Facebook Angst: Are We Just Whining? Or Does Facebook Suck?

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Facebook, it’s all in how you use it or don’t.

Facebook’s an easy target for our online ire. I do my share of bitching and moaning about Zuck and Co. and all they do to make Facebook a worse social platform. Of course, I also complain about how they make it a worse business platform as well. Things have improved on the business side and continued to degrade on the social side. Today if you post a question to your wall, here’s what you’re likely to get: 5% of your fans will even see your post, 1% of them will respond, the same 5 people you actually have conversations with on Facebook, will again be the only people you have conversations with on Facebook.

So what’s the problem? Or are we all whining about progress and change?

The shift happened before Facebook’s IPO, but it has accelerated with a board-driven intensity since the shareholders took the reigns. The major loses on Facebook today are reach and interaction. And those two features are what social is built on. When you begin trading either or both of those qualities of a social network for money, you’re poisoning the well at the source. Without social there is no Facebook. And we’re almost to the tipping point.

The two things that are saving Facebook’s ass right now is 1. there’s nothing better, yet; 2. the kids are flocking to Instagram instead and Facebook owns Instagram. And mark my words, the executive branch is trying to figure out how to make their $1 billion dollar investment in Instagram pay off, and when they do, the reach and social aspects will be the first to go.

Let’s talk about the two pivotal elements that Facebook’s profit-minded leadership are crushing in their quest for profits.

Reach.

A lot has been written about Facebook’s reach issue. On one side, the apologists argue that “you’re friends are simply posting too much content, you could never see it all. So we’re optimizing the experience for you. We’re shaping your social news feed for you. See, it’s a benefit.” And then they break that idea with a little social experiment where they play with shaping your mood based on what updates they show you. It’s all ha ha funny, until you realize this is what they are doing with your newsfeed already.

Today Facebook shows you between 3% – 7% of your friends updates. And even if you select the “show me everything” option, you’re not going to get it. With the tiny tweak of an algorithm, Facebook could change the purity of your social connection, like nitrous oxide: they could lower your social feed to 1% and stuff it full of brand messages, posts, and sponsored ads, or they could dial your experience up to 20% purity and really start up a conversation again. It’s pretty clear which way we’re headed.

And the problem with over all reach is deeper then Zuck’s algorithm. What’s happening is people are no longer connecting via Facebook. Sure we’ll go on to check-in, see how our cousins are doing in Maine, but we’re no longer really interacting with more than 5 – 10 of our “friends.” The conversation, the community, and the family aspect of Facebook has all but been choked to death by the algorithm and ads. There are some strategies to dial back your brand likes, and stop liking posts that you really don’t care about, but they have a marginal effect on your experience. You simply can’t move your own purity needle above the set point, say an average of 5%.

Interaction.

The result of the diminished reach on Facebook is the quality of the conversation is dying. Those questions to friends used to be one of the great ways to get people to delurk (actually post something rather than just read) and interact with you. A simple question to your friends could provide 20 – 30 comments of joy or angst. But what they provided was the feeling of community. The idea that you were actually socializing with your friends. Today the same 5 – 10 (and boy I love them) friends comment on any given question. That’s it. Out of say, 700 friends I’ve got 10 who actually interact.

Of course we’re too busy to interact. Certainly we’re on Facebook to see the new offers from Progressive Insurance or the click-bait posts from Buzzfeed meant to entertain us to death. Facebook is 95% entertainment and ads today. And just as I turned off my television for good a few years ago, people are starting to turn off and tune out of Facebook. And even the people who are active users are commenting less and less. You know why? Because we know that even a comment these days, has the potential to add demographic data to our marketing file. Yep, every comment, every instant message, every post, is added to your marketing profile and sold to the highest bidder.

And you can’t fully grasp how far your marketing profile goes. They know where you’re going to eat for lunch at least 50% of the time next week. And yes, today, it’s “anonymous” but it’s only marginally disconnected from your credit score or banking and insurance information. When one of the big three credit bureaus purchased one of the top data marketing research firms, we learned where all this was going. Read the book Click, you’ll understand just how deep your profile goes.

