Sponsored Clutter: Coming Soon to a Newsfeed Near You

14 Sep

Or, Sponsored Stories are Bad News for Facebook Users

Air show trick flying plane

Photo credit to tqhh

Recently, my Facebook reach has been rather down.  What, I’m I suddenly not as interesting?  Are my pictures not as good?  My posts not as funny?  Although Facebook doesn’t provide individual users with stats about their posts’ engagement and reach, I can tell you what my graph would look like – like a plane crashing from 30,000 feet.

For a while, I was thinking that this was a personal problem – that I’d been so fussed on school and work that I’d let my social media presence slip.  I didn’t even want to think about my Klout score.  Then friends started mentioning that they were experiencing lower engagement, as well.  I started seeing, “Hello, can anyone see this?” posts.  Then I noticed that the same problem was happening on the pages that I admin.

Newspaper stack

Photo credit to get down

Clearly there’s something happening with EdgeRank, the algorithm which controls which of your posts show up in which of your friends’ or followers’ newsfeeds.  And I think it has something to do with Facebook’s new Sponsored Stories offering, which lets pages pay for expanded reach.

Recently, Facebook quietly implemented this change, and it’s already having a big impact on members’ experiences.  If you’re not a page admin or a web marketer, you won’t have noticed this change, but it is impacting you nonetheless.  By letting pages buy reach, Facebook’s letting them buy spots on your newsfeed.  And, even though your newsfeed may seem like an infinite stream, it’s not – there are a finite number of spots, especially in your most-likely-to-be-viewed top news.  Selling spots in your top news, Facebook’s preventing your friends’ news, you know the stuff that you actually log in to see, from appearing there. 

SPAM cans

SPAM by arnold | inuyaki

I’ve been kicking around thoughts on all of these topics for the last few weeks.  What it means that you can buy your way onto newsfeeds.  How I’m pretty sure that these Sponsored Stories are now replacing organic results.  If this paid newsfeed distribution is a good revenue stream for Facebook, or if it’s likely to do more harm than good.

Then I read this New York Observer article which summed up everything that I’ve been puzzling over.  Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right explains that it’s in social networks’ best interest to have a broken EdgeRank algorithm.

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.

Stacks of pennies

Photo credit to the_green_squirrel

I get that Facebook’s facing financial trouble.  I understand they’re ripping up the proverbial couch cushions looking for change.  But, I don’t think that breaking the system that made them so successful is a good long term strategy for increasing profitability.

Sure, Starbucks could cut costs and increase revenue by selling crappier coffee.  They’d make money for a while because we’re all addicted to our caffeine and trendy cups, but eventually we’d all get fed up and leave.  Google could increase ad revenue by filing the whole first page with ads and burying organic results.  For a while, our fingers would keep typing google.com by rote, but eventually we’d get sick of it and start searching on Bing.  Currently, Facebook doesn’t have a real competitor (sorry, G+!), so maybe they feel that they can play fast and loose with the user experience.  But, I worry that they’re taking our attention and eyeballs (their ultimate revenue source) for granted.  Eventually a real competitor will emerge.  And, if Facebook continues to short change its users, we’ll leave – and take their revenue source with us.

Questions of the Day: Have you noticed changes in your Facebook engagement or news feed?  Do you actually interact with Sponsored Stories (do they work?) or do you treat them like the clutter that they are?  How bad would it have to get for you to leave?

2 Responses to “Sponsored Clutter: Coming Soon to a Newsfeed Near You”

  1. Morgan Mussell September 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    This is interesting. I don’t log onto FB all that often, nor do I closely follow a lot of the news feed, but I have been puzzled by pieces from entities I never “liked.” Your article explains a lot. You’re absolutely right, sleazy behavior for short term profits will be their downfall. Comparison to Starbucks does not even really apply: Starbucks sells the world’s second most popular beverage, and one that’s addictive to boot. Facebook’s product is far more ephemeral.

  2. Morgan Mussell September 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Reblogged this on The First Gates and commented:
    I’m not a real active Facebook user, but even I have recently scratched my head at posts on my newsfeed from entities I’ve never liked or friended. Maggie has the answer – “sponsored stories,” a newly implemented FB practice that allows pages to pay-for-“reach.” And here we naively thought all posts were created equal – HA! Show ’em da money!

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