Yes, You Have to Pay to Reach Some of Your Facebook Fans

Understanding Facebook EdgeRank I promised myself that I wouldn’t write another EdgeRank or Reach controversy article for a while, but I couldn’t resist…

Now that Facebook has tweaked EdgeRank, the common refrain is that brands are being forced — blackmailed even — to pay to reach their Fans.

My response: Well, yeah. Sorta.

And my follow-up: That makes Facebook a better place.

This deserves an explanation. First, let’s understand how Facebook EdgeRank works…

The People You Reach

Today, when you write your historically, insanely awesome Facebook post, you’re going to reach some people. Let’s try to break down how that is going to happen.

This historically, insanely awesome piece of content is going to reach…

  • Fans who regularly engage with you and who were online when you posted,
  • Fans who sometimes engage with you and were online when you posted, and
  • People who saw the engagement of friends with your awesome content.

The People You Don’t Reach

The following people will be extremely unlikely to see your content:

  • People who have hidden your content or marked it as spam,
  • Fans who have never clicked on or engaged with your content,
  • Fans who have rarely clicked on or engaged with your content, and
  • Fans who weren’t online within a couple of hours of your post.

The Other Reach Variables

This is if your content is historically, insanely awesome. If it’s average — meaning that it doesn’t get a ton of clicks, comments, likes or shares — expect to reach fewer people.

Who you reach then will be dependent upon a combination of…

  • How often they engage with you,
  • How often they engage with that type of content, and
  • How often others are engaging with that content.

Reaching the Rest

Is that unfair? Not really. It’s Facebook surfacing your content to the people most likely to want to see it.

Think that’s BS? Not according to the results I’ve seen — both on my Page and globally. Reach does seem to be down a bit, but engagement remains steady. That can only be the case if Facebook has made the News Feed more relevant and efficient.

Let’s use an elementary example. Before, I reached 100 people to get 20 forms of engagement. Now I’m reaching 90 people to get the same 20 forms of engagement.

Should I feel wronged for not reaching the 10 invisible people?

There’s something that needs to be said here that brands do not want to admit: Some of your Fans simply do not care if they hear from you. Even stronger, some don’t want to hear from you at all.

Don’t assume that the “Like” is an implied subscription to see all of your content. People “Like” for different reasons. Sometimes they want to see your stuff. Sometimes it’s just as an expression.

But don’t think it’s not perfectly clear how they feel about you. If they wanted to see your content, they would be engaging with it. And when Facebook sees they don’t care about your content, Facebook stops showing it to them.

Maybe they don’t want to hear from you in general. Maybe the tepid response to your post is a cue to Facebook that most won’t want to hear from you. But it’s something you need to understand and accept.

The “Blackmail”

So, you need to pay a few bucks to reach those people? Gotta shell out some green to invade the News Feeds of people even though your content was crap? Forced to pony up to get in front of someone who hasn’t once engaged with your content?

It actually makes sense to me. And I think it makes Facebook a better place.

If you aren’t reaching the number of people you think you should reach — if the engagement is also low — you have two choices: 1) Learn and adjust, or 2) Pay to reach those less willing to be reached.

You could yell and scream that Facebook is screwing you. But I don’t think that will get you very far.

Personally, I wouldn’t pay to promote a post that isn’t getting engagement. That’s your sign that it’s a waste of money.

I often have people tell me that a Facebook ad “failed” because they spent $100 and didn’t get much of anything in terms of engagement or conversions. But they’re missing the point.

You paid to reach more people. Those people may not have wanted to be reached. You can’t pay to force them to engage. If they don’t engage, it’s a sign that your content was a failure. Not your ad.

So, is it blackmail to force you to reach people who weren’t online, don’t engage with your content or likely wouldn’t be interested based on initial response?

No way. It’s understanding what users want. It’s controlling the flow of stuff they don’t want. And it’s profiting if you want to override that control.

What do you think?

  • Scott Linklater

    Totally agree Jon!

    I’ve been saying similar for a while now and I also think another good thing about having to pay is that it cleans out the newsfeed of those that aren’t serious and those that refuse to pay.

