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Social Media Myth: Why Facebook Hasn't Stolen Your Friends
Charles Ubaghs , November 8th, 2012 07:08

Over the past few months, Facebook has been heaving under panic postings from bands and so on claiming that their posts were being hidden in a Zuckerberg quest for cash. Not so, says Charles Ubaghs, head of social media for a major radio group

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Social media is often like an Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail that's often used to denote infinity or the idea of eternal recurrence. You'll forever find on social networks a corner devoted to bemoaning social media, discussion that in turn becomes fuel for further chatter…on social networks.

It's a tale as old as recent time or, if you like, a case of 'if you build it they will whinge'. In recent weeks, though, the torches have been lit by a larger mob than usual. The focus of everyone's ire is once again Facebook - which since its roll out of new features like timeline over the past 12 months and the development of new ad units as part of its monetisation strategy post IPO, has been the subject of a flurry of complaints. Many of them revolve around the idea that Facebook has been intentionally limiting visibility of your posts to your friends or page fans in order to make you shell out hard earned money if you want your entire network to see your updates. If that mouthful hasn't fully sunk in, think about it like this: first time was free, now you pay.

This idea has caused a bit of a ruckus since page admins first started catching whiff of it last spring with the launch of promoted posts (a feature that allows you to pay money to promote your posts to more of your fans). The complaints went quiet over the summer and then picked up speed again with the recent launch of promoted posts for personal profiles and a documented tweaking of the newsfeed on September 20th that's had an impact on newsfeed visibility for a number of pages. All of this has proven too much for many, leading to this New York Observer piece arguing that Facebook has intentionally broken itself in order to make money off its users. This now viral post from the Dangerous Minds blog takes the idea even further and offers a breakdown of what it would cost them per year if they paid to promote every post on their Facebook page.

So, is Facebook now looking to charge you for something you used to get for free?


The main feature causing the bulk of this confusion is Edgerank. What's Edgerank? Sci-fi geeks, think of it as Facebook's Wintermute. For the rest of you, Edgerank is an algorithm Facebook developed which decides what appears in your newsfeed. That machine driven decision is based on what you interact with on Facebook. Interactions can be with a friend, a family member or a post from a page you liked and interactions are defined as commenting, liking, sharing, tagging or clicking on a link. Basically, it's anything that makes you move your mouse in Facebook. 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 into Facebook. It's the reason why your close friends are more likely to pop up in your feed than old acquaintances you're never in touch with. No interaction with a person or page equals no presence in your newsfeed. It's a way of ensuring your feed isn't filled with updates and posts you don't care about. The main aim here is to protect your user experience. Facebook do occasionally tweak this algorithm in order to finesse and hopefully improve the quality of what appears in your feed. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes it impacts in ways that causes issues for some users - there are ways to fix it and teach Edgerank what you want to see if you're one of them. The system isn't perfect but it's constantly evolving. Imagine what your feed would look like if you saw every single post from every person or page you like appearing in your feed.

Some have assumed or claimed that Edgerank is a recent development that coincided with the launch of promoted posts. That's not true. This Edgerank piece from Techcrunch appeared in April 2010. Edgerank has been helping decide what appears in your newsfeed for a while. It also means that for a few years now, only a percentage - usually claimed to be around 16% - of your friends or page fans see your posts on Facebook in their newsfeeds. One of the reasons people started complaining about this last Spring is simply because Facebook started to show page admins the reach figures of their posts. The truth is that reach wasn't reduced; the figures were just suddenly more visible. Also, for anyone claiming, "Yeah, but Twitter lets all of my followers see my tweets" that's not true. Yes, Twitter's timeline simply shows you the most recent tweets in chronological order but even they admit that only a small percentage of your followers see each tweet at any given time. The reality is that Facebook and Twitter feeds are not static websites, and they're not like an email mailing list either. Your feeds are fluid, dynamic streams of constantly moving information. If it helps, think of them as a kind of radio station where you tune in at a time of your choice to hear what's happening at that specific moment. Depending on the time of day, you'll see/hear different things from different people.

For those Facebook page admins wondering if the 16% barrier can be broken, the answer is yes. The organic way is to post interesting, unique content that drives people to interact with it. The more they interact with it, the more often they'll see future posts from you in their newsfeeds. It also means that the greater the interaction, the more likely their friends will see your post content and potentially like your page.

This isn't revelatory news if you think about it. If you want to build a community around your website, band, musician etc then you need to provide your community members with content they're interested in. Facebook, like all social networks, was built around the idea of discussion and sharing after all, so again, don't approach your page like just another email subscription list. If you don't have strong content and you don't look to find ways to make it interesting for users within Facebook, then your other option now is to pay to reach more of your fans. It is something that wasn't available until recently and it's a new opportunity to reach more people, not a demand to pay for what you once received for free. But even then, it doesn't fully guarantee maximum visibility in the newsfeed, Facebook requires your promoted post to be compelling and engaging for your target audience, otherwise it will quickly vanish from the newsfeed as well. Which means that even big players with large advertising budgets have to think hard about what they push out, even if they pay. It also means that smaller businesses still have a chance to utilise the platform in meaningful ways.

