Dec 192013

For you readers whose first language isn’t English and for you native English speakers who are under the age of… I don’t know, 30?… I’m using the word “sorry” not in the sense of “apologetic”, but in the sense of “inspiring scorn or ridicule”, as in, “what a sorry state of affairs we’re in now”.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Facebook.  This is because I prefer to stay happy as long as possible. Even after I noticed that the percentage of our site’s Facebook followers who were seeing NCS posts on Facebook was growing smaller and smaller in recent months, I didn’t try to find out why. And then, while I was on vacation recently, I heard from a fellow metal blogger with a poplar site who I respect, asking whether our Facebook page views were dropping. Of course, they were, and they were for his site too.

So I decided to try and find out why. I didn’t do as much research as I have in the past when I noticed such changes (e.g., here) — because I’m trying to stay happy as long as possible — but this article discusses what I found. I guess there’s some kind of lesson here for people in the metal community who rely on FB to stay in touch with their fans. But it’s a lesson that will be meaningful only until the next time Facebook changes its news feed algorithm. In other words, life is still full of pain, and then you die.

This much we’ve known for a while: Facebook uses software algorithms that determine what FB users will see in their news feeds. We also know that FB changes these algorithms on a continuing basis. They do this to serve two related objectives: They want to maintain and grow the number of consumers who use FB, and they want to make more and more money from people who might pay Facebook for various services, including advertising.

These objectives are related because the more consumers who use FB, the more advertisers (and other providers of services) will be incentivized to pay FB increasing amounts of money for access to that user base.

We also know that FB doesn’t always publicize the way they change their news feed algorithms, i.e., the rules that determine what will and won’t be deposited into your news feed. It would be easy for FB to put announcements in your news feed every time they do this, for example, but they don’t. I think, in part, this is because they don’t want to make it easier for bloodsucking douchebags to game their algorithms, and in part because most people just don’t care — and FB is interested (in part) in preventing you from seeing things in your news feed that they don’t think you care about.

And so, without knowing why, I noticed a change in the reach of the NCS posts on our FB page. As of this writing, we have 6,085 fans who have liked our FB page. With one exception, the only things I post on our FB page are notices of new posts on this here web site. The exception is that every day I post a piece of art.

FB tells me how many people see my NCS FB posts. For the vast majority of our Page posts — the ones that link to articles on NCS — we now reach about 5-10% of those 6,085 people who have liked our page. The art posts typically do better than that, getting up into the 10-20% range. But overall, this is a big drop from where we used to be.

What gives? I’m sure I know only a small fraction of what FB has done to produce that change, but here’s what I’ve learned (I’ve linked to my sources at the end of this article).

The key to FB’s maintenance and growth of its user base is engagement. FB not only wants registered FB users to visit their news feeds, it wants them to like, share, and comment. It wants people to be interested in what they find, and it wants to see evidence of that in the way those 1.1 billion users react to what they see in their news feeds.  What FB doesn’t want is for users to become annoyed. Here’s a passage from one of the sources cited below:

“A few years ago companies like Demand Media capitalized on the media discovery of choice, search engines, to build large audiences. These companies gamed the Google Search algorithm, but Google users quickly became annoyed with SEO content distracting them from finding the results they wanted. In turn, Google changed its algorithms when it began noticing user dissatisfaction with search results…

“Facebook users will eventually start to show distaste for content that is clearly made to bait users with headlines that seem interesting and entertaining. Once user behavior demonstrates this, Facebook will enhance its algorithms again to favor even more engaging and valuable content. Companies like Distractify and Upworthy will struggle in the same way Demand Media did. “

With that background, you can better understand one of the rare public announcements that FB made on December 2. I’m going to summarize the announcement, and then quote it in full at the end of this post (partly because things like this have a way of disappearing from FB’s pages).


FB knows that certain Pages bait users into clicking through to their sites with gimmicks of various kinds, such as internet memes; I’m guessing that photos of hot babes are another example, though FB didn’t mention it. FB isn’t happy about this. It thinks this will annoy its users and devalue the news feed. It wants to increase the quality of what appears in news feeds — as FB defines “quality”, of course. So FB says that it has adjusted its algorithms to reduce the appearance of links to other sites through the use of come-ons like memes and increase the appearance of links to what it calls “high quality articles”.

