Remember back when Facebook told brands and publishers that they would be able to build up large communities and then reach them whenever they wanted?
Those were the good old days.
Now, Facebook has announced that it is strangling the organic reach of brands and publishers for the sake of their user experience. To be fair, they are responding to the pressures of being a 2 billion person network: there is a lot of content, and people still want to see only the things that are relevant to them. Even if I Like 200 brand pages, I don’t want to see 200 pieces of brand content per day.
But it’s not purely about the holy grail of user experience. That’s simply a cover to make the changes popular. After all, who in their right mind would argue against an improved user experience? There are two big reasons why Facebook is making these changes: fake news and that cash money. One of these reasons will work, the other will completely backfire.
The Fallacy of “Trusted” Sources
Facebook still has a lot of mud on its face from the way that the Russians used it to co-opt the US Election and put the destabilizing Donald Trump in office. Since Facebook is self-service in terms of advertising and promotion, agents of the right were able to spread their propaganda and fake news freely.
Facebook’s logic now is that by reducing the amount of news that it shows people in their feeds, it can lessen the effect of misinformation. This is utterly untrue for a number of reasons. First, Facebook deems sources trusted when people like the content from those pages. Facebook itself is not a journalism watchdog that has a serious vetting process for deciding which outlets are legitimate. As soon as it did that it would come under extreme fire from anyone it discriminated against, and could run foul of free speech laws. So if trusted means that people share its content, that is just the same thing that’s happening now.
Second, Facebook wants to show you more content that your family and friends are sharing. The problem is that oftentimes it is our loved ones that feed us misinformation. Take a look at WhatsApp. It is the opposite of Facebook in that all messages are encrypted and there is no publishing dynamic. Yet WhatsApp groups spread misinformation all the time, often with dire consequences. In India, a group of men was killed when a rumor spread that they had kidnapped a child. The rumor jumped from WhatsApp group to WhatsApp group in a viral effect that proves that whatever Facebook does to make us closer to our friends and families will not achieve the results they want.
Finally, Facebook’s ultimate aim is to make people pay whenever publishers or brands want to reach someone. The problem is that the people who spread fake news were paying customers, financed by the alt-right or Russia interests. By putting up a paywall to influence, Facebook will actually make it easier for major actors to subvert society.
The Real Reason: Plain Old Money
Facebook has to know that their plan wont reduce fake news or help slow the spread of misinformation. Which means that it is probably a second layer of cover, after user experience, for justifying the extortion (yes, I’m using that term) of the people that pay it money.
How does Facebook make money? Advertising.
Who has the money? Brands.
How do we get them to spend more? Take away their organic reach.
I’ve already written over and over again about the Facebook evolution and how it has slowly fleeced brands and advertisers into spending more and more money with them. In the end, I do not attempt to preach morality. Facebook needs to make money. Brands need to connect with customers. Facebook has 2 billion of them.
Facebook is excellent as an advertising platform. It is not too expensive, highly targeted, with multiple types of advertising formats that are clever and immersive. You can even add functionality to brand pages to bring customers into your marketing funnel more quickly. I advocate allotting media budget to Facebook almost every time.
It’s just that since brands thought that organic reach would enable them to build true communities that are active around their products, Facebook has become a 100% letdown. Now that brands built up those audiences, they can’t communicate with them. So why not just run targeted ads instead of having a page and paying to create organic content? Maybe that’s Facebook’s ultimate goal?
This is a subject for another time. But the fact remains that Facebook is now pay-to-play for brands and publishers. Prepare the check books.