Depending on your country, normal users can now pay to promote their personal posts to their network of friends too. This has caused fresh outrage in a number of places but a lot of it stems once again from a misunderstanding of Edgerank. Facebook isn't asking for you to pay so the people you value can see your posts. They'll still see everything you post. Promoted posts for personal profiles is really designed for big life announcements or if you have something to sell. Essentially, it's an attempt on Facebook's part to offer a modern equivalent of the classified ad.

The moral here is that Facebook haven't stolen your lunch and attempted to sell it back to you. What they are attempting to do while hitting enormous size is to keep the user experience at the core of its platform. Yes, they've been busy developing new ways to make money but we're also talking about money being used to fund a free communication platform used by over 1 billion people. And, they're attempting to do it in a way that's trying to put a notion of quality front and centre instead of the giant spamathon that destroyed mySpace in the end. Will they succeed? It's not clear yet. We should expect more fumbles in the near future and there are questions about what constitutes quality when you reach a size like Facebook. Facebook will keep tweaking and changing of course but what's key to all of this for publishers, marketers, labels and bands - I'd argue this for all social networks by the way - is that there's open window right now for quality to shine through and it's an opportunity for anyone, irrespective of their budgets, to potentially realise. What it requires though is a willingness to look forward instead of the past….that and a big heaping dose of creativity and thinking.

Charles often tweets about this stuff over @cubaghs

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Rich M
Nov 8, 2012 12:24pm

encourage organic clickthrough on your facebook timeline with this one weird old tip

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Nov 8, 2012 1:38pm

"Imagine what your feed would look like if you saw every single post from every person or page you like appearing in your feed." - I imagine it would be a lot like twitter. I'd much prefer this over seeing some of the post some from some of my friends at some time.

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Nov 8, 2012 1:44pm

"Imagine what your feed would look like if you saw every single post from every person or page you like appearing in your feed".

I would like it if it was like this. If I've 'liked' a page, I expect to get all their posts in my feed. I'll decide for myself if I find what they post interesting - if I decide I no longer wish to see their posts I'll 'unlike' them. If I can't see the post then I can't interact with it.

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Phil Jim
Nov 8, 2012 2:42pm

'A free communication platform' - depends if you count the cost of your personal details and information being used as means for business to target you, and potentially the government. That is what the whole thing is sold on. AdBlockerPlus/HotSpotShield/Tor etc are now very necessary instruments for surfing the internet.

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Luke Turner
Nov 8, 2012 4:59pm

In reply to Phil Jim:

Easy on the AdBlocker old chap. Without ad impressions, no Quietus.

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Nov 9, 2012 5:08am

Yes, the figures were made more visible. That's how I know views have gone done drastically in the last month, without changing a thing. Some of what is being said IS true.

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worthless recluse
Nov 9, 2012 9:09am

In reply to Mikael:

"Also, for anyone claiming, "Yeah, but Twitter lets all of my followers see my tweets" that's not true. Yes, Twitter's timeline simply shows you the most recent tweets in chronological order but even they admit that only a small percentage of your followers see each tweet at any given time."

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worthless recluse
Nov 9, 2012 9:17am

In reply to tombie:

It seems to be far from perfect, but if you're genuinely interested in a page you're likely to be liking and commenting on their updates, or even specifically checking the page.

A bigger annoyance for me is getting notifications when someone comments on an event page even if I haven't replied to an invite. Facebook are definitely becoming more aggressive with this kind of thing, and the user experience is certainly getting progressively worse to the point where a Myspace-style migration seems inevitable (and I certainly prefer Twitter at the moment), but I think there is a lot of hysteria about it.

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Nov 9, 2012 9:33am

In reply to worthless recluse:

I'm not sure I follow, if I have a hundred twitter followers and all of them backtracks their feed to a time when I posted something, are you saying only a small percentage of them would see it?

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Nov 9, 2012 1:15pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

Interesting, i'll turn it off for your site then, but i specifically remember the other editor saying at one point the quietus is 'not in it for clicks'... Not sure how much a difference it makes to your site when people use programs such as AdBlocker, and i definitely do not click on ads. Is that worrying if the bottom was to drop out of advertising revenue if everybody were to block adverts? Which for site like facebook is still absolutely necessary in my humble opinion, for your details and 'likes' are used to target you.

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Nov 9, 2012 1:32pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

this site... indeed all 'music criticism' sites are worthless. thankfully you're all dying out. the internet made you obsolete, yet you remain to battle for that middle class wedge.

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John Doran
Nov 9, 2012 1:59pm

In reply to Phil:

Hi Phil, I don't remember saying we weren't in it for the clicks. We certainly aren't in it for the money as the cretin directly above me is suggesting as we all earn much less than minimum wage and Luke and I work about 60 hours a week on it. So what I meant was money isn't a motivation - how could it be when we could earn more working behind the bar of a Wetherspoons.

But, we do need clicks. My mid term goal is to have two to three times as many people clicking on stuff as do now, which means in theory we'll earn enough to pay our writers a decent amount of money for what they do.