    This leaves less noise for those who want to market.

    I don’t blame Facebook for not showing a newsfeed with everything in it.

    Even if the users have demanded it, I think it would be a disaster for Facebook as people would not be able to handle the speed of their newsfeed and they may stop visiting as often or maybe even quit!

    So Facebook have to do this, otherwise it could be the very thing that in the long run causes their demise. You can bet a year later people wouldn’t be remembering that they asked for it, they would blame Facebook for their poor experience.

    Another great post and a brutally honest one too, but it makes sense!



    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks, Scott! Right, the problem with listening to Facebook users is pretty crystal clear: If Facebook listened to users over the years, we’d be stuck with a 2008 version of Facebook. That thing was crap compared to this, and it certainly wasn’t good for businesses.

      The typical user doesn’t give two craps whether they see every post a brand shares. And we need to understand that.

  • Giggle with the Goats

    Thanks Jon, Three days ago I launched my two first ad campaigns for my product. I’ve been watching the analytics trying to understand what’s going on, what I need to adjust and how FB is working. I agree with your point, as I don’t want to see certain posts, so I hide them. So if others don’t want my content, I’m glad they hide them so FB will send my content to someone else, who, I hope will purchase my product. At least that’s how I’m understanding it, correct me if I’m not. Appreciate your articles!

    • Jon Loomer

      Yes and no. If someone doesn’t want to see my posts, I hope they’d just unlike my Page. Reports of spam should be monitored closely since they can damage your Reach — not just reaching the people who reported you (obviously you’d no longer reach them), but reaching others could be in jeopardy.

      You’ll get negative feedback, particularly when you promote — it’s inevitable. You just need to monitor it closely and adjust as necessary.

      Thanks for your thoughts, and good luck!

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  • Suzanne Dibble

    My problem with this is that I enjoy reading some posts that I don’t necessarily engage with – so this means chances are I won’t see those posts. Do I have to like or leave an inane comment simply to ensure I see that person’s posts? I liked them in the first place because I was interested in their stuff.

    • Jeff Strank

      This is exactly correct. Why should “engagement” = commenting or clicking “like” like a monkey flipping a lever to get a pellet of food? Why isn’t “reading” engagement other than the fact it’s not measurable (within the feed)? It’s akin to saying you can’t read tomorrow’s sports stories unless you “engage” with today’s.

      Moreover, the bigger issue is that the way it works now isn’t the way it was presented to companies who invested time, money (often to Facebook itself in the form of ads) and other resources to attract fans with the understanding that they’d be able to later reach those fans. Obviously, it’s not reasonable to expect to be able to reach fans not logged in at or near the time of the post (see Twitter). But do you really think companies would have invested as much in Facebook Pages as they did if they knew going in they’d only to be able to reach, on average, 16% of the fans they garnered?

      There may be practical reasons, as Facebook is currently constructed, why Edgerank, in some form, is necessary. But that doesn’t make it any less of a bait-and-switch, doesn’t make it any less deeply flawed, and doesn’t mean that the issue couldn’t have been mitigated or avoided altogether by, for instance, educating users as to what “Liking” a Page means (e.g. are you simply affiliating yourself with a brand or are you subscribing to updates?).

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  • Yvonne Heimann

    Agreed! That’s what I keep trying to tell my clients!!!!

  • Sheryl

    I’ve noticed a change recently in how Facebook reports reach. It used to be organic=my fans and viral=not my fans. Now it’s only organic and paid. So I’ve got 120 fans, my reach is 250, and Facebook is calling that “100% organic.” Is there no way to find out how many of my actual FANS saw my post? It’s like they’re trying to hide something.

    • Jon Loomer

      This actually isn’t true, Sheryl. Organic has never equaled your Fans, though there’s long been the misperception that it’s true (I know because I’ve written about it for a long time!). There have always been Fan Only stats, but they’re buried in the exports (see the first tab of the Post Level Export).

  • Harry Hawk

    Jon well said and I’ve long taken the same position! Thanks for making the case!!