Facebook’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad problem

Facebook is playing a high-risk game with Promoted Posts, angering its most visible and vocal fans.

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A few months back, George Takei – better known to most of us as Star Trek’s Lieutenant Sulu – voiced similar concerns. Takei has made a second career out of posting funny photos to Facebook. As a result, he’s garnered nearly 3 million fans to his Facebook page. He, too, noticed a sharp drop-off in how widely his posts were circulated following the appearance of Promoted Posts.

But it’s not just famous folks who are pissed. I’ve talked to small business owners who were unpleasantly surprised to discover that the updates they thought were going out to all their fans were instead only reaching no more than a small percentage of them. No explanation given. One small biz owner I spoke with asked Facebook repeatedly why this was happening; she says she never got a real answer, and after a while her Facebook rep just stopped responding to her emails.

I recently tried this out myself. I created a brief status update to my fan page and spent $5 to promote it. According to Facebook, the update was supposed to reach between 3000 and 5000 Facebook users. Instead, it reached just 880 people.

 

In fact, more people saw that post “organically” (ie, not clicking through the sponsored link) than saw the promotion. The result? I gained a whopping five new Page Likes at a rate of $1 per. At that rate, if George Takei wanted to go from zero fans to his current number, it would cost him in the neighborhood of $2.9 million. 

Granted, this was hardly a scientific test. Your fannage may vary. But still, it’s no wonder people would rather buy thousands of fake fans for pennies apiece than pay Facebook 25 times as much for a handful of real ones.

I get it. This is Facebook’s network; if they want to start charging for stuff they used to give away free, they are well within their rights. If they want to tweak their algorithms to incentivize Promoted Posts, they can do that too. But they are alienating their earliest and most dedicated supporters, who are both very visible and very vocal. That’s not a wise move for a company where customer loyalty isn’t especially high and the competition is only a click away.

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