Surely you’ve noticed. Your newsfeed currently features four topics, pretty much exclusively: updates on Sandy and her aftermath, Halloween pics, political updates -- and requests from companies whose Pages you’ve Liked to also express Interest in them.
It’s not their fault, they say. It’s Facebook. Facebook has changed the settings so now only 10%-15% of our fans will see our posts. Unless we pay. Or unless you make a new part of your Facebook -- an “Interest list” -- that will show ALL our posts. Which will work great, as long as you visit this Interest list -- which evidently will contain All Corporate Posts, All The Time -- regularly.
It’s a kerfuffle. And to make it more of a kerfuffle, Dangerous Minds’ Richard Metzger went on a bit of a rant this week, accusing Facebook of throttling exposure to Page fans in order to be able to charge companies for visibility to those same fans. (Recognizing his own irony, Metzger paid to promote the post, which has now been shared more than 148,000 times on Facebook.)
Malicious. Nefarious. Even evil. Metzger likens Facebook to “a James Bond villain,” adding that, “It surely doesn’t take a Harvard degree, does it, to figure out that Facebook so aggressively angering their user base by inserting themselves into the equation in this way, is perhaps -- if only because of the size of the company’s market cap -- the single most misguided thing a major corporation has ever deliberately done, bar none, in the entire history of American capitalism and the world.”
Really? The single most misguided thing? More misguided than subprime mortgages?
Okay, so maybe it’s not a smart move -- but it is reflective of the precarious synergy inherent in the online ecosystem. A few months ago, I was chatting with a friend about Facebook. This particular friend is on it, but doesn’t use it much, instead letting his tweets automatically cross-post. “Of course I like to connect with my friends,” he said. “Of course I like to know what people are up to. But I hate -- hate -- that Facebook owns that.”
It’s a pretty fair comment. Imagine Facebook were a person, named, I don’t know, Mark. Imagine if Mark were a friend of yours. Imagine if he came to you and said, “Look, instead of talking to your other friends directly, just tell me whatever it is you want to say. I’ll tell them, I promise.” Obviously, you’d be pretty unlikely to accept the proposition; it would mean you’re completely dependent on Mark and his inclination -- or ability -- to follow through on his promise.
And Mark doesn’t necessary need to be malevolent for this situation to become complicated. His ability to communicate all your messages diminishes as your friend volume scales. You can picture Mark coming to you every morning with your updates: “Then Jane wanted you to see a picture of her kids, and David posted a link to this really cool article on Facebook owning your friends, and 487 of your friends posted updates about Sandy…”
So Mark has to make decisions, about which messages to pass along and which ones to store in case you feel like making the effort to see them. And those decisions fluctuate over time. And, because you’ve signed up with Mark to be the conduit for your information, you are subject to his whim and whimsy -- or, depending on your perspective, to the sophisticated way he adjusts his algorithm to maximize both the user experience and his company’s profitability.
Metzger is complaining that a for-profit, publicly listed company has cut back on giving away a service of value to other companies that are also aiming to make a profit. But, really, Facebook has owned that relationship from the second you decided to take advantage of their platform. Why should it give you free access to your customers?
Don’t like Facebook owning your relationships? Use email. Use Twitter, for now. Invite your fans to hang out at your office, all the time. There are challenges with every channel -- but remember, when you’re on Facebook’s turf, you play by its rules.