
“The reach for many organic page posts will decrease. The number in this decrease will be anywhere between 5% on the low side to 40% on the high side. Some pages may remain unaffected which are following best practices for page publishing.
“The change may allow Facebook room to grow its organic/paid offering ratio, in which 80% of content in the newsfeed is organic and 20% is paid in the form of sponsored stories, a form of premium advertising within Facebook.”
Jeff Doak, the social platform director at Team Detroit, amplified the warning. He wrote that “with no warning and no explanation by Facebook, your brand page may have just lost half of its value.” Although acknowledging that it might be too soon to draw valid statistical conclusions, he wrote:
“I pulled data from a number of pages I have access to, and all of them show a sudden decrease in reach starting on September 21, ranging anywhere from a 24% to a 63% decrease (averaging out to around 45%) in average organic reach when compared to the previous two months. And that page that had a 24% decrease has a huge fan base, so that percentage translates into 100,000 fewer fans, on average, seeing each post.”
Another social agency We Are Social then added its insights. In a blog post on October 11, global managing director Robin Grant wrote that he asked social analytics firm Socialbakers to pull some data. Socialbakers looked at the reach of 15,380 page posts made by the agency’s 157 most active brand pages between August 10 and October 9. The numbers had plummeted. In fact, the average post’s reach dropped by roughly 50 percent.
I then saw an analysis by EdgeRank Checker which confirmed that something has changed. Out of a sampling of about 3,000 brand Pages, there were 332 that saw an increase in organic reach since Sept. 20, but the rest were not so lucky. According to EdgeRank Checker’s Chad Whitman, “A vast majority lost out on that change and a small minority have improved on it”. On average in the 3,000-Page sample used by EdgeRank Checker, the organic reach of posts declined 25%; viral reach–exposure through sharing of posts–declined 45%; and engagement decreased 17%.
EdgeRank Checker also published the following e-mail received from a Facebook ad representative:
- We’re continually optimizing newsfeed to ensure the most relevant experience for our users
- One of the key factors in our optimization is engagement: the amount of clicks, likes, comments, shares etc. generated by a piece of content
- While overall engagement should remain relatively consistent as a result of our most recent optimization, your organic reach may be impacted
- The more engaging your content, the lower the impact this optimization should have on your reach going forward
- Feed is optimized to show users the posts they are most likely to engage with, where engagement is defined as clicking, liking, commenting, or sharing the post – or in the case of offers, claiming the offer.
- Posts that are more likely to be engaging tend to appear higher in feed. Some of the strongest factors that influence this are how engaging an individual post has been for other users who have seen it, and how engaged a user has historically been with other posts they’ve seen from that page. Feed also takes negative feedback into account, which is the number of people who have hidden a post or reported it as spam.
- Finally, if a page has a piece of content that it feels will be very engaging e.g. A good offer, a great photo, an announcement, etc. then using paid media to “boost” that post to fans in newsfeed can be an effective tool to increase engagement with fans.
This is as close to an “official” statement by Facebook as I’ve found about the September 20 change, and it does appear to verify what many of us have been noticing.
At least two factors seem to be driving Facebook’s actions. First, Facebook is continuing its efforts to “unclutter” news feeds. Over time, the volume of FB Pages and content being disseminated through FB has grown astronomically. The more content that is posted to users’ news feeds, the less likely that any one Page’s posts will reach its fans. FB obviously doesn’t want users to drop out of FB because they’re missing what they really want to see under the increasing flood of usually boring content that fills up their news feeds.
So, FB decides what users “really want to see”. Using the EdgeRank algorithm, they push content into news feeds based on evidence of “engagement”. Page posts will only pop up in the feeds of those users most likely to click on, like, share, or comment on it based on past behavior or predictions about future behavior. This has been going on for a long time, but the September 20 change seems to have made the metrics even more restrictive. They may even be artificially limiting the percentage of total posts that appear in user news feeds that are unpaid.
Second, FB wants Pages to spend money promoting their FB content. That’s the “Promoted Posts” feature they rolled out earlier in the year (discussed at NCS here). That not-so-subtle last bullet in the e-mail quoted above makes the point: If your Page posts are growing increasingly less likely to reach your fans, you can do something about it: Give your fuckin’ money to FB!
When you pay to promote a post, FB gives it added weight in the algorithms it uses to decide which users will see it. In order to do that, of course, it has to make room in the news feeds. As more Pages pay to promote their posts and more sponsored posts show up in users’ news feeds, that necessarily means that fewer un-paid posts are going to be seen.
It’s like a double-whammy: FB is restricting the reach of unpaid Page posts in part as an effort to push Pages to promote their posts with cash, and an increase in the use of Promoted Posts will in turn reduce the reach of unpaid posts even further.
