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Facebook's Meaningful Experience Has Lost Its Meaning

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Ever since AdAge broke the story about Facebook’s admission that organic reach for its business Pages was declining purposely, social marketers have talked non-stop about what’s next for Facebook marketing and advertising. Facebook’s rationale for the decline centered on its user base. In the sales deck obtained by AdAge, Facebook explained:

We expect organic distribution of an individual page's posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.

This news, for good reason, sparked a lot of passionate discussion. Some vilified the network. Even going so far as taking their social marketing elsewhere.

On the one hand, Facebook has facilitated a platform upon which many businesses have not only contributed time, effort, and money to grow but in some cases have eschewed all other platforms, including websites, in return for a dedicated presence on the social network. Now, suddenly, and with very little warning, Facebook shifts the landscape and creates a “pay to play” environment. This new model, businesses declare, is not what they signed up for, and to a certain degree one can see it as a reneging of services at best and a sleazy betrayal at worst.

This victimized position was not my first instinct. I argued that Facebook’s number one responsibility was to its users. Its top priority as a social network was to continue to perpetuate a fluid, enjoyable user experience. Without users after all, there are no customers to whom businesses can market anyway. Furthermore, Facebook never promised to cater hand-over-foot to businesses. As pointed out by Valleywag, “[Facebook is] not a charity, or a nonprofit, or an art project.”

After this last week, however, I’m afraid I can no longer defend Facebook and its stance of making sure people have a “meaningful experience.”

Some Serious Stuff

If you’re not aware, Facebook’s director of global communications/monetization Brandon McCormick got “snarky” this past week on a brand’s Facebook Page, Eat24, a humorous food delivery business that posted “food porn.” Fed up with its decline in organic reach, Eat24 wrote an open letter—a “break up” letter actually—to Facebook in which it explains its relationship is no longer working out. Eat24 believes Facebook has changed too much, and the two of them no longer share the same priorities. “The point is,” Eat24 writes, “you’re wasting our time and cock-blocking food porn from our friends. Not cool, Facebook, not cool.”

While funny and amusing, what got my attention was the response by Facebook’s McCormick. The communications director posted on Eat24’s Wall (before it officially shut down), speaking on behalf of Facebook, it seems, and explaining the reason why Facebook has “changed.” David Griner from AdWeek screencaptured the reply in his article on the interaction. Here’s an excerpt:

The world is so much more complicated than when we first met—it has changed. And we used to love your jokes about tacquitos and 420 but now they don’t seem so funny. There is some serious stuff happening in the world and one of my best friends just had a baby and another one just took the best photo of his homemade cupcakes and what we have come to realize is people care about those things more than sushi porn [sic].

That last bit there struck me hard. Essentially what McCormick is saying is that Facebook is changing its News Feed algorithm because it’s trying to give its users the content they want—i.e, a “meaningful experience.” On the surface, this sounds perfectly natural and some could argue even noble. After all, Facebook is looking out for its users rather than bombarding them with business Pages’ unwanted marketing and sales posts....

Wait a minute though. “Unwanted”? I shouldn’t have used that word. These business Page posts aren’t unwanted, are they? People volunteered to receive the messages. They chose to engage with these brands and actively pledged their allegiance. It’s not called a “Like” button for nothing.

A Free Social Market

If Facebook truly had its users’ interests at heart, would it not be better to treat its users like, I don’t know, intelligent beings? Would it not be better to let the market decide the fate of business Pages?

Suppose this: I run a business Page, and I post a lot of crap. Useless drivel, nothing but sales, sales, sales. As a fan of my Page, if you truly believe what I’m posting is frivolous and you have more “serious stuff happening” you’d rather see on your News Feed, you should just “unlike” my Page. Problem solved, no?

But unliking a Page isn’t simple. It does take a few steps. All right then. Facebook can update the UI and make the Unlike button a little more prominent. Make it more intuitive. Once users unlike the Pages that no longer matter to them, the News Feed returns to a place of strong, relevant content.

Moreover, businesses are forced to publish compelling content. And if they don’t, then it’s the users forcing them out, not Facebook. Facebook plays the role of the “invisible hand” of the free social market. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win-win.

If Facebook truly is interested in providing the best meaningful experience possible for its users, then they have little reason not to implement my solution. Unless of course they’re not being altogether forthright. After all, a user’s Page likes are significant data points for Facebook when it comes to ad targeting. If users suddenly started unliking Pages en masse, Facebook’s knowledge graph shrinks in scale and, thus, so does its ad revenue.

But now I’m just being cynical. Obviously, Facebook’s number one priority is its users.

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