FB has further explained: “To complement people’s interest in articles, we recently began looking at ways to show people additional articles similar to ones they had just read. Soon, after you click on a link to an article, you may see up to three related articles directly below the News Feed post to help you discover more content you may find interesting.” Which I guess is what explains things like this:

The Consequences

Let’s put to one side the question of how FB defines “high quality” (I’m putting this to one side because there’s no clear answer to that question). Let’s focus on the consequences of this change. Here’s what FB itself said on December 5:

“People are connecting and sharing more than ever. On a given day, when someone visits News Feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible stories we can show.

“As a result, competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.”

In other words, the news feed is a finite space, and as FB increases the appearance of certain kinds of content into the feed (e.g., links to “high quality articles”), other types of FB page posts are going to be filtered out and not seen.

Now here’s the kicker. In the same article by FB quoted above, they tell you what you can do if you run a Page whose “organic reach” is declining as a result of FB’s algorithm changes:

“As the dynamic nature of News Feed continues to follow people’s patterns of sharing, Page owners should continue using the most effective strategy to reach the right people: a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well. The fans you have matter. In addition to being some of the most loyal customers,fans also make the advertising on Facebook even more effective.”

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? One way of looking at this change — which is just the latest in a long line of changes in the same vein — is that FB is weeding out people who use FB to make money without paying FB for the privilege (e.g., the sites that use memes and other forms of bait on FB to lure users into click through to their web pages) and providing what used to be normal levels of “reach” only to those willing to pay for it. But in the course of doing this, they’re also weeding out people like us.

I would like to feel angry about this, but the emotion I’m mainly experiencing is bleakness. I feel like listening to doom instead of powerviolence. Because I actually get where FB is coming from. I understand what they’re trying to do. I can’t even really fault them; they are, after all, a for-profit business. It’s just that niche interests like metal are getting caught in a fight that we didn’t start.

(As an aside, I am still a little perplexed about why the reach of our NCS FB posts has dropped so dramatically. We link to articles, and we make no money from our site. I guess we’re not of sufficiently “high quality”, whatever that means.)

The real problem is that NCS and other metal blogs, and metal bands, and metal labels, and metal fans — and basically everyone associated with metal — are all so, so small and powerless. We’re beneath notice. We have nothing to do with the decisions that are being made that affect the reach of our efforts to interact with each other. We just take the consequences of those decisions. We’re like a microbe on the asshole of the elephant that is Facebook, and when the elephant takes a shit, we just drop down in a big liquid splat on the savannah and are left there to bake in the sun.

It’s a real shame. The irony is that we’re caught in a tug of war among money-hungry forces when the hunger for money really isn’t what drives 99.99999% of the people in metal. Yes, bands and labels try to make  a bit of money, usually not for its own sake, but so they can continue recording music and performing, putting gas in the tour van, pressing vinyl, dubbing tapes — doing what they love. They don’t try to sucker people into clicking through to bullshit web sites that make money from page views. They don’t try to fleece people into buying things they really don’t want. They mainly just want to stay in touch, let people know what they’re up to, and provide ways for people to hear music and buy it if they like it.

And now staying in touch via FB has become even more difficult, and it appears that trend is going to continue.

Is there any way to counteract what is happening? Honestly, I doubt it. I think the only way to fight a rear-guard action against this blitzkrieg is to promote engagement. If you’re a FB Page admin (e.g., the person who runs the FB page for a band, a label, a blog, whatever), you can encourage your Page followers to engage with your posts by liking, sharing, and commenting on them. That will increase the chances that followers who do this will continue seeing your Page posts in their news feeds.

Here’s a vivid example of this effect that I saw on our own FB Page a few days ago. I posted an article here at NCS called “Hipster?”. As usual, I posted a link to the article on our FB page. For whatever reason, the post on our FB page about the article drew 24 comments — far more than usual. And FB tells me that 1,566 people have now seen that FB post, which is almost 26% of our total FB followers. By current standards, that’s a dramatically higher percentage than our usual reach. Of course, it’s still a small minority of everyone who has liked our page.

I think this also explains why my daily artwork posts on our FB Page reach a significantly higher percentage of NCS followers on FB than the links to our articles on this site: on average, far more people go to the trouble of “liking” those artwork posts than those who “like” the article links.

