Facebook fan-pages broken, but FB will unbreak them for a price

Writing in the New York Observer, Trust Me, I'm Lying author Ryan Holiday says that Facebook has deliberately broken its fan-page service so that only a small number of registered fans see status-updates. If "brands, agencies and artists" want to reach all the people who've signed up for status-updates, they have to pay for "sponsored posts." As Holiday notes, this is a large conflict of interest for the service: the worse it works, the more they can charge to fix it.

It’s no conspiracy. Facebook acknowledged it as recently as last week: messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an account’s fans. In a wonderful coincidence, Facebook has rolled out a solution for this problem: Pay them for better access.

As their advertising head, Gokul Rajaram, explained, if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

In other words, through “Sponsored Stories,” brands, agencies and artists are now charged to reach their own fans—the whole reason for having a page—because those pages have suddenly stopped working.

This is a clear conflict of interest. The worse the platform performs, the more advertisers need to use Sponsored Stories. In a way, it means that Facebook is broken, on purpose, in order to extract more money from users. In the case of Sponsored Stories, it has meant raking in nearly $1M a day.

Holiday goes on to point out problems with other services, including Twitter and Craisglist. His focus is on the cost to advertisers, but there's also the cost to users, who believe that they are getting the news they signed up for, and instead are getting the news that a deep-pocketed firm can afford to put before them. For further reading, see Eli Pariser's Filter Bubble.

Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right (via MeFi)

(Image: C&T Program Fan Club Insert, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dcmatt's photostream)


  1. It’s not just fan pages. They’ve done it to non-profits as well, which really, truly sucks.

    1. “Are you going to charge to fix typos in your post…” Let’s get the Grammar correct while we’re busting someone’s chops for their own errors, otherwise we look like a F*cktard.

  2. Facebook is seriously failing. 

    Did anyone tell them that disingenuous flailing fails are a good formula for keeping their worthless stock on a downward trend?

    Probably. Once it reaches zero all monies are extracted, mission accomplished. 

    Glad I (and everyone I know too) saw their IPO for the barely veiled fleecing of fools it was and still is.

      1.  The second that multi-billion dollar idea hit the stock market our deprived crappy economic system sucked up the wealth faster than a wall street banker hitting coke on a stripper…

  3. This is an irresponsible, misleading piece.

    They are not stopping your material from reaching fans. They are selling you other ways of reaching your fans/getting their attention where they otherwise missed content.

    Time and time again, various groups and individuals I follow inaccurately whine about this and cry conspiracy and they are simply misinformed. Albeit, partly at the fault of Facebook for being unclear in their presentation of these materials and probably intentionally profiting from this panic.

    Edit: I’m no fan of Facebook and certainly have my issues with how they do things in general, but I’m also a fan of credibility and accuracy and I hope people stop freaking out about something they misunderstand.

    1. 1. Facebook prevents “fan page” messages from reaching all users, even those who want to subscribe to them
      2. Facebook asks the fan pages for money to make the messages get through to users

      If this is correct, how is this information misleading? How is this not FB fleecing its users? It sounds to me like gmail or hotmail randomly dropping half your friends from your email threads, and telling you if you pay them extra they’ll try harder to include all your recipients.

        1. I work for a small not-for-profit and whereas before this system tweak I was reaching almost 75% of our hundred and some followers now that number floats around 25%. What accounts for this drastic drop? And this can’t be attributed to user fatigue or regular drop off because our follower numbers steadily increase month to month and this sharp decline was noticed in August.

          1. There’s a few things that could be looked at. Are you sure it isn’t breaking down your metrics differently? I know there were changes at some point, I just don’t know if they coincide with this new hard-sell they’ve been doing of their extra paid marketing tools.

            They started providing much more accurate per-post analytics tools.

            Also, where the lines blur and a grey area exists and reality is somewhere between the two “truths”: There’s something called “Edgerank”, which is nothing new.. that determines how people see certain content in their news feed. A combination of their settings vs what they’re following vs what you’re posting and your general relevance can lead to them not seeing something when they hop on to check their messages for a few minutes with their morning coffee or whatever.

