Anorak News | Facebook has kidnapped your friends and put a price on their heads

Facebook has kidnapped your friends and put a price on their heads

by | 27th, October 2012

FACEBOOK has been turning down the volume. Not all those followers who have taken the time to “like” your Facebook page are seeing all of your updates. You might not have noticed.

Anorak has a pretty modest Facebook following. We never paid much interest to it until recently. But the plan, as with all small and big publishers, is to spread the word and get as many people to like the site to follow our updates. The new Anorak site (a couple of weeks away) has ben designed to be more Facebook friendly.

The site’s designer is a leading figure in online newspaper design and functionality. We are investing in Facebook. But are we wasting our time?

Ryan Holiday wrote for an article entitled “Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right” for the New York Observer:

Many of us managing Facebook fan pages have noticed something strange over the last year: how our reach has gotten increasingly ineffective. How the messages we post seem to get fewer clicks, how each message is seen by only a fraction of our total “fans.”

It’s no conspiracy. Facebook acknowledged it as recently as last week: messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an account’s fans. In a wonderful coincidence, Facebook has rolled out a solution for this problem: Pay them for better access.

You’re being seduced to Facebook and then hit with a bill if you want it to work fully.

As their advertising head, Gokul Rajaram, explained, if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

To Facebook, tes. But is it important enough for the publisher to pay? One thing we know is that customers vote with their feet. Online you only need to click.

In other words, through “Sponsored Stories,” brands, agencies and artists are now charged to reach their own fans—the whole reason for having a page—because those pages have suddenly stopped working.

This is a clear conflict of interest. The worse the platform performs, the more advertisers need to use Sponsored Stories. In a way, it means that Facebook is broken, on purpose, in order to extract more money from users. In the case of Sponsored Stories, it has meant raking in nearly $1M a day…

Right now, the purveyors of these tactics are riding high. Like Facebook, they admit that this is the game and say, in effect, what of it? Pay us or leave…

Thankfully, we know where this short term mindset gets us. Remember Myspace? Remember how clunky the site got, how many pages you needed to load just to login? Myspace pioneered the “broken on purpose” model. As it grew more popular, users clamored for improvements—improvements that the company’s engineers discovered were being blocked by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. Mr. Murdoch had a $1 billion revenue target in mind for the network, and reducing page loads, even frivolous ones, shrank advertising inventory and took the company further from those goals.

Publishers who follow in its footsteps may soon join MySpace in the dustbin of history.

Facebook Promote is simple: the more followers you have, the more Facebook charges to reach the people who like your posts. Right now, it would cost Anorak $10 to promote each post. (We’ve paid to promote this one.) That would quickly add up to over $200 a day. The more likes we get the higher the fee.  As Facebook says:

Promoted posts are a simple way to reach more of the people who like your Page and their friends. Your promoted posts will be seen by a larger percentage of the people who like your Page than would normally see it. It will also be seen by a larger percentage of the friends of people who interact with your post…

The cost to promote a post depends on several factors, including your geographic location and how many people you want to reach. Click Promote to see how much your post will cost to promote.

Facebook has been a phenomenal success. But since the IPO it looks desperate. Facebook users who have invested time and effort into building their readership are upset. Facebook’s shares have lost about 50% since its stockmarket listing in May. If the company fleeces its core users, that picture will not improve.

What do other Facebook users say? The NY Observer’s article attracted these comments:

Bill Downey – I have a similar experience, my page has over 40,000 fans and when Facebook started this the traffic to my website dropped from 30,000 a day to 5,000 a day. I tried paying for extra reach but it’s not worth it for a small site like mine. The fee they charge I can not make up thru ad revenue. It’s probably fine for McDonalds page or Coke who can afford $200 per post for the full reach. I would be all for paying if the cost to play wasn’t so steep, they need to come up with better scaling for the fees for smaller pages. They don’t care about the little guys when they can sock it to the big companies. The worst part of it though is the lying to our fans that sign up to see our content and then never do unless they fall in that 15% group. Facebook has a number of other issues that make most of it’s users hate it. I know I despise it and I am desperately trying to find a way to replace it for promotion.

Kethryvis – i have subscribed to all of my friends. However, i still only get certain updates, even though i have told FB time and time again to give me ALL updates except for games and apps. i have several friends who post photos that i *never* see. i have to hit their pages specially every day or so to make sure i didn’t miss anything. Which, to me, is a GIANT fail.