The problem is that if you proactively ask your FB fans to like, share, and comment, it comes off as begging. It’s kind of unseemly. But it may be the only recourse you’ve got. So you could think about a message like this — which you would have to post on FB repeatedly, because a small fraction of your followers will ever see any one of them:

Facebook continues to make changes that reduce who will see us in their news feeds.  If you want to increase the chances of seeing what we post on FB, the best thing you can do is like, share, and comment on what we post.

It may kind of come off like begging, but it’s better than the alternative:  “If you want to see what we post on FB, please send us money so we can pay FB for ads and promotion of our posts.”

And that’s the end of this rant. Below is the full text of the FB announcement I summarized earlier, followed by links to the sources of info I used in writing this thing.

Full quote:

The goal of News Feed is to show the right content to the right people at the right time whether it’s from a close friend or a news source halfway across the world. In the last year, more people found news on Facebook than ever before. In fact, as reported in October, average referral traffic from Facebook to media sites has increased by over 170% – almost tripled – in the past year. Today’s update to News Feed ranking recognizes that people want to see more relevant news and what their friends have to say about it.

More relevant articles in Feed

People use Facebook to share and connect, including staying current on the latest news, whether it’s about their favorite celebrity or what’s happening in the world. We’ve noticed that people enjoy seeing articles on Facebook, and so we’re now paying closer attention to what makes for high quality content, and how often articles are clicked on from News Feed on mobile. What this means is that you may start to notice links to articles a little more often (particularly on mobile).

Why are we doing this? Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme. Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile. This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.

To complement people’s interest in articles, we recently began looking at ways to show people additional articles similar to ones they had just read. Soon, after you click on a link to an article, you may see up to three related articles directly below the News Feed post to help you discover more content you may find interesting.

Comment Stories

While trying to show more articles people want to read, we also don’t want people to miss the conversations among their friends. So we’re updating bumping to highlight stories with new comments. After people read a story, they are unlikely to go back and find that story again to see what their friends were saying about it, and it wouldn’t bump up in News Feed. With this update stories will occasionally resurface that have new comments from friends.

As a result, people may start seeing a few more stories returning to their feed with new comments highlighted. Our testing has shown that doing this in moderation for just a small number of stories can lead to more conversations between people and their friends on all types of content.

We’ll continue to keep you posted on the updates we make in response to people’s feedback. Stay tuned for more.








  1. I think as a result, metal bands will depend even more on sites just like NCS/Metal Sucks/Invisible Oranges/etc, because they have a large following of people who go directly to the site. I think Facebook will matter less and less for us bands.

    It’s too bad, but there isn’t much we can do about it. I sure as hell won’t buy adds on Facebook nor will I be begging for likes/shares/etc. Right now for bands the most useful part of FB is being able to invite people for events, but I’m sure they will find a way to stop that from happening soon too.

    • It certainly seems from the FB announcement quoted in this post that if Pages aren’t using FB to link to a site that FB decides is “high quality”, what they post isn’t going to be seen by very many fans unless there’s a lot of fan “engagement” with those posts. And of course, many bands don’t have their own web sites or blogs, and it’s kind of a cumbersome way to make announcements anyway. I’ve also never used FB to ask people to like us, share our posts, or comment on them. Just rubs me the wrong way, though I’d never criticize anyone who does that.

  2. It’s a total shame and we can confirm that this is true as well. With over 9700 likes we reach probably 10% of our entire fanbase. This is absolutely ridiculous!

  3. The net result for bands is that their FB pages are just going become like myspace, an easy place to deposit videos and music so when people find them on a site like this, they can go to the FB page and check out the tunes. That’s how I use FB for bands anyway.

  4. Closely related FB story from this week. Black Table is one of the (many) bands I’ve liked and follow on FB. This week they announced that bassist Matt Mellon is leaving the bad (which is sad because his playing brought incredible dimension to their sound). The band’s announcement never appeared in my feed however. It’s only because I’m FB friends with two of the members of the band, and they shared it on their own walls, that I saw it. It made me wonder what else am I missing from bands I follow? I’ve come to rely on FB for tour date information for bands I’m interesting in seeing, as I’m sure a lot of other people have too. If this becomes a trend where FB is being selective about what information is being sent to feeds, I think fans and bands are going to give up on FB and start looking to other avenues of sharing information (I hear MySpace is trying to make a comeback by focusing on music).

