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Is Facebook Trying to Extort Bands and Brands?

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NoCleanSinging.com proprietor Islander has done a fine job of chronicling changes to Facebook’s user policy and architecture over the years, often with a very critical eye. My reaction is usually to say [Islander’s words], “it’s their business, you’re getting their service for free, so stop your whining you little bitch!” but his latest entry about Facebook’s shenanigans has got me seriously thinking.

In a nutshell: Facebook is “in the process of” slashing “organic page reach” down to 1 or 2 percent. This means that if you “like” a band on Facebook such as Behemoth, you “like” a website such as MetalSucks or you “like” a brand like Red Bull, you’ll soon start seeing posts from those pages showing up in your feed a whole lot less often. If you’re Behemoth or MetalSucks or Red Bull, your posts will soon be reaching a lot less people (even though those people have actively chosen to “like” you). Unless those brands pay Facebook money to promote each post. Which is exactly what Facebook wants us to do.

Of course it’s unreasonable to expect that just because I “like” a page I see everything they post. Together with the stuff all your [real people] friends post, if that were the case your news feed would be a constantly scrolling stream of information that’d be impossible to follow, like the credits at the end of a movie in hyperspeed. So Facebook uses a technology they call EdgeRank that determines what you see in your news feed and how often you see it. Among other parameters, EdgeRank uses what pages you “like,” how often you engage with those pages (via commenting on or liking their individual posts), which friends of yours you interactive with most often, the interests stated in your profile, the importance of life events like weddings and babies, and so on and so forth. For the most part it seems to work pretty well. My news feed mostly consists of posts by the people that are actually my friends, not that kid from my 3rd grade class I became “friends” with on Facebook in a bout of nostalgia then never interacted with on Facebook again.

But I think we can all agree that if I’ve actively chosen to “like” a page — for me, let’s say it’s the New York Mets (sad trombone) — that page should be able to reach me more than 1% to 2% of the time. I’ve implicitly stated to the Mets “I love you, please funnel all your news about your sad-sack baseball franchise directly to me!” so they should do exactly that, with EdgeRank taking care of determining which posts are the most important. In the past I might’ve seen as much as 25% of posts by a page I “like,” and an article linked in the No Clean Singing post referenced earlier says that the rate currently resides around 6% (alrady down from 12% in October), which seems somewhat reasonable to me given the amount of information available and overall clutter on Facebook. But 1%-2%? Come on.

Unless the brands pay for a boost. And therein lies the problem. Facebook lured in brands and bands by implicitly promising to allow them to reach their fans for free. And so it was for years. And now that we’ve invested significant time and resources into building our Facebook presence, they’re changing the game. This is what’s classically known as a “bait and switch.” And it’s bullshit.

If you’re Facebook, I suppose it’s good for business. And make no mistake about it, business is booming: the company took in $2.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013, up 76%  from the same quarter in 2012. And that’s before the changes we’re discussing here.

Big brands like Nike and Red Bull will probably play the game by diverting some of their advertising and marketing budgets to promoting Facebook posts, ensuring they reach people who have already stated an active desire to receive marketing from them. But where does that leave smaller companies? MetalSucks isn’t about to start spending money to promote all of our posts on Facebook (at least I don’t think so), let alone smaller blogs like No Clean Singing, Heavy Blog is Heavy, Invisible Oranges, etc who have little or no operating budget to speak of. We may start to see bigger metal record labels allocate more of their ad dollars towards Facebook for more popular bands like Behemoth, Killswitch Engage, Lacuna Coil, etc, to make sure they reach their audience, but where does that leave up-and-coming bands struggling to gain a foothold?

To be perfectly clear: MetalSucks is a full-time job for me and Axl. We have an operating budget, but we cannot afford to throw money at promoting Facebook posts, although we can probably afford to dabble in it. To be even more clear: Facebook has become a massive source of traffic for us over the past couple of years, our number one referrer, in fact. Declining Facebook traffic would, for us, be a major issue. We have already begun to see less traction from our Facebook posts in the past few weeks despite an ever-growing number of “likes.”

So, what happens next? We could always leave Facebook, sure. It seems as if the social network has already peaked in popularity, although who knows. But for the time being Facebook has us by the short and curlies. No one thinks Google Plus is going to take its place, despite Google’s best efforts. I guess we wait and see. In the meantime, here’s Islander’s advice:

If you run a Facebook Page, encourage your readers to like, share, and comment on your posts.

If you are a Facebook user and want to increase the chances of seeing the FB Pages you care about, like, share, and comment on the status updates posted by those Pages.

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