This assembly of letters is about Facebook, which has very little to do with romance novels. In fact, my feelings about Facebook are kind of the opposite of a romance novel. My feelings about Facebook would probably be best summed up in a completely different book: Jodyne Speyer's Dump 'Em. (I did a book event years ago with Jodyne, and the two of us, with me talking about happy ever after and her talking about dumping people, made a very funny pair).
There have been a few rants and videos floating through my Twitter feed about how Facebook has changed this week… or yesterday… or in the last hour… or since I typed the word “hour.” Blanket statements up front: Facebook for me, both personally and professionally, is a free service. I am not charged to sign up, and I don't have a contract with them that enables me to demand anything. I can whine and gripe all I want but I have no expectations that Facebook would change or give a crap.
To misquote Kesha, I can indeed imagine the immensity of the fuck they're not giving.
There is a Smart Bitches Facebook page. I post links to what's here, talk to the people who have liked the page, and visit with them. Everyone who is connected to the SBTB Facebook page and interacts there is a lovely, most excellent person. And I know from my personal and professional FB usage, there are a good number of people who hang out on Facebook. That's their place, the location online that they most like to be. And even though it's different every time I go there – it's like a highway repeatedly under construction, and every time is a different route – I head over to Facbeook to say hi, talk about what's on the site right now, what silly things are going on, or maybe post a graphic or a copy of the workout. But I'm visiting folks. And despite all the stats about Facebook driving traffic, I don't expect any of the FB folks to immediately leave and go anywhere else. That's their hangout; that's where they like to be, so I go visit there. So I have no expectations that Facebook is going to grow me anything — neither social connections nor hydroponic tomatoes.
I used to advertise the SBTB page on Facebook. I set a budget of about $50 per quarter, and I'd run ads inviting people to join the discussion, recommend romances, or whatever else was going on at that moment. The cost per new “like” at that point was about $1.25 per, and after a few conversations with very cool people in publishing, I learned that, for a while, that was pretty much standard.
Then Facebook started changing. I have a presentation I give pretty regularly about social media and reader interaction, and every time I give it, I have to update every single slide about Facebook because it changes so regularly. Remember when there was the percentage of reach shown at the bottom of each post – and the math was really sketchy? The percentage of reach never made sense given the number of likes. Then the percentage disappeared. Then the organic reach and the paid reach appeared, and as always I was given the opportunity to pay Facebook to reach people who should have been seeing what I wrote. I was offered the chance to pay to reach people who already wanted to hear from me – because they'd liked the page.
Ok, Facebook. Whatever. I'm not required to spend money, so it's cool, but that's really not useful, is it?
Then I noticed that running an ad got me a pile of new likes on the page once the organic and paid reach statistics started showing up. And the return on investment for an ad was far, far better than $1.25 per like.
That made sense: if Facebook wanted me to pay to reach the people who already liked me, then they'd make it easy for my likes to increase, so I'd pay again to reach them on a post-by-post basis.
I'm also part of an entrepreneur's group online, and in one of our discussions, other business owners (all of whom are far, far outside the publishing realm) noticed similar results. Moreover, if they did elect to promote a post, the organic reach of their subsequent posts would drop dramatically after they'd paid to promote – the idea being, they suspected, that if you were willing to pay once, you'd be willing to pay again, especially if your organic unpaid reached was less after having paid to expose one post to a wider group. Sure enough, I did the same thing, and my results were the same. The paid-to-promote post went much, much farther than the ones I didn't pay to promote. The posts that came after the promoted one reached fewer people than the ones prior.
A few folks have tweeted this video about Facebook's advertising, and how the results are less than optimal and frankly useless. It's worth watching the whole thing – especially if you advertise on Facebook.
So whether you pay Facebook for advertisements and promotions or you pay a click farm, the results appear to be the same – and are equally useless in terms of extending one's social reach on Facebook. And to be clear, I don't really care what Facebook does. It's free for me, so long as I don't elect to pay for things. If they want to change it, it's their business, and their platform, and I'm electing to use it. I can choose not to use it, or not focus on it as much as other methods to connect with people. And I can use my personal Facebook feed or not – and really, at this point, my personal feed is like a celebrity gossip magazine replacing all the celebrities with people I went to high school and college with. Heh.
A source professionally familiar with Facebook's marketing strategy, who requested to remain anonymous, tells Valleywag that the social network is “in the process of” slashing “organic page reach” down to 1 or 2 percent. This would affect “all brands”—meaning an advertising giant likeNike, which has spent a great deal of internet effort collecting over 16 million Facebook likes, would only be able to affect of around a 160,000 of them when it pushes out a post. Companies like Gawker, too, rely on gratis Facebook propagation for a huge amount of their audience. Companies on Facebook will have to pay or be pointless.
That 160,000 still sounds like a lot of people, sure. But how about my favorite restaurant here in New York, Pies 'n' Thighs, which has only 3,281 likes—most likely locals who actually care about updates from a nearby restaurant? They would reach only a few dozen customers. A smaller business might only reach one. This also assumes the people “reached” bother to even look at the post.
The alternative is of course to pay for more attention. If you want an audience beyond a measly one or two percent, you'll have to pay money—perhaps a lot of money, if you're a big business.
As Biddle clarified in the comments, Facebook's limitations of organic reach apply to what shows up in people's news feeds. If they go to your page, they see everything (obviously). But the organic reach limits the distribution of posts across news feeds, so people who only look at their own news feed would be less likely to see a post.
(NB: organic reach makes me think of organic vegetables trying to grab onto me with vines and stuff. I bet Bunnicula had organic reach.)
This is not surprising, but it's a bummer, as Biddle pointed out, for smaller businesses – and authors count as small businesses, too. For some authors who have built a sizable audience over the past few years on Facebook, and who interact multiple times a day with readers, the alleged suppression of organic reach could undermine the audience connection they've worked so hard to create.
That said, creating a community on Facebook means that Facebook stands between you and your community, and they can change the access any time they want. And of course the same is true of Twitter, and any other social network. (This is, by the way, why having a website and a mailing list are so essential – that's virtual real estate and communications access that's under the owner's control, with no social media located in between.)
Even if an author goes out of her way to interact with as many people as possible on Facebook, Facebook is in control of any and every page's reach, and there's little anyone can really do about that, especially if Facebook is intent on “throttling down” organic reach. Facebook controls Facebook.
It's not like social media platforms are immortal (though comparisons to vampires may be increasingly apt). I found my Friendster login a month or so ago – remember Friendster?
I don't think I've said anything earth shattering here, and it's not like I have exclusive access or news about Facebook. But I do know that many of you use it professionally, and I wanted to share what I'd learned from varying sources, especially because one of the things we all do here and elsewhere is connect with other people who love what we love. There are more options each day for readers who want to connect with books, other readers, and authors, and Facebook's decisions may mean that entrepreneurs and others will find other methods to connect. In my opinion, all of Facebook's decisions lately have made Facebook less useful for anyone who isn't looking to share pictures of their lunch, pictures of their kids, or pictures of their kids eating lunch.
But I'm curious how you see Facebook. If you're an author or business owner (same thing), do you use Facebook? Has the manner in which you've used Facebook changed recently? Have you noticed these changes, too?
If you're on Facebook as a reader, do you interact with authors there? What or how do you use Facebook? Have you noticed it changing?