Did I get your attention?
Apologies for the lurid headline. For those of you who are perhaps too young to remember it, the title of this post refers to an infamous National Lampoon magazine cover from the early 1970s, where a gun was pointed at a pooch’s head along with the admonition, “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”
And no, I’m not suggesting that you personally should pay to promote this post (don’t let me stop you, either), but the thing about a dog dying if someone doesn’t pay to promote a Facebook post somewhere along the line, well, sadly, that part probably is kinda true. It won’t be Facebook directly killing any puppies, of course, although Mark Zuckerberg’s new policies aren’t exactly very helpful with keeping them alive, either.
But bear with me, please, I’ll get to all of that in a moment.
Last Wednesday, Dangerous Minds published an editorial that I wrote laying out the arguments against Facebook’s promoted posts “option” (ironic quotation marks alert) and going through the various reasons why it also made no sense for them to wreck their own product’s main selling point—the endless data stream of what your friends and family are up to and interested in, plus news sources you’ve requested to see there—and how the perceived rug-being-pulled-out-from-under-you-ness of their abrupt change in policy would draw the wrath of practically everyone doing business on the Internet—from bloggers to charities, non-profits, churches, food trucks, small record labels and indie bands—down on their heads.
The post, titled FACEBOOK: I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK must have touched a nerve. As I write this, it has been shared over 146,000 times on Facebook, tweeted on Twitter by Anne Rice, John Cusack, Roger Ebert, Mark Cuban and over 8000 others and it’s been read by several million people.
In the piece, I state our intention to utilize Facebook’s promoted post product to the fullest extent offered to us—paying them $2000 to reach all of the Facebook users who “liked” Dangerous Minds plus all of their friends and family (up to 1.7 million people it was estimated)—to denounce Facebook’s extortionately greedy money grab.
I wanted to get Mark Zuckerberg’s attention to let him know how he was starving our business for oxygen and why we would be willing to spend enough money on Facebook promoted posts to equal a luxury car purchase every year, ($30,000 was my estimate) but why coming up with the cost of a McMansion annually (nearly $700,000) was probably a bit out of the question!
Some readers’ nervous systems caused them to interpret this as someone “whining” and wanting something for free (see above) and argued that Facebook is a capitalist concern beholden only to its shareholders and free to do whatever it wants, and blah, blah, blah, but probably only 10% of the comments were stupid like that. Most people grokked the ridiculous brazenness of Facebook’s scheme without much difficulty and it seemed to make a lot of them quite angry. The editorial was shared by dozens and dozens of libraries, symphony societies, children’s hospitals, rock groups, record labels, photographers, authors, tee-shirt companies, community groups, etc, etc, and trust me, none of them were happy about seeing their own dark suspicions about Facebook deliberately turning down the volume on their “reach” confirmed by what they read in our post. (Additionally, it was awfully kind of Facebook to provide those engagement graphs for fan page administrators that visually demonstrated for everyone just how precipitously their traffic was dropping off the cliff all summer long, wasn’t it?)
“Furious” is the word I’m looking for.
Many of you were also curious about how our promoted post fared. That’s an interesting topic!
First off, Facebook’s policy with promoted posts is that each one is to be reviewed by a human being before being approved for wider dissemination We chose the $2000 option estimated to reach from between 700,000 and 1.7 million people in their news feed.* We made sure that there was NOTHING in the post that went against their rules and advertising policies (like you can’t use their full Facebook logo, although the “F” trademark is okay to use) and threw it against the wall to see how much “free speech” our $2000 would buy us on Facebook. The promoted post, we were told, would run for 72 hours once approved.
From what we can tell, Facebook did not approve it.
Nope. It seemed to stay in a holding pattern, pending for the entire 72 hour period of the requested promotion. At the end of that time period, we got an email from Facebook telling us that they’d “raised” our limit for promoted posts to $250! (Haven’t they heard of the Citizen’s United ruling???)
In the end, they charged our Visa just $200.
See for yourself just how much free speech
two grand, sorry, $200 will get you on Facebook:
Midway through the 72-hour period, the post was still pending approval.
The final tally. They only let us spend $200. I wonder why?
This looks like extremely compelling evidence that Facebook just sat on the post, right? Straight from the horse’s mouth.
Need I remind anyone of how social media services like Twitter and Facebook helped bring down despots in the Middle East? What would have happened if the Arab Spring uprising had to deal with EdgeRank and promoted posts?
I can’t say I really blame them for putting our post on ice, but despite Facebook’s best efforts to ignore us and hope we’d go away, the piece was still read by several million people. I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that Mark Zuckerberg was one of them.
To my surprise, however, almost no US major media outlets picked up on the story, save for Boing Boing (I had an inquiry from NBC News, but nothing came of it, ultimately). It was a full week before we started to see journalists picking up on the story in Australian, Swedish, Italian and Dutch newspapers. It has percolated upwards, that much seems obvious.
Frankly, I did expect that it would get more media coverage than it did, and when I expressed this to Ryan Holiday, a marketing/PR consultant and author (I block quoted a big chunk of his earlier NY Observer piece about Facebook’s promote scheme in my post) he said something that made sense:
“You wrote a manifesto. It’s hard to take a jeremiad and a bunch of numbers and turn that into a television segment. Television producers aren’t going to care unless they can put a sympathetic or controversial face to it.”
That’s why the photo of that cute dog (her name is Diamond and she’s currently a resident of the Baldwin Park Shelter here in Los Angeles) graces this post. Diamond is a FACE that Facebook’s money grab is harming (and who doesn’t like puppies?)