    As for NCS on FB, I do click like on many of the art posts because, well, they’re just so darn likable. I generally don’t bother with the article posts because by the time I see them on FB, I’ve usually already checked them out here. But if it helps a brother out, I will start liking article posts as often as I can.

    • I think this sums up things nicely. If I only see 10% of the posts of someone I’m ‘following’, then I’d ask whether that really means following? If I’m only 10% following, well, that’s a lot more not following than following (enough following’s in that sentence?). So yeah, I’d be inclined to jump ship for some other medium. I suspect if something else comes up on the horizon there’s probably a lot of people waiting to jump ship precisely because they’re sick of this kind of thing. At the same time, you can see where they’re coming from.

      Last I’d heard Myspace were trying to re-launch, but that was about a year ago?

  5. I find this whole thing to be ridiculous. First I got good at SEO and then Google changed its algorithms so we don’t reach new readers via Google anymore. Now Facebook is doing the same thing. I’m sick of fighting against these people.

  6. First, don’t rely on the news feed to show you what you want to see, obviously at this point. Instead create an interest list. I have one called “bands.” Anytime I like a band I also add their page to my bands interest list (that little gear looking icon just below the cover picture). I do believe that list shows every post by everything in that list. Second, my guess is part of a quality post is something that keeps people on facebook. If you leave facebook to go look at pictures of cats you can’t see the advertisements on facebook, so clearly they have an interest in keeping you on their site. Finally, GO METAL! and for the French speakers, Allez le Metal!

    • An interesting experiment would be to post the same video twice. One a link to the video on youtube and the second the video uploaded to facebook, and see which gets a higher facebook reach.

    • I’m glad you mentioned that because I forgot about that option. I’m definitely going to set something like that up on my FB, even if it just makes it easier to separate what interests me from the goofy posts from friends/relatives about “keeping Christ in Christmas” or rants about “pressing 1 for English” that I just don’t give a shit about.

  7. We’ve been noticing this recently too, we’re only a small band, we have just under 300 likes on facebook but our posts used to regularly reach 100+ people, now they reach 20-30 if we’re lucky. It makes it really difficult to notify fans of upcoming gigs, it isnt good for a band looking to engage new fans.

    • Got to agree there. It has really become a hassle. On a similar note, starting an entirely new music blog has become close to impossible. Thinking about moving to google plus if that is any good at all.

  8. I’m a near daily NCS reader, and I only liked the FB page after the fact so you probably have a lot of traffic on this site that is unrelated to Facebook. That’s just a guess or a hunch, though, I have no clue!

    • Good guess. We did a reader survey more than a year, and significantly fewer than half of the people who participated in the survey came to the site thru FB. As I recall, something like 60% of the people used RSS feeds or e-mail alerts (available if you register on the site). Not sure what the numbers are like now.

      • Hey Islander, totally unrelated to Facebook fan engagement, but, did you get a chance to check out the new Disfiguring The Goddess? I’ve seen them posted about on this site before. Awesome, huh?

        • I’m embarrassed to say that so far I’ve only listened to one song from the new DTG — which I admit is odd since I’ve been waiting for something new from that project of Cam’s forever.

          • He put out that surprise “second album” called Black Earth Child, but the Deprive album is only seventeen minutes long. This might be me being a little picky, but, they’re awesome it just would have been cool if he put the extra emphasis on making it a more complete single work.

  9. Its also a fact, that Facebook and other social media networks, coax us into liking them, enhance one’s intensity of ‘likeness’ towards them, make us dependent on them, until a threshold point where we are unable to let go. The only way round this is to let ourselves be smarter than them and establish presence on other social platforms.

  10. The problem here is an over-reliance on Facebook for information. Trusting a for-profit company that has shareholders to satisfy, with all of your content is a poor strategy. By all means use social media to entice people back to your own site where everything is under your control but don’t put all of your eggs in the Facebook basket. The number of bands that I see that don’t even have their own blog or website is alarming, those are the ones that will hurt the most as Facebook squeezes people more to pay to publish.

    Facebook (as well as most other big social media platforms) has a single objective and that is to make money – they do so by using all of the content that you supply to them free gratis and then charge you money to publicise to all of your fans. Twitter is slowly going the same way and their commercialisation will accelerate now that they have gone public.

