The latest Facebook "Pages" debacle

I see a lot of bitching about how Facebook has broken posts from Pages and is running some new shakedown trying to get people to buy sponsored posts, but so far none from people who strike me as really knowing what they're talking about.

Who has the facts? What precisely have they changed?

Yes, I have seen the "Dangerous Minds" thing. It's long on rant and short on supporting documentary evidence. (Very, very, very long on rant.)

It's been true for a long time (a year? two?) that if you go to the Facebook web site and don't immediately select "Sort / Most Recent", then you don't see shit. It's not clear to me that what people are complaining about is any different than this years-old situation that "Sort / Top Stories" sucks.

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25 Responses:

  1. g-na says:

    The latest debacle has to do with not seeing posts from pages that you "like," such as band pages. Whereas you used to see most or all the posts from those pages, lately you will see few or none unless you consistently "like" each one of the posts. It's supposedly a scam to get those page owners to pay for sponsored posts.

    • jwz says:

      Yes, this is exactly the assertion people keep repeating, usually in angry images full of text. I'm asking for facts and quantification, not theories.

      • shaver says:

        The numbers we've observed during rollout and since match the intent of the design and the review of the implementation: the ranking for non-promoted posts didn't change. (We make ranking changes periodically, like search engines do, but those are neither new nor related to page promotion.)

        I don't know what data we can share, probably none. Page owners have been looking at the Insights data and finding the same thing. There are some that dipped as promoted posts rolled out, but it's the stock picking fallacy: those patterns happen to pages on any given day due to a ton of factors.

        If the Insights data for your page looks weird, I can get someone on it.

        I posted on Reddit about this too, but it would be ridiculous for us to suppress high-rank content. Just like Reddit and sponsored posts, Google and sponsored links, etc., lowering the quality of content to sell more ads quickly turns you into ehow.com.

        • Owen says:

          take your calm, reasoned, first-hand perspective and get off my internet! There is no place for this kind of thing here.

        • solarbird says:

          As promoted posts rolled out, my band page insight-counted views per post dropped by about 30% and stayed down. Then I got a coupon for advertising. I ignored it, got another piece of nag mail about discounted advertising, and ignored that. Then my view counts dropped into single digits on the vast majority of posts, even as my Likes climbed a little, and stayed there.

          The other bands I've talked to about this generally report similar circumstances. I know no examples of people whose numbers have improved; I know one who say their numbers have stayed about the same. That isn't to say these don't exist, I'm sure some do. But I don't know any.

          As for the stock fallacy: to make sure I wasn't just being surly and misremembering, I just went to my page's timeline just now and scrolled through the last several months, and despite per-post interaction being pretty consistent, my numbers are reliably about a third to a quarter of what they were this past summer - before getting the ad coupons - again, despite more people having Liked the page. Not many more; a few more.

          I mean, sure, it's not a good statistical sample, because we're not randomly selected and there's nothing double-blind about any of it - plus, most of us are nobody (yet) and trying to build fan bases, so we aren't talking large numbers, which makes confidence even lower. But you want people to get suspicious about intent? That's a pretty good way.

          Given the number of complaints, I'd suggest there may be many pockets like this.

          Now, all that being set aside, for me the issue is: can you build a fan base on Facebook anymore without paid promotion of posts? I strongly suggest that the answer is no. It used to be helpful, in that people who actively sought you out and Liked you would at least see your posts, and that everybody and their mum had an account on it, so you were easier to find there than other places.

          Now people "Like" a page, think they're going to see what you're going on about - modulo being too far behind and skipping, of course - and instead see nothing at all from you whatsoever. So they think you're idle and/or dead and write you off.

          I'm honestly worried that having a page at all has become an outright negative.

          I mean seriously, this is how bad it is: on Livejournal I have ten times Facebook's interaction. I put up a band post and I will have ten times as many people not just see it but load the entire post intentionally than what Insights are telling me are top-level views on Facebook.

          On fucking Livejournal, ffs. Not using their crappy stats tools, using real ones. (I bug posts on a semi-regular basis for this purpose. Before you ask, their tools say my numbers are dramatically higher than my tools do, because they don't filter worth a damn. I can generate good stats.)

          Hell, Dreamwidth beats Facebook in my numbers. And nobody even knows what that is. Tumblr, of course, kicks Facebook's ass.