            I didn’t really want to ramble on and lose people, but it is misleading to insinuate that you have to pay real currency for all your fans to see things. Nobody has to “buy” anything. It’s always available to them through a variety of means and there are steps you can take to be better at marketing your content to them without buying promoted posts and the like.

            Hope I didn’t ramble too much. There’s thousands of articles available on it though.

          2. This may be due to revised analytics but I’m also noticing that the people/pages that were the most engaged don’t even comment, share or like anymore and some of these groups have a MOU that our content will be shared with their followers and vice-versa because we’re working on the same projects, etc.

            And to comment on the paid services, are people being contacted by Facebook to receive these services via email or some other way? I don’t think I’ve seen anything to help me be a “better” promoter.

          3.  Yes, this is happening to everyone.  Stroud Water Research Center contacted FB about it directly in August and FB said (in the nicest possible marketing speak) “Pay up, SUCKERS!  HA HA HA HA HA!”

        2. Then…what’s happening?   Explain this quote:

          As their advertising head, Gokul Rajaram, explained, if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

          1.  He is their advertising head. His job is to sell more advertising spots. He wants you to buy them as a shortcut to reaching more people. It makes sense, it is no conspiracy and is one way of definitely making sure that you reach more of those people that most people are missing.

            He is not saying “Unless you buy sponsored posts, 85% of people are blocked from seeing them”.

          2. Functional blockage and effective blockage…what’s the real difference when the solution is the same?

        3. It is less misleading than your own posts.

          The truth is that FB has limited the propagation of posts and wants to charge for that formerly free service – it’s a classic “bait and switch” move.  Hey, come in here, non-profit do-gooder!  We’ll give you free advertising!  Oh, but now we’re changing our terms of service to charge you slightly less than what it would cost to reprint all the materials you sent out with “like us on facebook” on them.

          1.  I vehemently disagree. To make such an assertion requires that you research more about how it actually works.

            No need to get nasty though. It IS a confusing topic.

            As I’ve said in my reply to Mr. Holiday, I do agree with the notion that there are some serious conflict of interest issues here, but a lot of the panic that’s been going on for months is based on misinterpretation and a lot of people are losing their hat over a complete misconception of how it all works.

          2. No need to get nasty though.

            This from the person who started out with…

            This is an irresponsible, misleading piece.

            You’ve got a real whiny bully vibe building up there.

          3. Nothing confusing about it. Do you even run a FB page?

            We’ve been running our FB page for two years and we understand Edgerank. FB quietly removed the ‘update’ feature (aka free group messaging) and then brought in ‘promoted posts’ and ‘sponsored stories’ while drastically reducing the reach of unpaid-for posts.

            It’s a classic bait-and-switch.

          4. You can disagree with the law of gravity, if you like.

            I blogged this on 2012-06-06 after helping the web master of a non-profit research lab conduct empirical tests.  Your assumption that you understand how it works may be no more reliable than your assumption that I haven’t done research.

            Facebook changed the way posts propagate after their IPO so that they could implement a “pay to play” policy.  This is certainly within their rights as a free service, but it’s what’s happening, and your claims that it’s not happening are akin to claiming gravity doesn’t work – you’re contradicting observable realities.

        4. Yes, #1 is correct. You’re simply wrong about that. I was on Facebook the day it instituted the new policy, and read all the little popups explaining exactly what had happened, and did the math on how much it would now cost to reach everyone on my Like list for each post which, until that day, I had been doing. Facebook basically throttled our feed so that our posts now reach a small percentage of randomnly selected members. They then presented a tiered pricing plan which would guarantee that a greater number of people on the Like list would see our posts in their own feeds.

          Full stop.

          You. Are. Not. Right. You are incorrect. As in wrong. Says me, and every other person in this thread who actually manages a Facebook page. Facebook can do whatever the hell they want–it’s free ice cream, after all–but kindly don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining.

          1.  Most folks who have made noise about this don’t fully understand the issue.. there has been a lot of misinformation floated around the web and Facebook itself. I’m not saying there isn’t an issue whatsoever, but the issue has been misrepresented.

            I “actually manage” a dozen large Facebook pages and dozens of medium + small ones, but  simply having a large audience base and seeing the metrics + the advertising pitch Facebook throws at you isn’t some right of passage that guarantees that you fully understand the situation so I’m not sure what flaunting that about does to assist the situation.

