Thursday, November 1, 2012

Recent Dramatic Drop in Facebook Reach Directly Attributed to HTML Links in Status Updates

Over the past couple of months Facebook users have witnessed a sudden shift in the number of people who see their posts. As people scrambled to make sense of the sudden drop in reach and no word from Facebook we started our own investigation.

The first clue came when I noticed that the posts I had recently added were seemingly back to the  "normal" pre-summer reach levels.

Thinking to myself that the drop must have been a glitch, I opened up my Facebook insights and started going through the previous months reach analytics.

To my surprise I started to see a pattern.

Reach wasn't back up... No it wasn't back at all, at least not across the board. Some posts where high and others were low even those that were added only moments apart. 

So what was different between these posts, I asked myself. And, then it hit me.

The difference between the two were in the type of post. My usual posts are links to products that are coming up for sale. It's not until after the sale of the product that I post text talking about the experience of the sale. These posts are usually text only.... no outside HTML links and no photo's.

Could Facebook REALLY be filtering who and how many people see a certain type of post?

I had to see for myself; I needed evidence. I started by posting three similar posts back-to-back...

Post (A) featured a text post only. I then added a corresponding comment with an HTML link to the product. 
The purpose of this type of post was to see if the connection in diminished reach was tied to the initial post or the full interaction, including comments.  
My next post, Post (B) would be a text only post.

This post would be my experiment control.
My method was to post it between the two potentially filtered posts.  
My theory was that if the other two were being filtered based on content that there would be a gap between the number of views for each.
And, if they were not, reach would be a fairly consistent across the board considering the close proximity in time by which each were added.
Finally my last post, Post (C) would contain the same text with corresponding link directly in the status.

Now I had to wait.
While waiting, I started to think... Why would Facebook do this? What would be the motivation?
Could it be attributed to the recent public valuation? The deceleration of Revenue Growth? That Growth Investments are hurting the near term profits.. Or could it be that Premium ads are gaining less than expected traction.
Either of these or all could be directly attributing to the drop in reach. If companies are seeing that their fan pages are experiencing less than attractive views of their products and services they will feel compelled to invest in purchasing ad space. While an extremely passive aggressive way to get people to purchase ad space we will not know for sure what the motivation is until we see the next Facebook numbers come out.
So what was the outcome of the experiment?

17 hours later I had my answer, and the results were pretty damning. Just as expected the text only post reach was nearly three times that of the link post just above it. Our Text only post with corresponding post fared nearly as well as the text only post, but still slightly lower.

Post A  - 51 people saw this post
Post B - 55 people saw this post
Post C - 20 people saw this post
Why would Facebook want to suppress links on business fan pages?

Because the likelihood of the link being some type of advertisement for that company's business. 

It boils down to this thought process...

If I were Facebook I would want to capitalize on that link by forcing a business to purchase adspace to get it seen instead of "Free" advertising that used to be the attraction of Fan pages.

I am going to make a prediction... Facebook will start losing its community due to this and open up the potential for other social media such as Google+ to gain a better foothold. The worst thing Facebook can do is to disregard its community. That is why they are doing this under the radar..

While our results are straight forward and visually conclude evidence that posts are filtered by type they are still speculation. It will take a larger control group to show consistent results across the Facebook community.
*** End ***
Raquel Elle Bell is the Chief Interactive Brand Strategist for 23 Degrees Interactive Brand Strategies a North Scottsdale Interactive Technology company she founded in 2003. 

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