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facebook pages – the pool party’s over

You think that everyone who likes your page gets your updates? Think again. Only if you pay. Here's a post that you need to read if Facebook is in your organisation.

by Matthew Murray

Facebook. It's free and always will be. Just don’t expect many of your fans to see your posts anymore unless you pay.

That’s the stark realisation that page owners are coming to terms with after recent changes to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm.

Previously, between 30-40% of fans would see your posts in their news feed. Now that Facebook has rolled out its ‘Promote this post’ feature, the percentage of fans seeing your posts has been slashed to 10-20%.  

Working in digital communications for a local authority on Brisbane’s Bayside, I know how frustrating this is.

In August and September 2012, our Redland City Council Facebook page experienced some impressive organic growth. Yet by early October, the reach of our posts (the number of people seeing them) started to decline markedly. With our reach decreasing, so did our likes, comments and shares. This was at a time when Facebook rolled out their new feature ‘Promote this post’.

To measure the decline in reach, I looked at the Insights data for our twice-weekly crowdsourced photography feature. We ask members of the public to tag photos of the Redlands with #RedlandLocal on Instagram, which we then feature on several social networks including Facebook.

Before ‘Promote this post’ appeared, our #RedlandLocal photos were regularly being seen by around 700 people – or approximately 40% of our fans. Since ‘Promote this post’ appeared, the reach of these posts slumped to around 350 people, and sometimes as low as 150.

At first I thought it could just be a temporary blip. Until I saw this post from Hipstamatic World on 7 October to their 13,500 fans.

“Facebook appears to be putting the squeeze on page owners by trying to force them to promote their posts with money. A few weeks ago every photo post I made went out to about 25% of the Hipstamatic World fans. Now it seems like each post is only showing in about 10% of the fans newsfeeds. Greed sucks. I doubt this would be happening if their stock wasn't in a freefall.”

This was no blip. It was deliberate and orchestratedThe blunt message from Facebook to page owners was this – if you want the same reach you used to have, pay up. I have seen many similar posts from other pages since.

The outrage at these changes was also evident in the blogosphere. A post on the New York Observer site summed it up well - Facebook is broken on purpose. In the post Facebook, I want my friends back, Dangerous Minds has asked whether it is the biggest ‘bait and switch’ in history.

Outrage at new features on Facebook is certainly nothing new. We’ve all seen the whinging and moaning from people when Facebook has dared to change their user interface or bring in something new.   

Yet this double whammy of decreasing post reach and introducing promoted posts is one of the most damaging stunts Facebook could’ve pulled. Here’s why.


Loss of trust with Facebook users

People have liked pages about brands, topics and organisations because they want to receive updates from them in their news feed. Yet the likelihood is that they won’t be seeing as many of these updates as they used to – unless these pages pay up.


Loss of trust with business

Many businesses have spent serious money building up their fan base on Facebook through Facebook ads. Now they are finding that it’s so much harder to communicate with their likers unless they promote posts. 

In his excellent blog post Goodbye, Facebook, and thanks for all the fish…  Simon Dell brilliantly sums up this loss of trust.

“So why shouldn’t Facebook make money out of brands talking to fans online? Because this wasn’t what Zuckerberg talked about when he presented the social web. It was based on cooperation, sharing, following something you liked, engaging with them. It wasn’t based on who had the most money pushing the little guys aside.”

It’s part of the ever-increasing commercialisation of Facebook

There are now ads everywhere you look. Facebook ads. Promoted posts. Suggested posts. Sponsored stories. Suggestions of other pages to like based on pages my friends like. I’ve even been subjected to huge ads - after signing out of Facebook - from Australian supermarket giant Woolworths.

The social web? Facebook is more like the home shopping network these days.


Facebook thumbing their nose to government and non-profit organisations

Squeezing businesses for money is one thing, but there is something even worse in my book. Facebook have demonstrated that they don’t value the thousands of government, voluntary and non-profit pages that are an integral part of the social web.

The use of social media has revolutionised the way that government and non-profit organisations communicate and engage with their audience.

Just one example of this is the role that social media plays in 21st century disaster and emergency management. As I write this post, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross America (among others) are providing invaluable advice and support to those suffering the after effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Yet it’s going to be that much harder for those in the public and voluntary sector to get their messages out there now that we are competing with a barrage of promoted posts by corporate giants.

The pool party’s over

Mashable reported this week that Facebook compared themselves to a swimming pool in a recent post.

