Facebook algorithm stops people seeing content they subscribe to – unless brands pay

High profile Facebook users are growing increasingly frustrated at what they see as the social network gaming the system in order to encourage people to pay to promote their content.

It comes after changes  throughout 2012 to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which dictates what brand content appears in followers feeds.

Back in October last year Jeff Doak, head of social measurement at WPP owned ad agency Team Detroit, blogged that Facebook had overnight quietly destroyed “half the value of your brand page” after he measured a 40-50% decrease in organic reach for content.

Then in November Dallas Mavericks basketball team owner Mark Cuban Cuban tweeted that Facebook was possibly ‘blowing it’ with the EdgeRank changes:

This irritation led to Cuban and his staff looking at other ways to promote his sports franchise, and he told Business Insider:

In the past we thought we were creating a value opportunity by encouraging fans to Like our brand pages. While there is still value, because of the costs and the way posts are cycled through FB users news feeds, both the like and post have diminished in value.

He said he preferred Twitter, as content could be seen without being game by an algorithim.

You might have thought that by the start of 2013 Facebook would have addressed these concerns. It appears not. Yesterday the New York Times’ Nick Bilton blogged that despite his Facebook subscribers rising to 400, 000,  over January the columns he shared with saw very limited interaction.

That was until he paid $7 with the sponsored advertising tool.

With the promotion paid for, Bilton than got a “1,000 percent increase in the interaction on a link I posted”. You may well ask what his problem is. Surely the point of a paid for promotional tool is to increase interaction? Shouldn’t Bilton have been more annoyed if he had paid his money and not seen a significant improvement?

Furthermore, UX designer Martin Belam points out that one of the key features of the EdgeRank algorithim is “that the chances of people seeing your post depend on how often they have interacted with you, how interesting other people have found the post so far, and how old the post is.” 

He also points out  that “if a user never interacts when they see their content again, do they really want their news feed and attention taken up by something that doesn’t appear to be interesting them?” A perfectly sensible opinion, particularly as Belam points out that Bilton’s large following was developed on a platform someone else built and he uses for free.

Bilton’s issue though is that content he shares seems to get held back on Facebook until he pays. People have chosen to subscribe to his feed, but may not be seeing everything he posts, content that they have opted in to see. If, as Belam points out, people get bored with the content, they can choose to unsubscribe.

It is people though, not an algorithim should not make that decision.

  • http://twitter.com/Xcitedigital Xcitedigital

    With Facebook, there are so many factors that can decrease your reach to followers. The fact that Facebook deliberately makes paid content higher up on the edgeranking disregarding the quality of content is unfair. This is the reason why businesses shouldn’t put all their eggs in to? one basket so to speak. The new graph search could be a better way for businesses to reach more audiences. They can get more interactions through recommendations of their products/services if they include brand advocates in their digital marketing strategy. What do you think?

  • http://twitter.com/PostTweetism Mike Post

    So…are you the only one in the press to not know that there’s an FB announcement on newsfeed changes, in just 3 days? It’s probably going to make everything in this article void, that’s all

  • Ben Foulkes

    This seems to be simple loss aversion. A lot of brands have been used to getting extremely good promo at very little cost. As soon as the price is hiked they will run a mile even if they can still get a good ROI.

  • http://www.philsimon.com/ Phil Simon

    Interesting piece. It kind of reminds me of the effect of Google algorithm changes on local businesses. Some have claimed that a simple tweak meant 50% declines in traffic.

  • Stelios C

    I read somewhere that if you simply Like a page you’ll get a portion of the updates in your feed, but if you add this pageto your Interests List you’ll get the full updates. Haven’t tested this though.

  • http://jetcitydigital.com/ Ron Schott

    Facebook has never (except maybe in the early, early days) shown users everything their Friends post. Could you imagine what that would look like? For a sample, just look at your Ticker feed… that thing spins around like a slot machine. The average user has 200 Friends – that’s a lot of posts when you add in Pages they like as well. Could you imagine the freak out from users if Facebook all of a sudden let all content into the News Feed?

    Facebook has deployed their algorithm to deliver content to those that are most-likely to engage with that content – not to deliver the highest reach possible for someone. Look at brands that are creating high reach and they’re doing so by having interesting and engaging content and augmenting with paid when necessary. It’s no different than any other type of marketing…

    If you want to stand on the corner talking about your business to your customers, chances are some of them will hear the message as they happen to be in the right place at the right time – say, they frequent your business more than others now, if you wanted to reach those people who you know are connected to your business, but don’t come by very often, you’re going to use advertising of some sort to deliver that same message to them, in hopes that they’ll remember your business and come by more often. When those people come by more often, you earn the right to have more conversations with them… and they are more likely to tell others about your business. It’s the same thing on Facebook.

    It’s our jobs, as marketers, to help our clients realize that while most of social is “free,” there’s a mix of paid and free-of-charge content that creates the value for brands in the space.

    Ron Schott
    Head of Social
    Spring Creek UK

  • http://www.socialbakers.com/ Michal Smetana

    This heavily depends on the Facebook EdgeRank algorithm. If you tend to engage with someone more than with others, or the pages are somewhat relevant to the interest you have filled in your profile, than you are more likely to get updates of those relevant pages and people. Furthermore, if you select to get all updates from a page, than you will get all of the updates from this page, notwithstanding the EdgeRank.

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