Facebook VP insults our intelligence, argues limiting organic brand reach is not about making money

By James Robinson , written on June 6, 2014

From The News Desk

Over the last two years, Facebook has slowly begun cutting back on the organic reach of page posts, whittling it down from 16 percent in 2012 to around two percent now for pages with over 500,000 fans. Brands have found themselves paying money lately to get posts out to fans that they’d already paid money to acquire.

Needless to say, people have gotten a bit peevish about the whole thing.

The short, obvious explanation has always been, Facebook is a business and this is simply the inevitable money-making conclusion of its initial freemium advertising model.

Except, well, yesterday Facebook VP of Advertising Brian Boland took to the Facebook for Business blog and attempted to argue that this clamping down on organic reach is for the good of both brands and users. He unequivocally denies the company is trying to make more money by limiting the visibility of brand content.

Boland says rather that brands simply do better when Facebook plays God a little bit. “Our goal is always to provide the best experience for the people that use Facebook,” he writes.

Brands actually have better organic reach now than they would otherwise, Boland argues. His claim has merit, even if it is a little naive. On average there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed at anyone time. If you’ve liked a ton of pages, this number could be as great as 15,000. The number of pages the average user likes rose by 50 percent last year. Facebook only shows a user 300 stories at any one point in time and weighs up “thousands” of factors, all personalized, to choose the most relevant posts for you amid all of this noise.

The real-time approach throws too much content at a users, according to Boland, meaning that we’ll inevitably miss the things that matter the most to us -- be it baby photos or news blast from much loved company. (I can't tell you how many times I've lamented missing a thinly veiled brand advertisement amid posts from my close friends and family.) There’s a strong chance, he argues, that without Facebook's filtering, less than two percent of people would see a brand post anyway.

Boland has a point. Real time is flawed. Twitter built its brand on the real time approach and has just recently started to back off from it ever so slightly. His case – that Facebook needs to take some ownership of what we see to stop the site devolving into a confused mess sinking under the self-indulgent warblings of one billion people and companies – is not a bad one. It is worthy of contemplation.

But, at a time when Facebook’s ad machine is minting cash, and the company is under constant pressure to deliver quarterly growth to Wall Street, Boland’s outright denial that this consideration has anything to do with money is a bit laughable. The sensible option might be the more lucrative one here, but trying to argue that Facebook's bottom line didn’t impact how aggressively it pursued this course is a bit of an insult to our collective intelligence.

Hunters hunt. Publicly traded companies use their assets to make money. There are worse things to admit.