            To say “you have to pay money for everyone to see all your posts/content” is not accurate. It’s not. This is what I take issue with. Not the inherent conflict of interest in the way Facebook games things or the disingenuous way in which they are essentially manipulating people into spending loads of dollars on promoted content.

            Not sure why the sarcastic tone, etc. Apologies to whomever if my initial post came across the wrong way, I can see how it may have though it was posted out of concern. Every week someone is in a panic in my FB feed talking about how Facebook is “blocking all their posts unless they pay money!” and it needs to be explained in proper detail to them.

    2. A_W_Young. 

      I appreciate your thoughts and I understand that my view here is somewhat extreme. However, I’m an admin on pages that have a few million fans between us, so I’ve seen what I am writing about with my own eyes.But let’s say that I hadn’t–this business model is inherently a conflict of interest. Like Goldman Sachs arranging it so they would bet against mortgages they had packaged…and then sold to other clients.It puts the business’s interests inherently at odds with the wishes/desires/interests of their customers. And that’s a strange, dare I say, EVIL position to be in. 

    3. Sir, you’re totally wrong. They are doing exactly that and everyone who runs a page knows it.

      We run a page of 500,000+ fans/likes, and have watched the reach stats drop over time – no matter how viral the content – to the point where our page has become functionally useless, posts now reaching barely 1000 people – unless we pay FB to promote them, of course…

      Yes, that’s 1 in 500, or 0.2%.

      PS. We paid a lot of money in FB ads to grow that page. Never again.

      1. It was certainly never my intent to ruffle a bunch of feathers, but there is serious misunderstanding about all of this. I’m not “totally wrong” as you’ve put it.

        We’ve talked about the inherent conflict of interest in the model anyway, and I’d go further in saying that there’s a conflict of interest in Facebook actually explaining more clearly/accurately how this all works, which they have yet to properly do.

        I’m not here to argue, I really dislike Facebook and look forward to its eventual, slow demise, and it’s questionable business models + lack of accountability on the security/privacy front along with it.

  4. i wonder how much of that $1M per day revenue will persist. it would be worth paying a month’s “sponsorship” to make sure your fans get the message “we’re leaving facebook; join us at plus.google.com or sign up to our mailing list.”

  5. I seem to remember George Takei complaining about something like this in his Facebook feed several months ago. He received an official response from someone at FB saying, more or less, that he was looking at it all wrong… but not denying the substance of the situation, that you have to pay to get all your subscribers to see what they thought they had subscribed to.

    And no announcement to subscribers, so we would just think that the accounts we are fans of have begun posting only 15% as much as they used to.

  6. Holiday seems to be complaining that Facebook has the gall to charge money for advertising.

    There is a lot wrong with Facebook, but of all its many problems, I’m having a hard time getting worked up about this one.

    1. I think the gall is more that Facebook has now crippled its syndication system so that your posts are now only visible in a fraction of the news feeds of users who actually follow you as a fan. If you want to guarantee that 100% of your fans see it, $pon$or$hip

      Facebook has been gradually doing this filtering for a while — it’s been quite a while since most users have actually been seeing 100% of their feeds due to the simple volume of traffic Facebook gets, and how spammy many users’ news feeds would be. There’s a bunch of algorithmic massaging to try and surface what’s most relevant to you in your feed, but the controls aren’t directly accessible.

      What Facebook’s done now is monetized that filter’s throttle knob.

    2. There’s a difference between charging corporations to advertise and charging fan pages so their posts reach everyone who has ‘liked’ the page.  No one cares about the former, but we’re pissed as hell about the latter.

  7. I understand that Facebook wants to impress its shareholders with its commitment to Wall Street values, but wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to just beat third world orphans with clubs?

  8. I’ve had this conversation with 4-5 different people over the last few months (dumb rumor’s been floating around since.. May or June, I think), and this post finally spurred me to quickly assemble a blog post about it – http://blog.tompappalardo.com/?p=8294 – I seriously don’t get why people are sharing these baseless complaints.

    1. I’m at Advertising Week in the NYC and just an hour ago FB sponsored a presentation by one of their bigger advertisers: Nestle. Ironically, they even alluded to this article.