          In short, in the little set of bands I know - which is the data I have - having a FB band page at this point is at best a neutral for building fans, and quite possibly a negative.

          Finally, to top everything off, the "feel" is even worse: it feels like requested content ("Liked" pages) is being swapped out in favour of paid corporate content. The "feel" is that Facebook has become everything wrong with the old media. We feel like Facebook pitched to us that this is how to reach our fans, and once Facebook got the likes and demographics, failed to show our posts to our subscribers and showed paid posts from other people instead. If the internet levelled the conceptual playing field a bit, Facebook is doing its damnedest to re-unlevel it.

          But with Facebook being the monster it is, it also feels like you gotta play.

          I think the term here is "cornered."

    • josh says:

      Even if this is true, I don't understand is why people are characterizing this as a "scam". It seems like fan pages had essentially been a free advertising program and now facebook is trying to make money by distributing these posts.

      • Ben says:

        Once upon a time there was an idea called 'the Internet'. It was not about making money.

        Yes, I know we've lost.

        • Brian B says:

          Internet, Schminternet. Facebook is a walled garden you can get to from the Internet, but I don't think it's exaggerating to say that calling Facebook part> of the 'net is a category error. It's become the Schminternet.

          • Marty says:

            Quite. The internet is not about making money, but lots of the sites on it are. If we rely on one of these profit-making sites to such an extent that doing our free advertising elsewhere becomes unthinkable, then it's fairly unsurprising that the website will want to take advantage of that.

            As anyone even half-awake has been saying for years now, Facebook's customers are its paying advertisers and its product is the attention of the normal users. The website is an infrastructure it's built to attract the latter. Facebook doesn't want to upset either of those groups, but non-paying advertisers? They add nothing of value to Facebook and can expect to have an increasingly miserable experience in the future.

  2. Will says:

    Since you were clearly trolling for anecdotes, I will just say that yesterday I was testing our Facebook app, and posted a message on my wall marked visible to me only -- Facebook politely offered to let me pay to promote the post.

  3. Ronan Waide says:

    The sort order thing seems to be on a shortish expiry timer, so if you're not obsessively checking Facebook for updates it reverts back to "top stories". This catches me out a lot. Dunno about the claimed "only 15% of your posts are seen by the people who subscribe to you", it frankly seems like the sort of thing that'd be a pointless pain in the arse for 99% of the user base.

  4. shaver says:

    Top Stories and Most Recent should only affect sort order and grouping/aggregation, not which stories you get. If you see otherwise, mail me please.

    Having all page posts go to all likers would be a disaster; feed would be unusable for most people. I trust the people who came up with the 15% number, since they have all the data to check it.

    • jwz says:

      If I clicked "Like" on a page/person it's because I want to see all posts by that page/person.

      If your system does not have an easy way for me to accomplish that, then your system sucks.

      The system that I use for reading Facebook does show me everything, but I'm sure it's violating the terms of service in a dozen different ways.

      • shaver says:

        You can control it on the page or timeline, I believe when you do the Liking. Or after, there's a control on the page/timeline, too, or an option on every post.

        You can put the page in an interest list, too, I think.

      • shaver says:

        I am really tempted, at the next hackathon, to add a control I can flip to turn off the filtering and ranking temporarily for someone, so they can live the adventure. Make them smoke the whole pack

        • jwz says:

          Well I don't know how promiscuous you are about clicking "Like" on things that you don't actually like, but I can tell you with confidence that my full feed contains about 250 posts/day from humans and about 175 posts/day from pages. I don't particularly consider that to be a firehose. That's with 267 friends and 286 likes.

          Oh, a small number of those friends are killfiled. About 10.

          Also every "game" application is killfiled, along with bullshit like horoscopes.

          • Jed Davis says:

            Suddenly it dawns on me: @shaver might be thinking about all the “your friend commented on this random piece of crap” stuff that they added recently. I haven't done a poll of my Usenet-refugee friends who don't want Facebook randomly hiding things, but I suspect that they'd be more likely to want those items blocked entirely than always shown.

            I have seen what happens when you dump everything that your “friends” commented or clicked Like on or gazed intently at into one big sewer (see under “Socialcast”) and it is kind of a pain to extract information from.

        • Jed Davis says:

          Do it. I can find a few people who'd cheerfully volunteer as test subjects.

