Dangerous Minds on Facebook's "bait and switch" for publishers: "I want my friends back"

Over at Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger writes about the damage to indie web publishers wrought by Facebook's ever-changing policies about who sees your content, and what it will cost you to get your content in front of people who've already signed up as friends/fans.

Spring of 2012 was when bloggers, non-profits, indie bands, George Takei, community theaters, photographers, caterers, artists, mega-churches, high schools, tee-shirt vendors, campus coffee shops, art galleries, museums, charities, food trucks, and a near infinite variety of organizations; individuals from all walks of life; and businesses, both large and small, began to detect—for it was almost imperceptible at first—that the volume was getting turned down on their Facebook reach. Each post was now being seen only by a fraction of their total “fans” who would previously have seen them.

But it wasn’t just the so-called “fan pages,” individual Facebook users were also starting to notice that they weren’t seeing much in their newsfeeds anymore from the various entities they “liked”—or even updates from their closest friends and family members. Something was amiss, but unless you had a larger “data set” to look at—or a formerly thriving online business that was now getting creamed—it probably wasn’t something that you noticed or paid that much attention to.

Richard goes into a lot of detail about exactly what happened and how, but the short version: Facebook's bait-and-switch around sponsored or "Promoted" posts is totally devastating to small publishers like Dangerous Minds who made the mistake of relying on that social network for business-sustaining web traffic.

At Dangerous Minds, we post anywhere from 10 to 16 items per day, fewer on the weekends. To reach 100% of of our 50k+ Facebook fans they’d charge us $200 per post. That would cost us between $2000 and $3200 per day—but let’s go with the lower, easier to multiply number. We post seven days a week, that would be about $14,000 per week, $56,000 per month… a grand total of $672,000 for what we got for free before Facebook started turning the traffic spigot down in Spring of this year—wouldn’t you know it—right around the time of their badly managed IPO.

And before you get too smug, remember there's nothing stopping other social networks or sharing services from doing exactly the same thing. It's never a good idea to depend on a single third-party platform to amplify your content, but that's what so many small online publishing businesses are stuck doing these days. Still, none of the major ones have behaved as egregiously and onerously as Facebook, and IMO, DM's absolutely right to call them out.

Facebooker, beware.

Read: "I want my friends back."

The guys at Dangerous Minds are inviting like-minded internet publishers to join the revolution, and send a message to Facebook—literally, in the form of an email, and/or by placing graphics on their websites or... their Facebook pages.

(Graphic at top via Dangerous Minds by Dimitri Drujchin, original photo Guillaume Paumier)


    1. For real! I interviewed at a company (no not Zynga) whose entire business model was building games for Facebook. I thought to myself, “Really? You are going to invest all your money, time and work into an ecosystem maintained by a company that could care less about you and changes its APIs, functionality and requirements constantly? Good luck with that!”

  1. Wait, are we supposed to feel bad for these people? Just because they are not be allowed to advertise for free through someone else’s website?

      1. How is FB even being remotely unfair? Stupid? Maybe! But the point is that FB is a private social network owned by FB. And I am quite confident in assuming that the FB terms of service, which these businesses agreed to when making FB pages, reserved FB the right to charge for access. So why shouldn’t they be able to charge what they want for people to use their network to advertise their businesses? If it is in fact a dumb move, FB will lose money over it.

        1. O…K. I’ll let you know how they’re being unfair AND stupid. Facebook had huge uptake because users started posting their content to it. Schmuckerberg built the architecture of Facebook, but users built the usefulness of Facebook by filling it with themselves and their stuff.

          Companies came to Facebook, adding another revenue stream for FB (in the form of bought ads that are seen by people who have not ‘liked’ their page), signed up and spent THEIR COMPANY RESOURCES paying an employee to fill their FB profile with content. Content that benefits Facebook. These companies signed up with certain understandings, namely that they could communicate directly with people who engaged with their brand on FB.