So what’s a poor dumb metalhead like me supposed to do? I’m not crazy about paying to promote the NCS FB posts since, by design, we don’t make any money from the site to begin with. Most underground metal bands and labels aren’t going to do it much either, because they can’t afford to. I suppose we could all just suck it up and accept the fact that FB isn’t what it used to be. But here are a few other things worth doing short of abject surrender:
First, try to increase your fans’ engagement with your posts. Explicitly encourage them to like, share, click, and comment on what you’re posting. Because of the way EdgeRank works, that will increase the odds that those fans will see your next post in their news feeds. And if you’re a fan and you care about seeing what a band, label, or blog does on FB, then like, share, click, and comment on their posts.
Second, make your posts more “engaging”. FB’s algorithm increases the reach of posts that include sight, sound, and motion — photos, audio streams, and videos. These are the kinds of posts that users tend to want to see when their family and personal friends post on FB. As one FB spokesperson has recently been quoted as saying, “We’re continuing to optimize News Feed to show the posts that people are most likely to engage with, ensuring they see the most interesting stories. This aligns with our vision that all content should be as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family.”
I can testify that this works. For the last couple of months, I’ve been posting surreal artwork on the NCS FB Page near the end of my day. I didn’t do this in an effort to expand the reach of our posts. I did it because I like fucked up artwork and thought it might be fun to share some of it with our FB fans. Those posts have, far and away, the best reach of anything I put on the NCS Page. They get close to that old 25%-reach benchmark, without paying for it, even after the September 20 algorithm change.
Third, give some thought to FB’s “Interest Lists” feature. In a nutshell, users can create Interest Lists and populate them with Pages they want to follow. For example, you could create a list called “Bands” (or “Tibetan Goregrind Bands”, if you want to organize things into micro-genres) and then add the Pages of bands you want to follow to that list. You could do the same thing with “Labels” or “Blogs”.
The Interest Lists will appear on the left side of your home page, and of course you’ll have to click on them to see the posts that are being added by the Pages you added to each list. They won’t all suddenly start showing up in your news feed.
Based on what I’ve read, FB isn’t filtering the content that will appear in those lists — or at least, not yet. In other words, it appears that every FB post by a Page you’re following in an Interest List will appear in the feed for that list when you click on it.
But this ISN’T a magic bullet that will easily kill the werewolf pack who are running FB now. It’s an extremely cumbersome way of ensuring that you see what you want to see, and it gets more cumbersome the more bands, labels, and blogs you want to follow. You also have to remember to check the Interest Lists, because what’s showing up in those lists won’t necessarily be appearing in your news feed.
This post is already very long to begin with, so I’m not going to explain all the details about the way Interest Lists work and how to create them. For a very complete discussion, I recommend you read this article. But here’s one way to use the feature.
I’ve used a set of instructions I’ve seen elsewhere and modified it a bit, but it’s suitable for cutting and pasting if you want to teach your fans (or the 10% of them who will see these instructions) about how to ensure that they get your posts:
Because of the way FB restricts what gets into users’ news feeds, as few as 10% of our fans are seeing our Page posts. To receive all of our posts and the posts from other FB Pages you like, do this:
1. Open our Page.
2. If you’ve already liked the Page, hover your mouse over the “Liked” button. If you haven’t liked the Page, you can first Like it or you can click on the down-arrow next to the gear symbol that appears near the Like button. Either way, you’ll get a drop-down menu.
3. In the drop-down menu, click “Add To Interests List” and follow the instructions.
4. You can either create a new list, such as “Bands”, or add the Page to a list you’ve already created.
5. Your Interest Lists will appear on the left side of your home page. When you click on a List, you’ll see all the posts from our Page and any other Pages you’ve added to the list.
6. Once you’ve created a list, you can add Pages you’ve already liked to the list without having to open each Page one at a time.
And that’s it. Like I said, it’s cumbersome, especially for people like me who have Liked many hundreds of band, label, and blog Pages. And there’s no assurance that FB won’t change the way Interest Lists work, without warning or even public announcement. But, y’know, beggars can’t be choosers.
As always, I welcome your comments. I also want to make it easier for certain readers to add their comments. So just use the index below and type the number into the Comment field. That will save you time. (The first option is an actual comment I got from morbidcorpse the last time I bitched about FB. Phro suggested the next two.)
1. My God, quit your bitching. If you don’t like facebook, shut the fuck up and delete your page. It’s free, you fucking crybaby.
2. This article was written by a guy with no head, so the opinions expressed within should be completely ignored.
3. Islander has a poopy non-face.
4. You used the same graphic at the top of this post that you used the last time you whined about FB, you lazy douchebag.
Here are my sources: