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Is Facebook Ripping Us All Off?
As you might have read recently, Mark Cuban (the infamous owner of the Dallas Mavericks who has also invested in around 70 companies) is leading a revolt of sorts against Facebook. He’s going to deliberately begin leading fans to Twitter and other networks. Why? Facebook wanted to charge him to reach more of his own fans (around $3,000 to reach a little over 1 million Maverick fans). Yes you read that right. Facebook wants to charge businesses to reach their own fans. Ouch. Nobody feels ripped off when they are charged to reach potential fans—that’s called advertising—but being lured to draw fans to a Facebook Page under the assumption that you will have free and unlimited access to them and then pulling a switch-a-roo? I’m guessing that the average person who signs up for Facebook believes they will have access to any information they subscribe to (whether from a friend or a company). Apparently not. Last time I checked I didn’t see any text on Facebook’s homepage advertising, “Signup today to let us pick what you will or won’t see!”
If Facebook were a government, how long would the citizens put up with this type of censorship? I mean, is Facebook the ultimate cyber bully, pushing around it’s own users just because it can? How much a part of a community can you truly be when you are only privy to partial information? Can Facebook move forward in a way that doesn’t destroy the trust of both consumers and businesses and still turn a fair profit? In light of that last question, was going public ever going to be good for Facebook users or was it the beginning of the end of Facebook as we knew it? While many people already feel ripped off in terms of a lack of privacy on Facebook, is Facebook now ripping us all off in terms of information (consumers) and real money (businesses)? That’s not what you signed up for… is it?
To help you make up your mind, here’s what the our Tech Think Tank has to say on the matter:
The Gardener Decides Who Gets the Sunshine
Facebook’s latest revenue play should be a wake-up call for anyone building a business in someone else’s garden. The thing about walled gardens is that you live at the pleasure of the gardener. Doesn’t matter how pretty your leaves are or how far down your roots go. The gardener decides who gets the sunshine, who gets the water, and who gets a shovel-load of fertilizer. The upshot of all of this is that angry managers of large Facebook networks might finally push them to tell a clear story about what they’re selling, and how effective it actually is. If you’re going to pick the fruit off of my tree and then sell it back to me, it had better be delicious.
Users Should Start Packing…
Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm complaints are substantial and frustrating because it reminds me of what my parents used to say “As long as you live under our roof, you play by our rules.” Businesses and nonprofits who choose to use Facebook as their main source for promotions, education and information are the ones who are complaining the most — knowing that Facebook is just a communication conduit, which they do not own, and a public company who is trying to make a profit. I understand the frustrations because as a person who fires up Facebook first thing in the morning, I ask myself “Who gives Facebook the right to choose the type of content I see on my news feed when I specifically chose to view it by selecting “like” on a Facebook page?” The answer, Facebook. It’s their house, so I have to play by their rules.
Small business owners and nonprofits who use Facebook as a platform to compete with bigger brands are now being squeezed out by paid advertising and promoted posts. Plus, Facebook’s algorithm performs like a strainer by which the gems are separated from the dirt, thus, making it harder for the smaller organizations to getting noticed. Once a level playing field for many organizations to compete for your attention is now flooded with mediocre content. In order to rise and stand out in the chaos Facebook wants you to pay to be in the spotlight — but, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be seen.
So the question small businesses and nonprofits must ask themselves, “Do you participate in Facebook’s “Pay to Play” scheme or do you move out?” My advice is to start packing up your stuff, but keep your room.
Facebook’s house rules are unpredictable and becoming intolerable. Users are frustrated by constant Facebook updates and changes with little to no notice. It’s worse for businesses and organizations because they’ve invested time and resources to be relevant on their social network. The latest round of changes highlights that fact that Facebook is not using you, but you are using Facebook. Unless you are willing to abide by Facebook’s policies and rules, there is no need to stuff the complaint box.
Facebook Made No Promises
From the start I advised against individuals investing in the Facebook IPO. Stock picking is just not smart for retail investors – no matter how much hype around an IPO. No, make that especially if there’s hype around an IPO.
That said, I think $FB is a great company, built for long-term success. They’re still figuring out what to do with their impressive platform, and sometimes they test things and make missteps, but on they make more good decisions than bad ones. Look at what now looks like a relatively cheap price paid for Instagram’s 30m users, which continues to grow, and is now likely close to 150m.
It’s upsetting when companies change implicit or understood contracts with customers. But Facebook never promised to give you access forever to companies you follow. It felt that way, but (unless you agree with the terrible citizens united decision), companies are different than people.
Facebook provides the best-in-market news feed of your friends. One which you customize as you like – you can silence who you care less about hearing from, or turn up the volume if you really want to see more baby pictures from your college friends. I think you ought to have that same level of control over brands, rather than Facebook controlling this. But let’s recall that this service is free, and we all opted into it.
Censorship Has No Place on Facebook
Facebook’s recent move to hold “page” content and fans hostage for an added advertiser fee is a clear result of stakeholders pressuring the newly public and closely scrutinized organization to start paying off. Unfortunately, it seems these stakeholders have no idea or interest in seeing their investment through to its full potential, and instead are caving to public criticism about its future and forcing Facebook to make money in ways that may eventually lead to its undoing.
While Mark Cuban’s tirade may fall flat due to its initial Trump-esk passion, I’m with him as both a marketer and a loyal user regarding the state of the “LIke” button. The “Like” button as it was always understood was the social equivalent of email opt-in – allowing marketers to reach willing consumers. It is brand participation in Facebook as a legitimate marketing platform that has shaped the growth of social media marketing over the past 10 years or so. For Facebook to now go back to brands and say, “thanks for making us who we are today… now we’re going to start billing you to reach the audience you worked so hard to build and retain” is ridiculous. But I do understand Facebook’s drive to bring in advertising dollars and better monetize the global audience they have worked so hard to build. I’m sure any marketer reading this commentary has run an unsuccessful ad campaign via Facebook. The current side-bar placement of Facebook ads is an afterthought and increasingly ineffective. But the core of the platform is the news feed and user interaction, and therefore I see nothing wrong with charging well established brands (those above say 100,000 followers) to reach their Facebook audience via paid status posts, promotions, and featured content. They have utilized Facebook as a viable marketing platform in order to get to that level of user engagement, so in order to continue that success they should be provided the option to pay when posting more than 5 status updates per month, or any videos or promotions.
While for some this may seem like the social media equivalent of taxing the 1%, the truth is they have benefited most from it and should pay to continue to do so. This same payment model is popular with many digitally-based businesses including email marketing, and social media analytics services. For Facebook, adopting this model could be the pivotal point in it’s post-IPO history. Maybe if they developed a more profitable yet engaging and intuitive desktop advertising platform, they could parlay that success into mobile before investors stick their nose any further into the business model.
Though I understand Facebook’s shift in brand and business participation, the censorship brought on by EdgeRank has no place on Facebook. As a user with a real interest in following the news and content shared by my favorite brands and businesses on Facebook, I feel gypped! I’d much rather learn of a great sale or new product than scroll through yet another baby photo album posted by my second cousin’s cousin. Facebook is doing both its loyal users and businesses a disservice by deciding what is or is not seen and shared. I’m a firm believer that limiting Facebook’s real-time content stream in any way will only hurt them in the long run as it limits user and business interaction on the platform and will no doubt have a negative affect on any new advertising model proposed.