Now that Facebook is actively selling your demographic and preferential data to outside marketing firms, you’re Facebook profiled punch card can follow you all across the web. Ever notice how that damn Geico lizard starts showing up everywhere, once you click on an ad. That’s called Re-Marketing. And it means that once you’ve indicated any interest at all in an advertiser, they can flag you and re-market to you on other websites, until their budget or interest in you as a consumer wains.

What’s the way forward?

Probably the only way forward for Facebook will come when some mass exodus happens for another network. And today, if Google can’t crack the code (with Google Plus) how do you expect some start-up like Ello to have the clout or innovation to put a dent in Facebook’s growth curve? Perhaps some new idea like Instagram or Snapchat will come along and begin the process, and the billion dollar cash cow will come along and buy them out of existence or into the fold. Facebook in this decade is becoming the Microsoft of the 90’s. They stalk and kill any threatening technology or platform. The minute Ello takes off, Zuck and Co. will simply buy them. Until then, they’re happy to watch startups do their R and D.

But we’re not doomed. We’ve just got to think about our social experience a little differently. As a user of Facebook I have a few tools at my disposal that help my overall experience. They don’t alter my feed much, because Facebook still has the master control, but they kill a good percentage of the Geicos, Progressives, and All States from my feed and eliminate them completely from my right side panels. (I’ll provide my tool links at the end.)

AND we’ve got to use Facebook differently if we are seeking community again. If you want to find interactions on Facebook rather than Ads you’re going to have to work for it a bit. Facebook’s not going to help your friends show up on your wall, so you’ve got to dive back into the “friends” tab and go see what they’ve been up to. Perhaps this is more like real life, now Facebook is the tickler. How many times have you looked back over your “friends” on Facebook? This is the new experience. If I want connections I have to go looking for them. If I want to see my old high school girlfriend’s posts I’m going to have to click on her profile and go read her wall. It’s all still there, but Facebook just isn’t showing it to you.

If we can continue to encourage people to post and use Facebook, they will continue to share the story of their lives. As friends we can then go check-in with them from time to time. Even if that check-in doesn’t leave a footprint, we can see how someone else’s life is going. This of course is if they haven’t already given up on Facebook all together.

Use Facebook differently. Here’s my subversive plan to take back my own Facebook experience.

  • Use Adblock and Privacy Badger to eliminate as much tracking and advertising information from my profile.
  • Delete all LIKES of superfluous brands. (I have never “liked” Walmart, but you’d be surprised how many people have, and McDonald’s and Ford, and Skyy Vodka.) Kill ’em, they are only putting things in your feed as advertisments. If you no longer LIKE them they lose the thread that allows them to PAY to be in your wall. You’ll notice a quieter news feed right away.
  • Seek out friends by going to their profiles. Comment on something they’ve said. Like some of their pictures or posts. By Liking and Commenting you are adding them to Facebook’s algorithm again. The more you like and interact the more likely they are to get past the Zuck filter and show up in your newsfeed.
  • Keep trying other networks and services. See if you can strike up a conversation on G+ or Ello. Try the newest social media network. See if you can find that community somewhere else.
  • Contribute to the social collective. I find all of my viral videos and funny memes through Facebook. Cat pictures: Facebook. Top Vines: Facebook. That’s the one thing I really missed when I took the 99 days off, the community curation of good content. I missed seeing my wild-ass friends promoting Fox News as news. I missed being trolled by a high school “friend” for my post about global warming. I missed seeing the random cartoon, news story, meme, think piece, that was shared by my collective mind: friends.

If Facebook continues to devalue the “friends” they are going to become the next Microsoft. Sure their software runs on most of the computers in the world, but what have they done right in the last 10 years? Facebook is a long way from becoming a ghost town, it’s just currently more like a superhighway littered with billboards. We’d really like it to be a cosy cafe where we could enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation with a friend or to.

Facebook, it’s all in how you use it or don’t.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth

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