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Facebook EdgeRank, Promoted Posts, And The Connection

EdgeRank used to be a great concept for finding relevance in a stream of noise. But today, it's a tool for Facebook to force brands to pay a fee to reach our own fans.

Written by on May 25, 2012

I have spent some time this week discussing Facebook's new feature, 'Promoted posts'. In short, Facebook now allows brands to pay a fee to reach all their fans when they post something.

Today, the amount of people who see your posts is fairly low. The average is somewhere around 16%, which means that if you have 20,000 fans, your real audience is just 3,200 people. That is a significant (and quite catastrophic) difference.

This is nothing new. Every social network has a problem with reaching all your fans or followers.

On Twitter, only a very small fraction of your followers see your tweets. The reason is that if you post something at 1pm, but most of your fans don't check Twitter until 3pm, two hours have gone by during which 20 to 50 other tweets have been posted to the stream. And people simply won't scroll down to find yours.

This is the reason why click-throughs from Twitter is so low. You are effectively only reaching the percentage of your followers who happen to be on Twitter at the exact moment when you tweet. Everyone else won't see the tweet, and thus won't click on it.

Google+ has exactly the same problem, which it tries to solve by creating circles. The circles work in two ways. One, it categorizes people, meaning you divide up your stream in a number of mini-stream. This, in itself, makes it more likely that people will see your posts. But you can also decide how much, or how little, each circle should be featured in your main stream. You prioritize what you as an individual wants to see and what you just want to follow casually.

That is a pretty good concept, and one of the reasons I like Google+.

Facebook used to have the same problem. Only a very small fraction of your fans would see your post, because they would disappear within the noise of the stream. Something had to be done, so Facebook decided to create EdgeRank.

EdgeRank looks at each post and determines how relevant it is to you as an individual. Instead of just showing you what people had posted right now, it creates a curated stream of the most relevant posts just for you.

From a conceptional point of view, this is great. No more noise and Facebook alert you to what's important. It is a brilliant concept!

...in theory.

The problem is that it is far from perfect. EdgeRank is based on engagement, meaning that if you don't engage with someone, your EdgeRank score will drop and filter out future posts from that person or brand.

The concept seems fine until you realize you are devaluating the power of the listener. People in the social world have this strange idea that a listener is a bad person. The industry even has a name for them. They call them lurkers, as if they are some kind of creep lurking around like a criminal.

Here is something I want you to do. Take a look at all your web shop transactions that originate from social channels, and find out how many of your monthly costumers have actively engaged with you.

The answer might come as a chock to you. What you will likely find is that most of your customers never tweeted, never posted, never commented and never liked your posts. But they still purchased your products.

What you will probably find is that only a small percentage of your customers are also engaging with you socially. Another small part is a direct result of that engagement (people 'reached' caused by 'people talking about'). But the majority of your customers never engaged with you prior to buying your products, but they still came via social channels. They are the lurkers. The people who are responsible for most of your sale!!

These valuable listeners are the same people that Facebook tries to filter out with EdgeRank.

For instance, many of my Baekdal Plus subscribers follow me on my social channels, but only a small percentage actively engage with my posts (about 12-14%). The rest, the listeners, just want to follow to keep up-to-date.

People who engage are more powerful per person. But the listeners, as a group, is far more valuable. We should always try to get more people to engage, but doing so at the expense of the listeners is a big mistake - which is exactly what EdgeRank does.

When EdgeRank first came out it was a brilliant idea for a way to solve a very complex problem. But Facebook quickly realized that instead of focusing on finding the really valuable connections, it could be used to help Facebook grow by forcing people to engage socially. This was great for Facebook (it helps them grow), not so good for anyone else. Sure, it's far better than the noise of the past. And it is better than the 'only-at-that-moment' exposure that we get from Twitter. And engaging fans are responsible for the social effect, like when something goes viral and you suddenly reach a million people.

That's all great. But on a day-to-day basis, the listener are the ones who drive the majority of the value.

We need both!

Today, EdgeRank filters out 84% of your fans ...84%!!

Some of the people it filters out are those who have simply lost interest and no longer care about you as a brand. But most of them are listeners. People who decided that they wanted to follow you, but are now filtered out because they rarely engage. But they don't want to engage, they just like to listen!

That's pretty bad. 84% of your audience lost because Facebook decided to filter them out.

You might say, "But this is temporary. Facebook will improve EdgeRank and make it smarter, and thus stop filtering out people who really want to stay connected."