Geordie Guy – When brands make the decision to create a space on another company’s website to use their platform to conduct business, they set themselves up for this. You want complete engagement with people? Use your own, proper, official website and stop phoning it in with a presence on Facebook. On your own site, you create the rules.

One reader wrote simply:

MySpace is coming back.

Publishers – big and small – have bought into Facebook. Now we’re being asked to pay to make it work.

Kristina Wels explains the technology that makes it possible:

EdgeRank is Facebook’s magic-black-box algorithm that allows you to see only a small fraction of the total posts created by your friends and the pages you “like” in your News Feed. The goal of EdgeRank is to show in your News Feed only the posts it thinks would be most interesting to you. There are many factors that make posts more likely to show up in your News Feed, including the level of engagement – likes and comments – that posts have earned…

The EdgeRank algorithm, and how it filters posts, makes Facebook different from other social networks. Twitter and Google+ – two of the largest social networks – show posts from all people and companies you’ve chosen to follow. Its EdgeRank algorithm puts Facebook in a unique position to satisfy and get more engagement from users than other networks – and now it’s clear that Facebook has also discovered the frustration created by EdgeRank can drive companies to pay for preferential placement in their fans’ News Feeds.

Josh Constine added in February 2012:

Facebook revealed that the average news feed story from a user profile reaches just 12 percent of their friends….And the 12 percent doesn’t just apply to users. Business Pages meanwhile only get 16% of their fans seeing each post, which is why Facebook is launching its new “Reach Generator” to help marketers buy extra distribution of their Page posts on the ads sidebar, in the web and mobile news feed, and even on the logout page.

Anorak was late getting into Facebook because the site and its sister sites were never our main business – and I’m sceptical about putting another company’s name all over our property for no money. But the deal looked tempting to refuse when everyone was doing it. And then traffic started to climb. Facebook was a way out of being in Google’s thrall. Put their logo on your site and get a route to more readers. That was the deal: we promoted them; they helped us. But now they want paying.

What to do?

When Rupert Murdoch took the Times off Google and placed it behind a paywall, he backed his brand. Paywalls can work. The Colombia Review of Journalism writes on the New York Times’ paywall:

The paper now has 566,000 digital subscribers paying roughly $100 million a year between them to read the Times online. I think it’s safe to say that by the end of next year, the Times will have as many paying readers online as it does in print (on weekdays). That would be a landmark shift.

The Guardian noted:

It can now be accepted that some titles have made subscriptions an unqualified success: the Financial Times, which barely competes with the Mail or the BBC in the attention stakes, now has 301,471 digital subscribers according to its parent company Pearson. That is more than the FT’s headline printed circulation of 297,225…At the Times titles, subscriber growth has been impressive enough over the past year – digital subscriptions for the Times were 131,162 in June 2012, ahead 26% compared with July 2011. But latterly subscriber growth has slowed right down. There were 129,000 subscribers in February, meaning that only 2,100 have signed up since. Not surprisingly News International has already resorted to a price rise to lift revenues – doubling its tariff to £4 a week (£208 a year) for its iPad product. Web-only readers still only pay £2 a week.

Fair enough. You ask your readers to pay. Facebook has no readers. It provides access to other publishers’ words. Big publishers can afford to pay. Facebook might charge them $200 to promote a post today, but what if that rises to $4,000 tomorrow.? With newspaper ad revenues falling, big media owners will move towards subscriptions. Why give Google your work for free? Why give it to Facebook? And they are the two biggest websites in the world.

Google and Facebook have succeeded because big and small publishers have bought into their product.

If everyone removed Facebook buttons from their websites, what would happen? Traffic would fall for those sites. Facebook’s investors would get jumpy. If the bigger sites like Gawker, Huffington Post, Boing Boing, Daily Mail, The Sun and the BBC went sour on Google and Facebook, what would happen? Who would win?

So. Our new sites will have Facebook, a nice Twitter button – we’ve been late on that too – and we’ve asked the tech to find any alternatives. Richard Metzger, of Dangerous Minds, has gone further. He’s paid to promote his article on Facebook’s squeeze to get Mark Zuckerburg’s attention. He wants his Facebook friends back.

People will pay for something they used to get for free if they think it’s worth it. If a new social network arrives – and in light of this, many web entrepreneurs must be excited – Facebook won’t be…

Posted: 27th, October 2012 | In: Key Posts, Technology Comments (3) | TrackBack | Permalink