    Bands should invest in building their own sites and attracting fans directly. There are plenty of ways to do that. One method that seems to have declined in the last while is good old RSS. I suspect (with my tinfoil paranoia hat on) that the social media giants Google, Facebook etc have had something to do with the demise of RSS as they don’t really want you to aggregate your own content without the opportunity to pimp it out to advertisers.

  11. Godless Angel has an adorably tiny FB following of 40 fans. so, i guess it’s safe to assume that when i post something it’s only being seen by 2-3 people. yaayyyyyyyy………….

  12. SEO makes my skin crawl

  13. On the plus side, seeing only 10% of the posts of my extended family, instead of 100%, means my feed has been culled down to to just 15,781 posts per day that are blatantly racist, homophobic, or show a tragic lack of logic, basic sense, and/or empathy.

    • I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t be laughing, but I just about busted a gut over this comment.

      • You are in good company. Luckily, my Arkansas-native grandparents don’t know that I have a Facebook yet, so I don’t get much of this. I’m going to make sure that they NEVER know.

  14. Facebook seems to be digging its own grave. It’s unfortunate that there are no actual popular social networking sites revolving around good media (yeah, I said GOOD media, so even once-breathing Myspace doesn’t count).

  15. It’s a pretty universally sad state of affairs. While we seem to be fairing slightly better with an average of 20% reach (40-50 for big announcements), it’s still less than ideal and has been on a slow decline. While building a website sounds like a great idea on paper, it’s not really something a small band can afford to do. I’d rather spend our limited funds on gear/recording. And starting a free blog is pretty hit or miss. I don’t know many people who regularly browse through WordPress or Tumblr for band articles.

    The only other thing I could possibly think that would be more effective is creating a good old fashioned fan newsletter/mailing list. But even that seems a little much, asking fans to entrust bands with their emails. The last hope we have is for established sites like this to spread the word, or maybe a lucky reddit post in a relevant community. There’s a solution waiting to be found for this problem, I just hope it comes along sooner rather than later.

  16. I got a metal related page too. Tried to change “page” name and got a NO, because it has more than 200 likes.
    FB rules are way too arbitrary.
    Basicaly they just force anything that has a page to use their advertise. Can’t blame them.
    I’ve used their advertise too and while it’s easy to monitor things while under a couple hundreds “likes”, things get blur and inconsistent after the first thousand. Not really reliable or worth, I’d say.

  17. I’m catching up on articles, and this makes me mad. Listen. You all don’t need stinking Facebook. Why should I have to like or share an article? My feed is all memes, people sharing stuff, and popular posts. If everyone that I knew, and myself, shared a post where the heck are the paid posts gonna go? I already know I don’t see all the posts, and so I may visit someone’s wall or whatever. It’s all noise. Just like twitter’s bazillions of posts a second. Do we have time to sift through junk for hours to find your one quality post?
    I’ve been using this method for years, and it’s great. It’s fast, easy, and I can see every post. Once I find a site that I want to read, one with quality posts, I subscribe to the RSS feed. On the PC years ago i used NewGator. I used Pulse on the iPad until recently LinkedIn bought it and turned it into complete trash. I signed up for Feedly, and put all my feeds in that service, and got Mr Reader. All those feeds create noise, but I separate the feeds into categories like music, games, or tech. I can also select that category, and view each site’s feeds. No ads or fluff unless some site has that fluff in their feed.
    I think if someone is passionate about a subject like metal they will seek and find all the quality articles. Even if google has revised their algorithms, using specific search terms are necessary to get to the desired content. If someone searches for “metal”, and doesn’t go past the first page, then they are just not your audience.
    I think the opening paragraph is presented in the feed and is the most important. Just like a book, the opening paragraph of an article has to suck in the reader. If it doesn’t then the reader will not click to read the remaining content. I’m thinking that if google prioritized this content in its algorithm then that article would show up in the search results. My point is that either I search for terms and google finds the article, or I’m reading the opening paragraph in my feed reader. Either way I’m going to read the content I want to read.
    You guys above just keep writing, make a strong opening paragraph, and the content will be found. Forget Facebook. Maybe everyone can just subscribe to their favorite sites’ RSS feeds and get all the content you write.

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