5 Questions Facebook Should Answer

Bashing Facebook for its culling of organic reach is a little like shooting fish in a barrel, but when they go on the record to defend the action again, it does call for a response.

Regular readers will know that I am far from enamoured with Facebook curtailing a brand's reach among those who like its page to single-digit percentage levels -- these can dip as low as 2 percent, according to a recent Ogilvy study. Facebook's most recent rebuttal of criticism was pretty much an old argument -- lots of organic reach for brands means news feeds are filled lots of branded messages. In a bid to defend a user's news feed from looking "spammy" Facebook has dialled down its algorithm so fewer posts spread organically among a brand's fan base.

This wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing if it weren't for the way of sidestepping the quality police and paying to promote a post. Several things are worthy of note here, but the main issue is, of course, that Facebook allows brands that are willing to pay to get around its algorithm tweaks. We want to protect our customers from your messages right up to the point you pay to promote them -- that's effectively the lay of the land nowadays.

The huge irony here, which is a little less obvious, is that brands generally pay to promote the content they know will be most popular, usually triggered by early shares and a good initial response to a post. So it's the good stuff that is proven to be initially popular that tends to get promoted. The stuff people actually want to receive and share is what brands end up having to pay to promote in order to reach the people that are likely to want to receive it in the first place.

Any fans of the book and movie Catch 22 out there? Sound familiar?

There's also an elephant in the room here. Agencies often sit on the wall and sometimes even come down on Facebook's side with statements that at least it clears up news feeds. Is there not just a little bit of self interest here? The people brands turn to for marketing advice are hardly likely to support mass organic reach when they can be given a budget for promoting posts on Facebook, with a fee for spending it.

So here are five questions that Facebook really ought to answer. And when I say answer, I mean really answer and not just trot out a line about spammy news feeds.

1. Given how quick you are to set my privacy levels back to share everything with brands and the whole wide world every time you tinker with Facebook, how do you think you can take the moral high ground on cleaning up news feeds?

2. You expect people to take control over their privacy settings -- why not the settings of which brands can reach them? Why not give users decent tools to control this, just as you do with privacy?

3. Do you not trust users to simply unlike brands that are "spammy"? Does the threat of this not prevent responsible brands from being "spammy"?

4. Do you not agree most people probably think it's promoted posts from brands similar to those they have liked that make their news feed look spammy, not posts from brand they like they know they can unlike at any stage?

5 Are you ever going to be honest and say you're a listed company whose future lies in mobile and so, without a mobile equivalent of the Web version's right-hand strip of ads, you've got to sell users' news feeds to the highest bidders? Do you not think continuing to avoid the financial upside for Facebook of selling news feeds by dialling down organic reach, particularly on mobile, is a little patronising to marketers, brands and end users?

I would love to hear these questions answered by Facebook. I somehow suspect, though, that they're too busy counting a mountain of cash, safe in the knowledge the site is now so huge that brands can't afford to take any other action than just shrug their shoulders and pay for what they'd always assumed they were going to get for free.
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