        • Ewen McNeill says:

          If your service's answer to "I've read all that, is there anything else I haven't seen" is "nah, there's nothing else (that we think you'd be interested in), try again later", when there's a bunch of things "filtered out", then there's something seriously broken with it as a means of communication. It's entirely possible -- potentially useful, even -- to provide a ranking system without unilaterally filtering some things out so that they are completely unreadable.

          The answer you're looking for to that initial question is "there's a bunch of things you haven't seen, but we've got to warn you they don't look as interesting as what we've just showed you"; if the user says "show me anyway" then (a) they clearly care about completeness over boredom and (b) you gain a valuable opportunity to learn more about their preferences when they say "why did you think I wouldn't like this?, I love this, always show it to me".

          Ewen (who had enough of badly designed "BBSes" in the 1980s)

    • Karl Shea says:

      You can't be serious. I miss posts from my friends ALL THE TIME that don't show up on my feed when Top Stories is selected. The only way I've found to make sure I see specific friends' activity is to load a list with them in it, sometimes Most Recent won't show everything either.

  5. Peter Hollo says:

    The experience of solarbird above is one that a lot of the Page owners I know have found, including my partner who works for a (very) large organisation in Australia. Numbers of views for posts started tailing off a few months before Promoted Posts were introduced, and have tailed off even moreso since then. Interactions have gone down, and on my own fairly minor pages (over 400 likes but not a lot over), it's basically the same set of people interacting all the time.
    The numbers are clear and easily available by looking back through our posts. For the large organisation, views have declined from 1000s to a few hundred.
    So as others have said, it's not about how you sort your timeline, it's about what you're actually shown - and for Page owners it's about how useful Facebook is as a marketing tool. It's not viable for me to promote the posts for my community radio show (for which I make no money) or my solo musical act. And Facebook doesn't differentiate between those types of organisations or entites and, say, Coke - level playing field, right? Hm.
    And I don't buy the "if we showed everything timeline would become useless" argument. We can downvote stuff we don't want in our feed.

  6. James says:

    This is from a company that claimed 70% growth in their IPO prospectus when their referrals had been flat for over a year. I wouldn't put it past them to exempt savvy users from their latest monetization ploy.

  7. Another Josh says:

    I've gone through each section; my General account settings area, the Home page (using SocialFixer to enhance), and have gone to each person's/community page to specifically click all the possible drop-down or check boxes to get everything they post, in the order it was posted by date & time. I still find if I go to each individual's page or fan page, there are items they posted which did not come across my home page feed. I've talked to people who run their fan pages, and individuals, just to see if they're doing any filtering (which would mean their filtering is broken, if it doesn't come across my home page, but I can see it on theirs.) and it's the reverse: They're not filtering me out, they want me to see the posts, but FB just didn't send them along.

    Which means it's busted, they mean to have it busted, and the moment a better option comes up, I'll bust out of there, abandon FB in a heartbeat. Their user policies are awful.

    It may be that serving up all of everything of a billion users is just too much, so they filter because they can't handle the load. In the old days, I'd presume as much.

    I wish there were an interactive RSS application we could all use, but it just hasn't happened yet.

  8. anonymouse says:

    I make my living from my business, and have operated independently for eleven years. This year, my facebook page reached 12k likes. Typically, I post from 3-5 items a day. With this change, my views have gone down, the activity on my page has gone down, customers think I stopped posting because they haven't seen my content on their timelines. I wasn't aware this was happening, until the trend became apparent. I clicked on "promote this post", because I had paid for advertising a few times before on fb with results, and thought "yeah, that might be cool too...what? To people who already like my page?" F.T.N.

    Worse: I can no longer look to my page for any kind of feedback from customers or about my business because I can't tell what they actually like or not, because I can't tell what they see or not. It doesn't work for me, and it doesn't work for them. Am I going to pay to post? Nope. I can't afford it. It's that simple. Would I pay? (Not after this, but might have) if it were reasonable, scaled and introduced in an honest and transparent way.

    What they've done has destroyed any final shred of goodwill or trust I felt about the platform. I've resisted ranting about the numerous pages / accounts I went through with facebook's earlier policy shifts for businesses since 2004, when I started using it. But this ends it for me. I would be an idiot to continue using facebook, thinking it was a wise use of my time and energy for my business (I hardly use it personally either). It's too unpredictable, too shifty and offers zero stability. Now, I just feel like a sucker for using it in the first place. For six years. Am I going back for more?