Facebook is not manipulating news feeds says Facebook

Facebook posted an entry on its Facebook Studio blog last week refuting the accusation from two WPP advertising executives that Facebook intentionally manipulates brand posts on user news feeds.  The executives intimated that the squeezing of brand reach was intentioned to promote paid options for posting.  In response to that specific question, Facebook wrote:

“While we make changes to news feed occasionally, the fundamental way it works has not changed.”

Or interpreted less adroitly (in an indignant tone that implies “no”):

Yes, but we’ve been doing it all along so why are you making a big deal about it now?

And I agree with Facebook’s tone in their post – it’s surprising that advertising executives are just now finding out what pretty much anyone with a Facebook Page has understood all along.  You need a massive audience to make the exceptionally inefficient Facebook Page work for you.  Or you need to pay to advertise on the platform.

The fifth stage of grief: acceptance

Every business should know the following (IMHO):

  • As high as 99% of fans may not engage your Facebook page (source)
  • Organic (free) posts are seen by less than 16% of your fans…. (source)
  • Engagement decreases up to 67% when posts are originated from a third party platform (source)
  • Percentage reach may decrease as your fan base grows (source)
  • There is evidence that Facebook is significantly hindering the capability for organic (free) posts to go viral (source)

Here’s Facebook’s elaboration on the reach problem (from the above referenced post):

“To address the fact that not everyone sees every single message from a friend or a Page, Facebook offers ads to businesses to help them increase the likelihood that people will see their message in their news feed…”

You may find slightly different statistics or stories, but this is reality of managing a brand presence on Facebook.

A grown-up conversation about digital budgeting

The mythology that brand pages will be a efficient marketing platform or customer service vehicle for the discount price of elbow grease and moxy is false.  The preponderance of evidence of Facebook’s inefficiency is overwhelming, capped by Facebook’s backhanded admission on their blog.

In order to make Facebook marketing more efficient you will have to spend money. That revelation should spur a bigger conversation about whether Facebook is the best place to accomplish what your business wants to accomplish.  It may be.

But for companies with a small budget or with a high expectation of immediate return there are platforms such as AdWords that may offer a better return on their investment.

What do you think?  Do you pay for reach on Facebook?  Is there still an opportunity for brand engagement without paying?


Photo Credit

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com Cendrine Marrouat

    Hello Jim,

    You are bang on with your article! It’s something that I have been saying for a long time, as well.

    For some reason, I have never really understood why people put so much effort into a FB fan page, when they had rather focus on bringing the traffic to their websites / blogs.

    With that said, Mark is a smart cookie. He has managed to make a generation of people believe that his platform was the be-all and end-all of social media. Not everyone can do that!

  • http://marcenriquez.com/ Marc R. Enriquez

    I really don’t think Facebook’s trying to manipulate anything either. With the number of people on Facebook now exceeding one billion and with geez-I-can-only-wonder-how-many businesses having Pages (multiple Pages, even) to represent them, a given user’s News Feed can be more than flooded – and who really goes that far to see what they may have missed?

    I figure if I let my Facebook for Android app update in real time I’d be out of battery in an hour.

    What I’m looking at is, if only 16% of users may see a given post organically – while you may run the risk of alienating the few people who stay connected all day long, for those who don’t want to pay, it might be ok to post the same content multiple times in a day.

    What do you think of this, JIm?

  • TheTysonReport

    Great post Jim and I would just echo what you and Cendrine are saying. A lot of small businesses want to believe that Facebook is the answer to their marketing prayers. It’s wishful thinking and it’s dangerous because the bottom line is that whatever you build on Facebook ain’t really yours.

    That, ultimately, is why I’d really caution any small business on putting a lot of money into building up a Facebook following.

    Is there value in what one can achieve on Facebook for ‘free’? Some but 99.9% of small business owners will tell you they’re time poor too. So can they really afford the time it takes to make their ‘free’ Facebook presence really deliver results?

    What I always say is: prioritise email marketing (you own your list), prioritise PPC (low maintenance).

  • http://www.internetbillboards.net/ Tom George

    Great post Jim! I tend to agree with @cendrinemedia:disqus and the others that although Facebook is such a tempting marketing dream, the dream can quickly turn into the reality that you really should not put all your marketing eggs into one basket. You really should focus first on getting traffic to you platform and brand and use social media for what it is, an extension of your brand and your personality.

  • Stacey Mayer

    Although I love Facebook for many reasons, I still think a businesses’ anchor needs to be their own pages on their own domain. Everything else should lead to it. Facebook should always point to home.

  • http://www.razorsocial.com/ Ian Cleary

    Most brands post non interesting updates so why don’t Facebook tell everybody that the Facebook page is a destination site and the newsfeed is for updates from friends. Do people really want to read through all those updates from brands on a daily basis? Of course they don’t. If Facebook make this change you can still pay to interrupt your fans from their friends. At the moment it’s free advertising as most updates are just brands pushing their products and services.

    Do you think this change will come in? That’s where it looks like it’s heading…

    • jimdougherty

      Great points, Ian! I honestly don’t get a sense from Facebook’s actions that they’re ever going to be responsive to user experience in the way most users would like. My personal opinion of social future is a wordpress-like platform that allows for deep-customization. I don’t know if that’s plausible, but I think the alternative is a fragmentation because platforms like Facebook are so rigid. Great insight – thanks for reading and commenting!