Facebook Oversharing Clogs The Feed
It’s the morning after the Social Media Insider Summit, and I find my head stuffed not only with memories of how beautiful The Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo is, but also with factoids and insights about social media.
The information overload makes it difficult to figure out what to write about. Should I post the five “under the radar “social opportunities outlined in Michael Wiley’s Tuesday keynote? Should I wax on about the future of social by design? And what about Bryan Boettger’s Mitsubishi TV case study, detailing a social media effort, still in progress, that has encountered a few bumps in the road?
Hard to say. But one thing that did stand out to me was an insight about Facebook also echoed by another advertiser later in the show. It came from American Express’ Shari Forman, the Monday keynote, who told the crowd that after the Facebook redesign a few months ago -- the one that introduced the Timeline and the Ticker -– some advertisers saw their engagement rates go down.
This is not a headline of the “Man Bites Dog” variety, certainly, but something that many of us intuitively know had to be true. If, as Forman and others have said, “It’s all about the newsfeed” when you’re an advertiser, a newsfeed with more so-called news in it could mean that advertising messages get lost. It’s akin to when cable suddenly gave TV viewers a fire hose of video content. Suddenly, reaching them with ads got a lot harder.
Facebook’s new, more powerful fire hose of content wasn’t just about the redesign, though. It was about Facebook broadening the boundaries of sharing, from the new, from-your-first-Facebook-breath-to-your-last Timeline, to the integration with services like Spotify. Like Sean Parker, I think the Spotify/Facebook integration has been overdone. For one, not all of us want to share what we’re listening to. In my case, this is partly because the main user of the family Spotify account is my son, whose musical taste, well, isn’t mine. The way we have the account set up, it would end up getting shared in my Facebook account.
But even if that wasn’t the case, I’ve no interest in sharing what I listen to. The Spotify sharing I see going on is like a competition in which the winner is the person with the most obscure taste. I don’t need to be reminded on a daily basis that while I may love the Pixies, the Decemberists, De La Soul and Beck, I've also always had a thing for Burt Bacharach. (There, I’ve said it!)
But getting back to those low engagement rates, all of this oversharing clogs the feed, with information that is, for the most part, useless. From a technological perspective, at Facebook oversharing is the default. Obviously, if you stripped away some of the mindless automated sharing from Facebook, you’d not only please a lot of users, but make life a little easier for Facebook advertisers. From what I can tell, nothing was gained from the “insight” I got this morning that one of my Facebook friends read the story “NM Man Who Pulled Own Tooth in Jail Awarded $22M” on Yahoo. It took up valuable real estate both on Facebook, and in my head. The topic of these sorts of apps came up several times at the Summit, and no one -- and these are people in the business! -- liked them.
Or maybe the clogging of the feed is akin to what the broadcast networks do to inflate ad rates during the upfront: “Since people are harder to reach, you have to pay us more money in the hopes that you’ll still be able to find them.”
It does make me wonder sometimes, if Facebook, for all its data, really understands just how varied users want their sharing experiences to be. On a somewhat related note, I’m co-admin of a Facebook group devoted to a no-longer-in-existence ad agency that I worked at in the 1980s. The youngest people in this group are in their 40s. Last week, one of my former colleagues posted the sad news that one of the most beloved people at the agency back then had died unexpectedly. The outpouring of grief, anecdotes, and sharing moved many of us. As sad as this is, it’s wonderful that we can easily share a eulogy with people who care.
As I’ve marveled in the last week over how Facebook made all this possible, I’ve also felt that when college kid Mark Zuckerberg thought up this Facebook thing all those years ago, he wasn’t thinking that people much older than him would use it to post eulogies.