          Yes, I’m sure this change is well within the legality of FB’s T&Cs. But legal doesn’t equal fair. Had the litany of companies that spent their own resources paying someone to manage FB known that one day they would have to pay for access to customers who had already registered for updates then I’m sure most of them would’ve just bought Google adwords for the equivalent value of the salaries they had to pay employees to manage their FB profile. Changing the rules half-way through the game is, in anyone’s book, unfair.

          Having explained why FB’s moves are unfair, it’s pretty easy to see why they are also stupid. Companies will realise that Twitter is a much better way to communicate with their fans without being asked to cough up cash or their first-born son. Companies will soon realise their cash is better spent on Google adwords and FB’s share value will continue it’s plummet to single figures. I don’t know why you’re infatuated with FB to such a degree that you’re willing to blind yourself to their endless stream of dickish moves.

      2. What is unfair? They have no requirement to do anything for anybody. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. I have no love at all for Facebook, but whining about how you invested all your money and effort into their f-ed up ecosystem is ridiculous. I have done tons of Facebook apps and promotions, they provide an amazing tool for marketing (as well as just staying connected with old friends), but I also know better than to ever trust or rely on them for anything. It’s been obvious from their inception that they will do as they please and you can take what you can get from them and that’s it.

  2. How about the non-profits?  My library has been promoting library services and programs for the last year, to great success.  I was a little dismayed when I started seeing our posts had been seen by 40 or fewer people, then I started hearing about this new promotion.  Thanks for taking away what used to be a great marketing tool, Facebook.

  3. It’s because the biz model, from the get-go, was off-kilter.  Just like all the other detritus of the Web.  They can rebuild into something profitable and good, but it just might not work.

  4. Forget it.  What you need to do is just use Facebook to make the initial connection, then convince people to use other technology to follow you.  We’ve already got one: RSS.  That’s how I find the latest posts on both BoingBoing and Dangerous Minds.  Sites that currently promote via Facebook can continue to encourage people to “Like” them, but their page should clearly explain that Facebook is not allowing fans to see most of the posts, so fans should use other ways (RSS, mailing lists, and so forth) to keep up. My wife was deeply upset when she didn’t see announcements for a production by a local small theater company she “liked”, because both she and the theater company thought that liking their page would suffice to get the announcements out.  Facebook isn’t going to change; their business model won’t allow them to, so don’t waste time with petitions. Interpret their shakedown as a form of damage and route around it.

    1. This. This this this this this this this this. So much this.

      We have a ready solution. It’s called RSS. I’m working on my first novel (and I hope to get at least one pair of eyes at BoingBoing on it, but that’s a big thing to ask and I don’t have anything to share yet), but I fully intend on using my own blog/RSS as my primary form of publishing, with echoing on social networks (this means I’m going to have to finally sign up for Facebook, ick) and interaction as secondary means of reaching conversations.

      Facebook isn’t a platform in a true sense. It’s a limited platform in that you’re playing on their playground. Don’t be surprised when your business model becomes part of Facebook’s monetization model and you become second priority on their site. Twitter’s demonstrated the same thing with its massive API policy overhaul this year. You’re either going to get bought or crushed into irrelevancy in the long run, and you can’t be sure which you’ll get first.

    2. Your comment is spot on. FB is engaging in all the same behavior as other similar immoral soulless tech companies (no I don’t think that’s too harsh) who try to bully users and crush open standards in order to herd all serf-ers (heh, get it?) into their walled garden.

  5. Ok, it’s not very awesome at all. It’s frustrating and can turn out to be rather expensive… but

    “the single most misguided thing a major corporation has ever deliberatelydone, bar none, in the entire history of American capitalism and the world.”

    Uh… That’s a bit of hyperbole… It’s quite a caffeine fueled rant.

    1. I stumbled on that sentence too and had to re-read it. Trying a third time I realised that the sentence only makes sense if spoken with the intonation of the Comic Book Guy in the Simpsons.

