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Facebook is the landlord putting up the rent

I find myself saying I hate Facebook a lot these days, and yet I am on it every day. Like other people, I worry about what I’d miss if I wasn’t there. 

But the reasons for sticking around are slowly diminishing and the case for leaving gets stronger with each report of how bad it is for your mental health, and the general lack of care the company has for the big things like democracy, and the small things, like you and me.  Recent changes suggest it no longer cares about turning its back on the advice it’s been doling out to businesses, charities and media for years either.  

The reason I’m there so often is because it is part of my job. I am a digital creative/strategist (advertising for lay people). I’ve been using Facebook as part of my job for ten years now and somewhere along the line, Facebook not only became the opiate of the masses but an apparent silver bullet for businesses, brands, charities and media.  

For periods of time I was a big believer in what it purported to do for businesses. ‘Give voice to the people!’ ‘Connect with your community!’ ‘Hear from your customers!’ Many of us got tricked into believing it was the pathway to more transparent behaviour and improved relationships with customers rather than acknowledging the more likely scenario that a company that wanted to behave that way would find ways to do it without Facebook. For a while it also seemed like a thing that had never really existed before – free marketing!  

Businesses, brands, charities and media were all encouraged to get more page likes. Page likes became the thing senior management asked about. Page likes were, and still are, reported by media as if they mean something. Even writing the phrase ‘page likes’ makes me cringe. We all got duped into building our house upon the sand and those sands have shifted.  

On January 11, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook would change its news feed algorithm to prioritise content from “friends, family and groups”. 

“As we roll this out,” Zuckerberg wrote, “You’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard—it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”    

I don’t even know what “newsfeed algorithm” means anymore. I do in theory I guess, but the Facebook algorithm is like God at my Catholic primary school – we were told God exists as a man with a beard and so we drew pictures of a man with a beard.  We sent our work up to the man with a beard hoping it would make him happy. But none of us ever saw the man with the beard and for all we knew he didn’t exist or could quite possibly be a purple unicorn one week and a nice lady the next. The Facebook algorithm is as mysterious as an almighty, omnipotent being and just as likely not to exist for all we mere mortals know.   

What the changes do mean is that suddenly those who were encouraged to build up page likes are finding themselves left high and dry as page likes are rendered somewhat useless. While this has been the case to a certain extent for years since the introduction of Facebook’s primary revenue source, advertising, it seems to be sending an entirely different signal with its latest change, almost implying content that isn’t from friends or family or paying to be there just won’t be seen. Whether it holds any meaning beyond public relations value remains to be seen. They’ve done it, in part, to combat negative publicity. It may be too little too late but for now, we have to contend with it. 

For businesses with media budgets this is going to be fine. The one thing that Facebook really truly is, is an almighty and powerful digital marketing machine. Use it for that. But where does that leave small businesses, charities and media who invested in building audiences on Facebook because that’s what they were told to do and all the lovely ‘free’ traffic from Facebook was just too wild to ignore?   

The reality for business, brands, charities and media is that you’ve only ever been renting space on Facebook. It’s not your fault the landlord suggested one thing only to rip the rug out from under you and put up the rent.   

If you’re been sucker punched by the recent changes, I recommend building your own kingdoms. On rocks and not on the shifting sands of land owned by an empire which doesn’t play fair and keeps changing the rules. I’m not recommending you abandon Facebook completely but instead consider it part of a mix and always, always remember you don’t own anything there. Email is having a big resurgence and best of all, you own the content and the list. Google is still very much a thing people use, so invest in your website. There are reports that ‘dark social’ (the rather satanically named practice of sharing content via messaging apps like iMessage and What’s App) now accounts for 84% of all content sharing. Keep that in mind. Return to some of those old-fashioned ideas about marketing and communications like price, place, product and promotion. Don’t live in fear of not putting something on Facebook this week. Maybe do less, better. Think about what you used to do before Facebook. What ideas did you have before ‘Put it on Facebook’ was the solution to everything? 

I used to say ‘you can’t bend social to your will, you have to bend to the will of social’ – largely meaning if you want social media to work for you, you have to play by the rules set by the likes of Facebook. I’d like to apologise to anyone who heard me say that and instead ask: ‘Isn’t it time we stopped letting the tail wag the dog and claimed back our time, ideas, content, information and success?’  

Finally, take heart. This Danish TV station stopped using Facebook for two weeks and the world didn’t end. Life existed before Facebook and life still exists outside it. 

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