Facebook’s Broken on Purpose, Here’s Why

Something strange is happening on Facebook. Where have our friends gone? Where are the updates from people we actually know? What are these brands that we’ve never heard of appearing on our Walls?

If you’ve noticed your feed has transformed into a giant advertisement for companies you didn’t connect with, you are not going crazy! That’s because Facebook’s Sponsored Stories and Promoted Posts have become the defining features of the social network—dramatically altering its design, interaction, and original purpose.

For those who don’t know, Sponsored Stories are “messages coming from friends about them engaging with your Page, app or event that a business, organization or individual has paid to highlight so there’s a better chance people see them”.

As an administrator or manager for more several dozen Facebook Pages on behalf of the clients enrolled in our Social ROI™ Program, my preference has always been for “white hat” tactics, such as original content creation like blog posts, white papers, case studies etc., as well as direct networking and engagement with real people, and when it feels right – contests and promotions that get the word out about a product or service.

I have been reluctant to participate in Sponsored Stories and Promoted Posts for two main reasons. First, they originally seemed suited for major brands like Coca-Cola, and secondly, they kind of seemed like cheating. Today, Sponsored Stories – for better or worse – are a consideration for any social media strategy.

Facebook is broken, and it has no intention of fixing itself. An now we have the stats to prove it.

The New York Observer summarized: “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.”

Brands, agencies and professionals are now charged to reach their own fans. We never said integrated social media marketing was free, but this seems like Facebook is punishing businesses for learning how to use the social network for marketing purposes.

“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.”

So that explains why global brands continue to pop up in your feed even if only one of your Facebook friends ‘liked’ the brand months ago. And that explains how so many niche businesses have rapidly increased their fans even without interesting content- they invested most of their marketing budget to a single social site.

But the problem isn’t just Facebook. The concept of being broken on purpose is also apparent on housing and job list services, gaming apps, numerous trendy ‘media’ sites, as well as Twitter. If you take a look at how extensive the social media black market is- you’ll realize that the majority of businesses still believe Social ROI is defined by how many fans and followers you have.

The blog Dangerous Minds questioned whether Facebook’s Sponsored Stories might just be The Biggest Bait And Switch in History, and it has the data to prove it. Saying of their own Facebook page which has more than 50,000 fans: “our pageviews – our actual inventory, what we sell to advertisers – coming from Facebook shares are off by half to two thirds when the number of new “likes” has risen so dramatically during this same time period?!?!”

Sponsored Stories frustrate me for a number of reasons. First, the cost is exorbitant. Facebook should have had a plan for businesses and marketers (maybe a paid or subscription model) well before the IPO debacle, as now it just comes across as CEO greed.

It compromises interaction and usability because people no longer see as many posts from their actual friends and family, and angering your user base to that degree is simply bad business.

From a social media marketing perspective, it takes all of the creativity out of executing a Facebook strategy and building a real community engagement group – having more fans does not mean that they will share your content or contribute user generated content like reviews.

It makes the playing field for small businesses and non-profits unlevel (especially those who are tied up in “red tape” when it comes to explaining why so much money should go towards social media).

And lastly, it directs social media marketing down the wrong path, reminiscent to the “old days” of bad SEO practices (like keyword stuffing, fake links, and spam content).

So how do industry experts feel about paid Facebook posts? I was disappointed to see AdAge, my go-to source for online marketing news and trends, campaigning the idea that brands pay for fans, in a surprisingly out-of-touch article published this week.

Their rationale: “As the number of fans grows, and the level of engagement grows, brands don’t mind paying because they are getting more engagement, Facebook gets more revenue, and fans get more value (or else they wouldn’t be participating).”

This “solution” is still stuck in the number of ‘likes’ = success model of Social ROI. We have a bigger problem on our hands: brands ultimately want to use Facebook to drive sales (even if they say they just want engagement!), and so far, F-Commerce has not lived up to the expectations. What kind of business charges more for services that have not worked?

One comment on “Facebook’s Broken on Purpose, Here’s Why

  1. Janine H. says:

    I loved your article about Facebook ads. I found it very insightful. 2 more things
    I wanted to add:

    The main problem with everyone leaving Facebook is that everyone is on Facebook; nobody is going to leave unless most people leave Facebook. A social network is only as good as its users. The only way another social network would succeed is if everyone left Facebook in droves. Until then, people will keep using Facebook because all their friends are on there.

    Also, the other problem with Facebook is that there isn’t anywhere else to go. There’s no doubt that a social network like Facebook is a useful thing. It’s a way to communicate, like using a telephone, telegraph, etc. Basically, at this point, Facebook is a public utility.

    In a dreamworld, someone would make a website/social network that was free for people to use and had NO ads whatsoever and have the most morally upright privacy standards. On that new social media site, I envision people and businesses having pages, messaging, photos, comments, etc. It would be just like Facebook, but there would be no sponsored links,
    ads, nobody trying to sell you anything and the site would keep people’s data totally private
    (as in the website would not share people’s data with companies, etc)

    But, if there’s no ads, then one has to figure out how to pay to keep the website afloat.
    So, make the website a non-profit and ask people to donate/make donations to keep the website alive, similar to the way that Wikipedia operates.

    So, let’s say for example, 3/4 of Facebook’s users leave and joined the ideal new social network site (no ads/good privacy policy). Then, all you have to do is get all those people to give $1-$2 and then, the website/new social network would have more than enough $$ to operate/stay online.

    If people want to be provided with a public good, such as a social network/website to communicate with friends and post pictures,then, people have to pay for it. EX: a public library isn’t actually free- we all pay taxes to pay for. Wikipedia’s not actually free- people
    donate money to keep the site up.

    As long as a social network/website like Facebook is driven by profits, there will be ads all over the place and a crappy data privacy policy.

    Nasty operations like Walmart and Coke are going to run/control/overrun the website/social network
    with ads.

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