Dear Bands: You Don't Have to Pay For People to See Your Facebook Posts

If you have musicians on your friends list on Facebook, then it's likely you've seen the above image or a variant thereof. Basically, bands are claiming that Facebook is only allowing their posts to be seen by some of the people who have liked their page, and is trying to scam musicians into paying to promote their posts in order to reach their full audience. Thus is my newsfeed cluttered with an awful lot of misplaced outrage, and I'm here to clear it up.

First of all, Facebook has been showing some folks' posts and not others for many years now. It's an algorithm called Edgerank, and you had better be thankful because it is one of those things that keeps Facebook from turning into the pox-ridden spam incubator that MySpace eventually became. It's complicated, and the final workings are an industry secret, but I'll give you the gist.

Edgerank assigns certain weights to your activities. Yes, you're being tracked, and no there's nothing sinister about it. If you don't want computers following you, your only recourse is to stay off them. Where was I?

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Oh yeah. Let's say that I regularly click on a bunch of links to liberal stories about Republicans playing vagina warden and comment on every Norwegian death-metal song mentioned by my friend in Scotland... which is pretty accurate, actually.

Edgerank notices, and begins to filter my posts so that I see more things related to stuff I obviously like, such as being mad at conservatives, Satanic music and Scottish chicks, and assigns it more priority than things that I care less about, such as some girl I went to high school with and rarely talk to discovering Firehouse Subs.

Edgerank is in use for all the pages, commercial and personal, and keeps you from being bombarded with crap you are ambivalent about. It's why you never see any posts from that old coworker any more... you friended them once but never really communicated with them, so their posts lost weight in the algorithm until they more or less disappeared.

The same holds true with band pages, and I'll give you an example. Recently, my bandmate Bill Curtner decided the Black Math Experiment, our old, defunct band, needed a Facebook page. Once it was up, I started getting into the routine of daily looking through all the pics, Web links, videos, etc. I had archived over the years and posting once a day. Pics on Monday, a song on Tuesday, an old review link on Wednesday, and on and on.

Facebook tells you exactly how many people saw the post on their newsfeed, and what percentage of your audience you reached. For instance, last Tuesday I posted a link to a deep album cut and it reached 17 percent of the people who had liked our page.

However, on June 4, I posted a picture of the band with Jerry Only of the Misfits from when we opened for them. That posting doubled the percentage, and actually ended up on 51 percent more timelines than we even had fans.

Why? Because the people that regularly post or look up the Black Math Experiment is small, but the number of people talking about the Misfits is larger. Where the overlap happens, people saw the post.

The percentages are giving people the impression that they're being somehow censored by Facebook. Blame is being assigned as a desperate monetary gambit in the wake of Facebook's disappointing debut on Wall Street.

This is a little ridiculous, as Facebook still has more than enough money to buy the world a Coke, and still have plenty left over to pour one out on every grave ever dug then start a private space program to seek out life that has never had a Coke. If the cost of time travel was a dollar per year traveled into the past then Facebook could take my entire high-school graduating class to see a Tyrannosaurus. They don't need your $5, is my point.

That's not to say they don't want it, of course. Part of the reason for Facebook's stock price tumble was a belief that significant further growth isn't possible. Allowing people to buy greater range for posts they are particularly keen to be seen by all, not just dedicated fans, is a good business decision. I highly recommend bands look into paid ads on Facebook, as you can have some significant success.

Now, I'm going to say this last bit as calmly and rationally as I can. Bands? Stop being such self-entitled, whiny, ungrateful brats. Just because Facebook is free doesn't make it a goddamned right. You get free Web hosting, a song player, and a chance to interact with people on a level that still seems like black magic, and you don't have to pay a dime.

In return, Facebook shows ads and sets the rules. It's a business deal, and if you don't like the terms, then focus on your own official Web site.

Facebook is a social network, not a band hosting charity. It is designed to connect people, allow them to share interest, news, pictures, thoughts, and links. That's how it works.

Remember how I mentioned Jerry Only? That's the best example of what you should be doing as a band on Facebook. You need to find connections and celebrate them in your posts to increase their weight in Edgerank.

In short, a social network is about community, not just you. Don't confuse it with your personal domain. Bear in mind that many Facebook players require you to like the band page to even hear the songs. So someone discovering you via Facebook might not even be a fan at all after actually hearing your tunes, and just maybe since they never talk about that one band they heard one time that they're completely ambivalent about they don't want to receive a million posts about shows and CDs for sale on their newsfeed.

Facebook knows that, and you had better come to terms with it. They're also completely open with it.

Lastly, I invite any musician who is complaining about a post reaching only 17 percent of their fans to go out and flyer in this heat. Trust me, you're getting the deal of a lifetime.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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