It stands to reason that if Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm is turning down the volume on everyone who uses it by 85%, then it would be organizations like animal shelters that would suffer the most from Facebook’s policy changes. Think about it, the more dogs they have to find homes for, the bigger their bill to Facebook. Their problems scale financially. With Facebook’s ubiquity, they have nowhere else to go. An animal shelter simply doesn’t have ten bucks to throw at Mark Zuckerberg’s godlike bronze feet every time they’re trying to prevent a puppy from being exterminated!
See what I mean? It’s not a trivial example, and it’s one that almost EVERYONE can relate to. Last year my wife Tara found a home for an absolutely gorgeous puppy—she had taken up residence in our neighbor’s backyard and refused to leave—in under three hours using Facebook and Twitter. But that was then and this is now.
If Facebook’s greedy shakedown of their user base can be demonstrated to cause the word getting out about everything to be reduced by 85% (this is by their own admission, I remind you), unless you’re willing to pay up for their insane fees, it follows logically that this has had a very, very negative effect on getting dogs and cats adopted in EVERY COMMUNITY ACROSS THE ENTIRE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, because every animal shelter uses Facebook to spread the word about dogs and cats with their time literally running out.
TV news, online and print journalists, please do something with this “Facebook is killing puppies and kittens” pitch, won’t you?
Something else that came out of my conversation with Ryan Holiday: He was telling me about how his immediate reaction to Facebook’s promotion scheme and how it seemed to be a super cool new tool for marketers to work with before he noticed the decidedly unethical nature of Facebook’s user shakedown and was appalled by the brazenness of the approach:
“It’s such a toxic value proposition. Instead of adding new features and charging you for that, Facebook TOOK reach AWAY and then tried to make everyone pay to get it back. What if they’d done it differently—as something new and improved like “Reach your friend’s friends with promoted posts !”—instead of sending you a ransom note? A guy like you would be the most enthusiastic user! The way they rolled it out, instead, now everyone just hates them. I think that was a major, major miscalculation on their part.”
He’s right. And he’s right about how Dangerous Minds would probably have used that sort of marketing tool frequently, and yes, very enthusiastically. Instead I feel quite poorly about the company. My only use for promoting anything on Facebook now is to try to get people to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on G+ and Twitter and to sign up for our daily email newsletter (see widget on top tool of this page).
Facebook put us in an untenable financial position, but they also put themselves in a position where editorials such as this one are going to become more and more frequent. You will start to see stories on local news shows about how dog shelters are having no choice but to put down more dogs and cats because they’ve got no way of getting the word out unless they pay because Facebook is hiding their posts. Think about how many family pets are lost during a time when a wide-scale natural disaster strikes. Ask yourself WHY the American Humane Society should be forced to give THEIR DONATIONS to Facebook? They’ve got better things to do with their money than making Mark Zuckerberg even more obscenely wealthy paying his info toll—like actually putting that money towards saving animals’ lives!
The knock-on effect, let’s get real, is that because of Facebook’s unpopular policy changes, animals who might have otherwise found loving homes and made great pets will die.
I rest my case!
Keep in mind that by “gaming out” the launch of their promoted post scheme so incompetently, Facebook’s management has only itself to blame. The general public is, I think, starting to see a pattern emerge with Facebook’s business practices. They KNOW that their own posts are being hidden and it feels like they’re being shaken down for money, because this is exactly what is happening! The general public are wising up to this, and so are Wall Street media stock analysts like Rich Greenfield of BTIG Research in New York, the Nate Silver of his field, whom I was extremely flattered to see had retweeted my post.
With a user base of one billion people, Mark Zuckerberg can afford to ignore me and the few million people who read my measly little blog post about Facebook. But when Rich Greenfield is looking at this matter from the same angle that I am, Facebook’s got what you might call a “perception problem” that they’re going to have to deal with sooner, rather than later. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has also expressed his displeasure with Facebook recently, threatening to remove his team’s presence from Facebook entirely over their promoted post scheme, and going to the redesigned MySpace. He’s another guy that Wall Street watches closely, so pay attention to his moves yourself if you want to see where this is headed. Facebook’s hubris and unwillingness to listen to their users may be their undoing.
And again, the flipside of this is that Facebook are still unwisely ruining their newsfeed, the only reason most people care about Facebook to begin with, the crown jewel of their product. My wife told me yesterday afternoon that in a several hour period she’d only seen posts from people she’d never met, Doritos, and George Takei in her Facebook feed. Draw your own conclusions about how long you personally plan to stick around for those updates from Axe deodorant, Mountain Dew, Arby’s and people you don’t even know!
I think Facebook blew it. By trying to squeeze every last golden egg out of their goose, they’re poisoning the ecosystem that feeds it. The second wave of this backlash is only now starting to bubble up. If some entity like reddit (or an influential person like reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian), Anonymous—or even just a bunch of indie rock bands working together—organized something like a FACEBOOK: I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK day—similar to the recent anti-SOPA Internet blackout—I think things could get very ugly, very quickly for Facebook’s struggling stock.
It’s a justly deserved fate, in my opinion.
*I noticed this morning that Facebook is now only estimating a reach of fewer than one million users with the same $2000 option, so make of that what you will.
UPDATE: According to the All Facebook blog, a newly launched opt-in feature would allow users to bypass EdgeRank to see all updates from the family, friends and requested updates from Facebook fan pages. This is a significant change for the better, but making EdgeRank the opt-in feature should have been the solution.
Send a message to Facebook about their exorbitant Promote fees! Download larger versions of this graphic (in both blue and red) to post on your own Facebook page HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. Graphic by Dimitri Drujchin, original photo Guillaume Paumier