Also, probably what I meant was that if we just wanted clicks we'd do a load of Top 100 Love Songs style galleries and click bait and churnalism etc. What we do is make content exactly the way we want it and then when it's right break our balls to promote it.

So getting clicks is definably of secondary importance. You only have to look at the sort of names we usually cover to see that we're not going for gold, just a fair wage... and even that's still a few years off.

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Nov 9, 2012 3:42pm

In reply to John Doran:

Okay, well I thoroughly enjoy this site, so I'll bear the ads and click a few more times to show my appreciation in this small way. Cheers.

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Luke Turner
Nov 9, 2012 4:10pm

In reply to :

oh you are droll! I don't think there's been a "middle class wedge" to be earned from music journalism for years. And if we're obsolete, then you coming here to read us marks you out as a fool.

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Karl Ruben
Nov 9, 2012 4:32pm

Regarding clicks, John and/or Luke; if I've already clicked on the same ad on another page (the Turin Club-to-club thingy has been dominating your ad spaces lately), does my second/third/fourth/and-so-forth click count as a new ad impression?

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Nov 10, 2012 2:23pm

BS. As soon as this promoted posts thing was introduced my reach dropped by 95%. FB intentionally broke itself in an attempt to monetise further.

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John Doran
Nov 10, 2012 5:22pm

In reply to Karl Ruben:

All we want people to do is to read stuff on the site. I'm not going to discourage people from clicking on ads, but for each different article you visit on the site, that counts as another click. So if you happened to read two news stories, four album reviews a couple of regular features and a Bakers Dozen gallery feature in one month, you would register as one unique visitor and 22 page impressions. It is these page impressions that are the most important thing when it comes down to advertising.

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Pirate Shakey
Nov 11, 2012 9:15pm

Facebook is shit.

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worthless recluse
Nov 12, 2012 12:16pm

In reply to Mikael:

I'm just quoting the article...

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Nov 12, 2012 6:32pm

In reply to John Doran:

60 hours per week, listening to free music and delegating work to your minions that write for gratis..? Must be tough on the two of you.

But considering you seem intent to spout watered down Milliband Marxism "Fair Day's work for a Fair Day's Pay" shtick. Maybe you should sharpen up your division of labour policy... Or at least trim your beard, ya twat.

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Jason Taverner
Nov 24, 2012 12:45pm

It's rather sad that Quietus has become an apologist for Facebook.

1. You aren't Wired so don't emulate their headlines.
2. Stick to music and film, as you manage to do both of those passably, at least most of the time.

As for the writer of this piece: please review the basic elements of English syntax, and while you are at it you might as well give some thought to what exactly you are trying to say. In sentences such as the one which appears below you are failing both in syntax and semantics, even though it is meant to be part of your triumphant conclusion.

"I'd argue this for all social networks by the way - is that there's open window right now for quality to shine through and it's an opportunity for anyone, irrespective of their budgets, to potentially realise."

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herr james
Nov 25, 2012 12:12pm

sounds like rubbish using the excuse that you haven't "interacted" with someone's profile sufficiently to actually want their updates.

some folk are only on fakebook because they want to stay in the loop. older family members or un-techy types don't always race around "liking" the pants off every photo or update of their grandkids, but essentially now said grandkids are expected to pay to keep their info on nan's wall? oh please.

the only defense i allow fakebook followers these days, is that it does keep you in touch with old friends. friends that you haven't seen for years because you changed scenes, girlfriends or countries. for facebook to effectively "block" posts from your feed because it's been too long since you stalked through their photo albums is defeating this purpose.

i wonder if they'd arbitrarily remove the visibility of user behaviour profiles/likes from advertisers who haven't recently and actively interracted with said users profiles?

having said that, if you're a fakebook user, you have to suck it up. you're essentially choosing to run with a monopoly. if it really bothers you, try something else! support any of the other options attempting to compete with or improve social sharing.

if you get really desperate you could always write your pals an actual email, send a postcard, or go meet up for an actual fucking chat, you lazy bums.

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Dec 2, 2012 11:02am

I hope they paid you at least, to pretend to be inept. You must be out of your gourd to not notice how all of a sudden you are seeing things in your feed about corporate products, because some ding-a-ling you hardly know "likes" said product or corporation, yet your "interests" are hardly reflected.

I don't buy this "edgerank" crap-- as if what you're parading around is some sort of internet libertarianism "survival of the likin'est" hogwash, rather than what it is-- devious market research and esponiage that doesn't even have the decency to let you freely share your own personal information to whomever is awake at the time in your feed, while they are making a profit off of it. If it were the case that they were out for our best interests, they would give us the "hide" button and let the chips fall where they may.

To say that myspace failed because they lacked interference from outside interests when to me at least, as a user, they seemed to suffer from repeated and longstanding bouts of negligence... is a glaring reflection of poor research and desparate grasping for straws. Are you really telling me you haven't seen music gear ads in your feed?

Too many holes in the argument, and not enough sources to back it up. Dangerous Minds at least knows how to hyperlink to their sources.

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John Thomas
Dec 17, 2012 7:13pm

In reply to John Doran:

So I can use my AdBlockPlus and save myself having to see the ugly, off-putting ads, and you still get your clicks. Everybody's happy...?

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