Yesterday a post from Richard Metzger over on his excellent Dangerous Minds website started going viral. Entitled “FACEBOOK: I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK”, it ranted about a much-covered topic, namely Facebook charging to promote posts and ensure that they are seen in news feeds. Rather than repeat the article here, I’d recommend that you take a moment to read it before returning here.

To me, this post is way, WAY off in quite a few ways. Firstly, I just don’t get the expectation that every post would be seen by every fan, every time. As lovely a principle as that is on paper, the reality is that any social network, as it scales, just won’t be able to manage that. If it did, your news feed would be in meltdown. Secondly, presuming that every post deserves to be seen is misunderstanding how social works. Every post is not a knockout; some are incredibly viral, others are, not to put too fine a point on it, dull. Hence, taking a selective approach to what is seen is actually more refined; it is reflecting the way we interact in real life.

Secondly, what’s not identified in Metzger’s piece is that when posts pick up interaction, they go more viral. So, on a post-by-post basis, Facebook is looking at how people are responding and acting accordingly. If the post is getting a load of Likes, that post shows up in more News Feeds. I’ve seen bands with near-zero engagement levels leap from nothing to thousands engaging because their big announcement has gone viral – and that is without promoting the post. Why? Because so many people are engaging with that post (often the “we have a new album coming”-type ones) that Facebook effectively concludes “this is clearly interesting content from this page – I will ensure more fans see it”.

Let’s be clear: Facebook did not suddenly start holding your posts to ransom. They didn’t flick a switch overnight and cripple the exposure levels of your content. It was ALWAYS that way. Edgerank – the algorithm that decides what content is shown in the News Feed – has been in operation for years now. The introduction of Promoted Posts was, if anything, a good thing, because it gave Page admins an override switch; a means to pay and ensure their message was shown to plenty of people. Its not perfect, but its still better than not having it at all.

I think it was probably more than a year ago now that I started repeating my mantra about Facebook to anyone who’d listen, namely: “Facebook is a place to share experiences. It is not a place to have experiences.” What I’m getting at is that Metzger’s strategy is wrong here from the get-go: he should have been using Like buttons on his website to ensure the Dangerous Minds content was shared back to Facebook via user’s News Feeds, not just repeating the content itself on Facebook. All that does is give people a very excellent reason never to visit your site. Remember: it is Facebook’s playground – you’re just playing in it. You don’t have any rights there: you are the consumer and you use their platform for free (or at least, without paying a subscription). For that reason, if you’re trying to build your empire on their shoulders, you’re already in a vulnerable position.

Relating this to my world (ie music marketing in the main), its not a massive problem. Artists simply channel news through Facebook, and news is transient. We already survived MySpace’s rise and fall, which might be why I’d argue that music marketing people are a little more savvy in this area. However if like Metzger you are a content creator and that content is your livelihood, then you should be thinking very hard about how your site interacts with Facebook. Placing too much reliance on it as a platform to engage people is foolhardy.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. It feels like a race to the bottom now in terms of content, as the visibility is based on its viral response, the end result of which might well be a News Feed festooned with LOLcats. As any social network scales it hits the same barriers of maintaining quality. MySpace fell foul of it because their own architecture didn’t allow them to innovate the site to keep up. That’s why Facebook got in: the design was more robust. Now though as Facebook hits epic usage levels, the same issues will arise and it might well also stumble and fall. However that is a separate issue – one for another post, another day.

DH