Facebook the public company has three very demanding constituents — users, shareholders, and advertisers. The company is tap-dancing its ass off to keep all three happy. That includes complaints from the company’s oft-angry mob of users. They aren’t falling on deaf ears anymore, it seems.
Earlier this week I posted an article called “Enough with the entitied whining — Facebook isn’t running an advertising charity” in response to complaints that Facebook Pages are appearing less frequently in users’ news feeds. The company is doing that to avoid turning off as it increases promoted (aka paid) posts from brands.
My point was, these page operators used Facebook for free promotion. Now Facebook is charging to increase distribution, and they’re crying foul on the principle that it was once free, therefore it must always be free. That’s an entitled way to think when no one guaranteed they’d always be able to advertise this way for free.
Even so, Facebook appears to be on the case. The company is already testing a new feature, according to Inside Facebook, that will allow users to access a feed of all updates from all the Pages they follow. So, if you are one of those insane people who actually likes when brands declare “Happy Friday!” you can, on your own accord, seek out those updates. They won’t be lost in the ether of the social stream, they’ll live in an easily accessible place next to your main feed.
Who knows if this will become permanent. The company is constantly testing and tweaking new ways of tailoring content to users. But it feels like a reasonable compromise and a sign Facebook is not deaf to complaints. Contrast that with the Facebook we witnessed when the company first introduced the News Feed way back in 2006. Users revolted, saying the feature was a privacy breach. A young Facebook had more to lose at that point, and the complaints were much more widespread. And yet, Facebook changed nothing. “You’ll get used to it,” was the message, and the company was right. We did.
After I posted my story this week, I realized there is an argument to be made for the “entitled” side of this issue, and that’s for non-commercial entities. Charities, musicians, and artists use Facebook to communication with their supporters. For example, I’m sure my band’s unsophisticated Facebook promotion has been hurt by the Edgerank tweaks. In the last week, I’ve seen a number of promoters and bands pass around statements like this one, arguing that they worked hard to build up their fan-base on the platform. Even the biggest indie bands (ahem, Grizzly Bear) are basically non-profits. They certainly can’t afford to pony up for expensive News Feed advertising.
But then I remembered that my band still relies primarily on the only guaranteed free form of promotion: email. It’s also the most effective one. We use Facebook and Twitter for nonessential “engagement” with our 420 fans and 2,200 followers, and we haven’t put a ton of real effort into building a following on either platform. Why bother, when we have a list of email addresses that nobody but us owns? I wonder how many charities, bands and artists believe social media has completely replaced their core systems of communications with their supporters. My guess is not many. Which means changes to Edgerank simply decrease their volume of free advertising — it doesn’t cut off essential communications. To a Facebook user, self-promotion is the same, whether it comes from a band in Brooklyn or from a corporate brand page. And Facebook needs to ensure its users don’t sign in to see a feed of nothing but self-promoting Page updates.
Another argument I’ve heard is unfortunate but unavoidable. Yes, a non-profit or artistic endeavor can’t afford expensive news feed advertising, but it probably couldn’t afford to advertise on TV, either. And that’s what Facebook is going for with its Promoted Posts — TV-style advertising, done for the first time on the Web. It’s an attractive business play, but it is also sad for those who love the Web for its democratizing power, where a nobody might turn into a breakout hit thanks to the power of the crowd. That’s still the case elsewhere online, just not on Facebook.
That’s all to say, I see the argument but I’m still, overall, unsympathetic to those complaining that Facebook is taking what was rightfully theirs. The entitled mob feels differently. Facebook was able to ignore the complaints when it had the luxury of being a private company.
But now things are different. The company is doing a balancing act, keeping users happy, which leads to happy advertisers, which means revenue, which leads to happy shareholders. With Facebook’s stock in the gutter, we’ve already seen Zuckerberg do something he’s hardly had to do before — pimp the company to shareholders. He’s doing the same for advertisers, ordering that each product team bake ad products into their core. Now it looks like he’s doing the same for the angry mob. It’s a whole new Facebook.