  6. The word “friend” is being misused here. Twitter’s “follower” would be more appropriate. 

      1. As much as I hate Schmuckerberg, your comment is just petty. Even if he jacked the idea from the Twinklevoss Turds I’m not particularly bothered… serves them right for taking it to someone to do for free rather than taking a patent out on the idea or paying a developer to create it – as they had the resources to do.

        1. “Schmuckerberg?” “The Twinklevoss Turds?”

          I don’t know that you have a high enough vantage point to be calling someone else petty.

          1. I’m not being petty by questioning someone’s achievements. That’s different from casting judgements about someone’s character (which I’m more than within my right to do).

            Schmuckerberg is a schmuck because he continues to pretend he cares about users and their privacy while the whole time bending them over for a good, old-fashioned buttfucking.

            The Twinklevoss Turds are turds because they’re nothing but over-privileged assholes who weren’t happy with getting more than enough compensation for their insignificant contribution.

            Thanks for your two line, wisdom-packed contribution to the discussion.

          2.  Hate to point out the obvious…

            I think by petty, he may have meant the small-minded and spiteful definition of the word.

            So, uh, by using “Schmuckerberg” and “The Twinklevoss Turds” you pretty much fit into the petty category.

            Just sayin’.

  7. At first I didn’t understand this story at all, because my only thought is “why the hell would I want to see eight or ten posts a day from some stupid company on my facebook wall??”

    But then I thought about it in terms of Twitter: if I actually wanted to follow some company on Twitter, I would be rather annoyed if Twitter started randomly preventing 95% of their tweets from being seen by their followers unless they coughed up more money.

    Is that analogy accurate? It seems a little hazy to me because I already expect that I am only seeing a small percentage of things happening in my facebook feed — as far as I know, not everything a friend does appears on my feed, does it? So my basic understanding of facebook is always that I’m seeing some random bits of jetsam that float by in the vast river of information, and so I wouldn’t even expect to see 100% of a company’s messages.

    1. This is part of the problem. It used to be that when you told FB that you wanted content from a friend, or a company, that you simply got to see everything they posted. But then FB started applying algorithms that started tuning what you actually saw based on what you “liked”. There is, or there used to be (I haven’t checked in a while), a way to override this, but you have to do it for every single friend and company. So, if you have a circle of friends and you all want to make sure that you all see everyone else’s posts, you each have to go deep into the settings and make those changes for everyone in that circle.

      1. The feature is still there, but there’s no way to adjust your settings for multiple people or pages simultaneously. It sucks, honestly.

        [Edit: Apparently this is only true for friends. It looks like the only settings for Pages is Opt-In/Opt-Out.]

  8. I’m more concerned about missing updates from pages that post only occasionally than those that post ten times every day – that’s what RSS is for.

  9. Very early on I took Dangerous Minds off my likes and asked Metzger what the point was of putting identical content on Facebook and splitting his audience.  Now they have a huge captive Facebook audience and every post has two different streams of comments. 

    How many times do “publishers” on the web have to learn the same lesson.


    I learned this lesson early on with MoG. 

    You sign a deal with the devil and get burnt every time you do this.  Also lets stop blaming businesses for acting like businesses. 

    1. “You sign a deal with the devil and get burnt every time you do this. Also lets stop blaming businesses for acting like businesses.”

      At the very least, let’s stop be surprised by it.

  10. It gives me a 404 error. It suggests trying a different Dangerous Minds post, the first of which is ostensibly the post in question which, again, leads to a 404 error.  DM does not seem to be having any luck.

    EDIT: A-a-a-and now everything works. Weird.

  11. So facebook offered their users to join for the free marketing channel, and now that a lot of people and organisations have become dependant on this service, there is a price tag associated to it.

    Raise your hand, those who didn’t see this coming.

  12. I can only imagine what kind of chaos would reign if you let a billion users get instant updates from all their friends/groups unchecked, all the time, at the same time. RSS/Atom were great ideas; I’m not sure why the media latched on to FB/Twitter instead. All facebook is these days is a streamlined “Web 2.0” RSS aggrgator

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