You might be right, but if we look at what Facebook has done so fay, and especially what they have done this week, it doesn't look like they will ever fix it. In fact, it looks like they will use EdgeRank to an even greater degree to force social interaction at the expense of the listeners.

This week, Facebook launched two new features. The first one was that brands can now 'promote a post' for a fee. But unlike Twitter, where promoted posts are intended to reach the people who don't follow you yet, Facebook's promoted posts are designed to reach the people who already follow you, but have been filtered out.

Think about this for a moment. First, Facebook filters out 84% of your fans, and now they want you to pay to get them back. They are filtering out *your* fans. People who have decided to follow you!

Actually, there are two ways to pay for it.

  1. Brands can pay to reach their filtered out fans.
  2. People can 'pay' by engaging more on Facebook - and turn into active users (which helps Facebook grow).

And the problem is EdgeRank. Facebook now has as financial interest in strengthening the EdgeRank filters. The more people they can filter out, the higher the pressure Facebook can put on brands to 'pay up'.

You might think that I'm exaggerating and Facebook would never do that, but then consider what they did yesterday.

Yesterday, Facebook launched another feature with which brand administrators can see exactly how many people see each post, and exactly what percentage of people Facebook has decided to filter out.

And look what it says underneath: "0% reached through promotion."

This is Facebook using EdgeRank to filter out a big chunk of your fans, and then actively forcing you to buy them back.

Note: On a sidenote, as an analytic freak, I'm absolutely excited about getting such precise data about who sees each post.

EdgeRank used to be a great concept for finding relevance in a stream of noise. But today, it's a tool for Facebook to force people to actively engage (and thus help Facebook grow), and a tool to force brands to pay a fee to reach our own fans.

Facebook has taken control over our connection with our fans. The brands are not in control, nor are your as a fan. As I wrote over at Google+, Facebook has taken our connections hostage, and is now forcing us to pay a ransom.

For brands this is catastrophic. But as a fan it is even worse. When I, for instance, decided that I want to follow Waterfield Design on Facebook, I expected to be able to follow what they do and what they talk about. But Facebook has decided that I'm just a listener and has filtered out many of Waterfield's posts from my stream.

I can then try to keep the connection alive by socially engaging on a continual bases (which I don't want to do), or I can hope that SF bags will pay Facebook to keep me as a non-filtered fan. But it is Facebook who are now in control over who and what I can see in the newsfeed and on what level.

On Google+, I decide who and what goes into each circle, and I also decide how much I want that circle to influence my main stream of updates. On Google+, I'm in control over my connections. On Facebook, I'm not...

Don't get me wrong. I don't think it is a problem that Facebook is finding new ways to earn more money. We all know that their revenue projections are problematic, especially as advertising is not working on mobile devices. Facebook has to find a way to monetize in other ways than ads. A way that works across devices and platforms. Promoted posts are certainly one way to do that.

But, on Twitter. A promoted posts reach people 'outside' your direct connections (the people who don't follow you yet), or via search where a promoted post can be used to respond to people during big events or some kind of crisis. That's great.

That's not what Facebook is doing. Facebook is taking ownership of the connections we already have and selling them back to you. A fan is a fan. Facebook is a platform. They do not have the right to take ownership over whom we connect with. Facebook can charge for features or expanded reach (outside your established connections), but people expect that when they like a brand they are also connecting with it.

One thing I think Facebook should do is to create 'Facebook Pro for Brands'. Brands can set up a page, for free, and use it to engage with their fans. But brands then have to pay $99/year for the advanced features, like Facebook Insights and Analytics, advanced features like enhanced profiles that allows brands to add call to actions (like a 'buy' button next to the like button), or even say that if a brand reaches more than 10,000 fans, it has to pay a fee of 1 cent per 100 fans, per month ($1).

This would mean that a brand like Waterfield Design would have to pay $99 per year, because they only have 2,500 fans. But a brand like Coca Cola, with 42 million fans, would have to pay $50,499 per year. It sounds like a lot, but it is nothing compared to their print marketing budgets.

Another example: A brand like General Motors, who recently announced that they had dropped Facebook ads and only wanted to focus on direct engagement via their page (essentially using the power of Facebook for free), would have to pay Facebook $1,566/year for their Chevrolet Page.

I have no problem with paying for Facebook as a brand, and I think Facebook should do it (also that Twitter and Google+ should do the same). But I find it to be absolutely dishonest how Facebook now uses EdgeRank to kidnap our connections and assume control over who can connect with what.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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