Before you go all postal on me for changing my mind as often as Facebook changes its interface and algorithms, understand that I have always had a love/hate relationship with the 800-pound social network in the room. Sure, I have given you some solid advice on how to optimize your Facebook wall posts for action and I even advised you about complementing your organic outreach with promoted wall posts, but I have always equivocated.
When it comes to advocacy and political campaigns, many online organizers are quite ambivalent about Facebook. On the one hand, Facebook is notorious for changing its interface, it is better for niche communication than mass communication, people on Facebook prefer not to click links that leave Facebook and it is difficult to convert page likes into email subscriptions. On the other hand, two-thirds of all internet users in the US use Facebook, making it an essential and inescapable channel to potentially reach your audience. Hence, online organizers have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.
So when I came across this Breakup Letter to Facebook from Eat 24 (thanks to my friends Allyson Kapin and Eve Fox), I felt I had to share it with you (along with my own comments). The breakup letter goes on about how Facebook has made it harder and harder for us to use it to organically share our ideas, photos and other tasty treats. Not too long ago we were lamenting that only ten percent of our page fans see our wall posts in their newsfeed. Now I am hearing that the rate is even smaller. In 2012, posts reached 16% of your fans. Today, a post organically reaches barely three percent of your fans.
This is Facebook’s business model. Like the “Pusherman” on the streets, Facebook got us all hooked on Pages by delivering our content to all those people for free. In the early days of Pages, you could even send mass messages to all of your page fans. But now, you have to pay… and pay… and pay; just like an addict.
Back in 2007-2008, I attended a Facebook briefing in Washington, DC, about their plans for the upcoming elections. At that point, Pages did not exist and Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly told us that they had no plans to create anything like them. My good friend, colleague and former student David Pierpont rose up to challenge Facebook’s decision. David was the online advocacy director at the National Wildlife Federation at the time and Facebook had recently shut down NWF’s Ranger Rick profile for violating its TOU. After all, said Facebook, Ranger Rick is fictional character. Dave countered that to NWF’s 4 million supporters and countless children over the years, Ranger Rick was more real to them than most of the people on Facebook (or in Congress).
Within a few weeks of this briefing Facebook rolled out Pages for organizations, candidates and other fictional characters. And the advocacy and political communities went wild. We created our pages, grew our audiences of supporters, privately messaged them in mass and fed all of them our wall posts.
We got hooked.
Then Facebook went public. Then Facebook’s member growth plateaued. Then investors got worried and Facebook stocks fell. Then Facebook started rolling back Page functionality in order to force us to pay for the reach we used to get by posting good content and engaging our fans. “God damn the Pusherman.”
After several years of getting us all addicted to Facebook Pages, followed by a couple years of steadily increasing the price for feeding our addiction, have we reached a tipping point? Has Facebook crossed the equilibrium price point and started driving us away? There are rumblings that younger users are leaving Facebook and this letter suggests the adults may be following the kids.
The saddest thing about this story is that Facebook is driving up the price of exercising our First Amendment rights to free political speech. Sure, Facebook is a private company, but it has become a de facto public forum. And Facebook’s increasing efforts to bilk us for exercising our free speech rights is really starting to piss us off. If Facebook continues on this path, it just may drive us all away.
P.S. For those rockers among my readers, here is a sweet taste from the Pusherman for you: