Promote-Gate: Facebook Charges for Promoted Posts Criticized

The changes made to the timeline on Facebook over the last couple years have caused a furor among users, but what has flown under the radar is the anger over the way Facebook fan pages (simply called "Pages" now) don't show up in the timeline of every person who "likes" a given page. Yesterday, I was forwarded another article by someone who is frustrated with the fact that it is tougher to promote a product or service on Facebook.

The fact is, for quite some time now, posts on Facebook both from individuals and pages have not shown up in the timelines of every friend or fan. For one thing, how individual timelines are sorted -- Most Recent versus Top Stories -- interferes with that process (Facebook defaults the sort to Top Stories and uses a service called EdgeRank to determine what is considered a top story for you.) and even if you sort your timeline by Most Recent, you still only see about a third of the posts from your friends and pages.

This is because Facebook believes that it would be almost impossible to view every post sent to you after you reach a certain number of likes and friends. They are probably right, but that doesn't really go to the crux of the matter.

The problem is that, up until less than a year ago, every post from a "page" would appear in 100 percent of the timelines of those who liked it. That made it fairly easy to promote a business or band or non-profit on the social media giant and you could do it for free. Since the change, that percentage has dropped to around 30 percent of "fans" getting posts in their timelines each time. Granted, they actually have to see the post either way. If a person doesn't scroll through every single post on his or her timeline, plenty is going to get missed. Anyone who has spent any time on Facebook and has more than a handful of friends and page likes is well aware of that fact.

For many businesses who use Facebook as a promotional tool, that drop in eyeballs hurt and there have been angry blogs written about how Facebook is doing this to make more money, particularly after its IPO fell flat. What I wonder is why that surprised anyone. What business isn't trying to earn as much as it can through whatever legal means offered to them?

Some don't see it that way like the author of the article I linked to earlier:

Take Google Inc., for example. It has been successful because it keeps introducing free features -- analytics, blogging, RSS feeds, Google+, Docs, Hangouts and more. Its thinking is that if it offers really good free features, we'll continue using it, which boosts page views and drives advertising.

Advertisers are its users. We are the product. And it works really well for the company. It does, after all, have a market cap of $250 billion.

So why is Facebook trying to squeeze more money out of its users? Why not look at us as Google does: as the product?

Sure, I understand it's now a public company and it has to find new ways to make money, but there are several business models before it lighting the path.

And yet.

If your business has a Facebook page, you've likely seen a decrease in "Likes" and interaction. We have one client who went from 10,300 interactions per day to less than 3,000. Overnight.

That last part is the key to the argument. The author is confusing "users" with "businesses." There is no question that Google and Facebook consider individuals as the product they are selling. That's how all advertising works. The ads on this website (and the ads on the website where the above story originated, for that matter) are nothing more than a delivery system for the eyeballs of people who read it.

What the author of the story is upset about is businesses used to be able to promote on Facebook for free. They still can, but the return on that is substantially less and to increase it, they have to pay. This is, for me, the heart of the problem with the consternation over Facebook's changes to promoting posts. I've seen numerous arguments that are exactly the same over and over and all I can say is, "Welcome to capitalist America."

Look, I have a business that I promote on Facebook and the changes have certainly forced me to rethink my approach. But, I also cannot fault a massive platform like this one from trying to reap benefits from all the people who use it. Who wouldn't? I sympathize...no, I empathize with other businesses when it comes to using the Facebook platform to find new customers, but when was advertising ever really free?

All the clatter over this fundamental change to Facebook seems more like people frustrated that they now have to pay for something that they may or may not be able to afford. Ironically, many of the complaints are emanating from business blogs and websites. But, my guess is that they don't offer ads for free, so why should Facebook?

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