      But their presentation was illustrative. 69% of the impressions one of the Nestle brands (SkinnyCow) does–despite having 500k unusually dedicated and active fans–are paid. Just 30% of them are owned. 

      When brands like Nestle have big pockets and FB’s business model is as it is, the worse the platform performs (the more the pie moves away from owned impressions) the more their budgets will increase. 

      I don’t think that’s an ethical or encouraging business to be in. 

    2. Why do you think these complaints are “baseless?”  Have you contacted FB and asked them?  Did you read the policy documents?  Because that’s what the people complaining did, along with numerical analysis and empirical testing.

  9. I propose the Rentier Network Effect (let’s call it ‘P’, after panopticon): roughly, the value of a network to its users is inversely proportional to value of that network to its owners (see also, Metcalfe’s Law). Feel free to fine tune this.

  10. Step One: join stock exchange (Facebook drops 40% in value)
    Step Two: shareholder meetings to kick out original creator of Facebook (Facebook drops 20% in value)
    Step Three: change an original free to use service into a paid to use service (Facebook drops 60% in value)

    The lesson? Wall Street destroys everything it touches… including the internet…especially the internet…

  11. Anecdotal, but the two “fan pages” we use for the bands I’m in, small potatoes with 400 and 600 “likes” respectively, have both seen a drastic reduction in interaction and response to our posts since the “promoted” posts change went into effect.  Thanks, Facebook! 

  12. I have a small trivia company in New York with over 2000 likes.  For the last two weeks we’ve only seen around 300 people reached on each post.  Before we had at least 1000 on each one and usually around 2000 because people will share different events.  It’s been a drastic drop and it’s effecting the amount of people that show up to our events.

    1. You’re not alone. I am a starving photographer/artist and I’ve had the same thing. I have just over 2000 fans, and on any given day maybe 300 people will see my post whereas a month ago, it was 1500.  Pay to sponsor posts and you get a slight bump in the traffic for 3-4 days and then for about a week afterward, and then, nothing. I don’t have an advertising budget. But I’ve sponsored a post or two just to see how badly it is “broken”. I have worked so hard to get to 2050 fans. Now I feel like it’s all for naught. 

  13. The way I see it (which is probably wrong), companies who effectively tried to outsource their web hosting to Facebook are now discovering there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Why should FB let you use them as a free distribution channel? They’re a company, of course they’re going to try to monetize you, and of course they’re going to pull a bait and switch when revenue isn’t high enough doing it the ‘nice’ way. Why would anyone expect anything else? They’re only in it for the money, not altruistic reasons. Create your own damn website if you want to control it. Twitter’s getting increasingly shite too, for the same reasons.
    I am not going to become a fan of any company/political movement/whatever on Facebook, and I won’t ever sign into a third party system using my FB or Twitter account. My FB is only for keeping in touch with distant friends & family. If you are a company who wants to engage me as a customer, have a decent website, and let me sign up to (and unsubscribe from) an email shot (that isn’t sent out too frequently).

  14. I am not upset that a service that used to provide free advertising now charges to provide that same advertising

  15. Pump and Dump, pure and simple. Look at this as an opportunity. FB currently has 628 millions shares in the float. In the next 73 days, 1.2 Billion (with a B) shares of insider stock become available. If you were working in QA at FB, saw zuck blow out of 30 million shares on opening day, and had 100,000 shares of FB that were worth $2mm, what would you do? The float is going to triple in 73 days. Stock is under $9 by Christmas.

  16. It’s the pay-to-play internet culture that could have happened without the open web. FB is dangerously close to actively harmful.

  17. The flip-side of this situation is that as a Facebook user, we must all be seeing fewer corporate messages in our feeds and more posts from our actual friends. As a regular Facebook user, that’s actually pretty nice, and how they should have spun this.

    On the other hand, as the admin of a Facebook Page, this sucks.

  18. This seems like it’s borderline illegal – people have LIKED the pages to keep in contact with those groups – broken till you pay – disgusting – Can’t wait for the new myspace so we can all leave this nonsense site behind.

    And we are seeing more corporate sponsored stories in the news feeds (check the influx of negative comments on the business pages after you see one – total backfire)

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