 “Swimming pools are filled with people. Some you know. Some you don’t. And every once in a while you see something that maybe you shouldn’t. That’s why swimming pools are a little like Facebook.”

Promoted posts have left many Facebook page owners feel like the pool party’s over and it’s time to get out of the water.

Matthew Murray is the Digital Communications Coordinator at Redland City Council in South East Queensland. He blogs about mobile photography and social media at www.matthewmurray.com.au

Picture credit 



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Reader Comments (4)

To reiterate my LinkedIn comment because, well, I just think it's worth reiterating - I've come across similar pieces elsewhere about the 'Promote this post' phenomenon, but few quite so tangibly put, so thank you for an enjoyable morning read!

I find it incredible that time and time again social media networks, platforms, providers and (increasingly) businesses are failing to adhere to that most basic marcomms principle; to listen to your customers. If they did then it would be only too obvious that, yes, people understand change happens - as Jared Spataro recently commented, agility is the name of the game - but that change has to benefit the end user otherwise, ultimately, people disengage.

If that happens then it hits profits. Which is probably why the romantic in me prefers the concept of organically grown networks rather than corporately cultivated ones.

November 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarCommsKenny

Thanks Kenny! Glad you enjoyed it. Cheers Matt

November 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Murray

A really nice post but I actually disagree with the perception that Facebook is trying to charge us for seeing something that was once available for free. I can see easily why there is this perception (until recently I did hold similar views) - its probably mainly due to timing, but I don't think there is a big conspiracy trying to extort money from us (although remember Facebook is trying to run a business) - we as users just need to keep up with changes and get a bit cleverer with what and how we are posting to stay on top.

We should remember that what content Facebook serves us with is dependant on what we interact with. As you mentioned this down to the edgerank algorithm - developed to help decide what appears in everyone's feeds. The more you interact with a person or a page’s posts, the more likely their posts will appear in your feed when you're logged in. And this has been happening for a few years. Its nothing recent - its just gathered more focus with the 'pay to promote' options that are now available to everyone. Page admins being able to see reach figures has also fuelled the fire by giving the impression that reach has been reduced when they are allegedly just more transparent.

I've read a lot of articles about this topic recently and although facebook and edgerank don't always seem to get the algorithm development right - the reality of what our feeds would look like if we saw every single post from every single person or page we like could be a horror show. It would be pretty messy.

Of course Twitter also runs similar process. We don't see everything that's ever posted every time. One of the best analogies I have read recently was to think of these feeds functioning a bit like a radio station. You tune in from time to time to hear what’s happening at that actual moment in time. Depending on the time of day, you’ll see or hear different things from different people. It's just a constant flow of moving information.

Personally I agree with the view that its about going back to the fundamentals of using social media. Building a community and providing that community with interesting stuff they want to engage with. If you do that, they'll like it and keep coming back for more - the upshot being that your content will then start to appear more regularly in your community members feeds - because they want it. Facebook are making us work harder but why shouldn't they? I for want to see the stuff that will definitely interest me rather than logging in and seeing stuff that does now and again. From people or pages I hardly know or are randomly acquainted with for that matter. There are email data base lists for me to reside on for that.

Facebook obviously needs to make money - their lack of decent mobile app advertising and the increase in mobile usage is probably not helping, when you compare it to Twitters growth in this area. They'll never get it 100 right (we are all individual users who will demand different things from what is essentially a free platform) but at least they are trying to make improvements in a way that empowers individuals and smaller businesses to potentially reach newbies with 'paid for' posting opportunities along with the big boys. It will also force us all to become more creative with what we post, and hopefully reinvigorate rich user experiences to take place.

Yep - There is less room to make easy noise now - but there's much more room for building real relationships with real people. It's just going to take real work.

November 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Baker

Hi Jamie

Interesting point of view, but I do disagree on some points.

The main issue for me is that Facebook have 'turned down' the reach for posts by Facebook pages. This has been reported by hundreds of page owners around the World.

I was looking today at our posts at work and we're not getting anywhere near the same reach we once did. We used to get between 500-700 reach for posts which had little engagement (handful of likes / comments / shares) right up to over 1200 for posts which had lots of engagement (100+ likes / comments / shares). This is from a page which had 1600 likers in August, climbing to 1870 today. Lately, we've struggled to get above 400 reach for any post.

Hey presto! Facebook have come up with a solution to this - promoted posts! It's hard not to be cynical.

I agree that we need to be cleverer with what we post. Just one of the things we're looking at is examining what content works and what doesn't.



November 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Murray

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