What have they done? Facebook becomes an advertising platform

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WASHINGTON, April 5, 2014 — Facebook’s Mark  Zuckerberg lied. It may not have been intentional, but at the end of the day, he lied. 

Zuckerberg was the next big thing. The wunderkid. At age 29, he is worth some $25 billion. And he is selling out the very “next big thing” that made him who he is. Facebook has over a billion users, who have created over 54 million pages including more than 25 million small business pages. 

Facebook Statistics from StatisticBrain.com - visit http://www.statisticbrain.com/facebook-statistics/ for complete chart
Facebook Statistics from StatisticBrain.com – visit http://www.statisticbrain.com/facebook-statistics/ for complete chart

Facebook began just over ten years ago in Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room. It was built as a social network whose declared purpose was to let users grow “their voice” and expand their reach by collecting new friends. In a May 28, 2010 article entitled “Epicenter: Mark Zuckerberg: I Donated to Open Source, Facebook Competitor,” Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook could earn more income from advertising as a result of its phenomenal growth. He explained:

I guess we could. … If you look at how much of our page is taken up with ads compared to the average search query. The average for us is a little less than 10 percent of the pages and the average for search is about 20 percent taken up with ads…. That’s the simplest thing we could do. But we aren’t like that. We make enough money. Right, I mean, we are keeping things running; we are growing at the rate we want to. (Wikipedia)

The prospectus for Facebook’s infamous 2012 IPO seemed to lay out a similar theme:

How We Create Value for Users

Our top priority is to build useful and engaging products that enable you to:

  • Connect with Your Friends. With more than 900 million MAUs worldwide, our users are increasingly able to find and stay connected with their friends, family, and colleagues on Facebook.
  • Discover and Learn. We believe that users come to Facebook to discover and learn more about what is going on in the world around them, particularly in the lives of their friends and family and with public
  • figures and organizations that interest them.
  • Express Yourself. We enable our users to share and publish their opinions, ideas, photos, and activities to audiences ranging from their closest friends to our 900 million users, giving every user a voice within the Facebook community.
  • Control What You Share. Through Facebook’s privacy and sharing settings, our users can control what they share and with whom they share it.
  • Experience Facebook Across the Web. Through apps and websites built by developers using the
  • Facebook Platform, our users can interact with their Facebook friends while playing games, listening to
  • music, watching movies, reading news, and engaging in other activities.
  • Stay Connected with Your Friends on Mobile Devices. Through the combination of our mobile sites, smartphone apps, and feature phone products, users can bring Facebook with them on mobile devices wherever they go.

Giddy with the possibilities, Facebook users poked each other, shared FarmVille icons, sent birthday messages and celebrated daily life, ranging from what they had for breakfast to the cute little puppy pictures guaranteed to make cyber-friends cry.

Over time, new-fangled gadgets and larger advertisements were introduced on the right side of Facebook pages. Facebook’s users were encouraged via pop-ups to create new and engaging pages and groups and to interact with them through this huge and growing social network. Entrepreneurs were encouraged to attach “brand” or company pages to their profiles and to buy Facebook ads to expand their reach or increase the numbers of Facebook users who “saw” a post.

All along, however, Facebook was assiduously gathering substantial quantities of detailed user data. Age, sex, marital status, locations, income, how many kids, dogs, cats, and just about everything else an advertiser could want to know — all this was being collected. As a big-time data snoop, NSA has nothing on Facebook.

For Facebook, this mass of meticulously-collected data is invaluable for a variety of reasons. As with any commercial enterprise, however,  the main attraction of this huge data-bank is that it can be used to sell targeted advertising on the millions of Facebook pages that users have created. Note: That users have created. Facebook didn’t create those pages. They simply manage the platform.

In exchange, they obtain the users’ free labor. And users have been happy to do this because Zuckerberg promised that all this would be free and fun. Forever. And that “we” could stay connected.  And that “our voice” was important and should be heard. 

In his February 2012 letter to investors Zuckerberg wrote:

Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”

“We think it’s important that everyone who invests in Facebook understands what this mission means to us, how we make decisions and why we do the things we do.”

In other words, if you like your Facebook, you can keep your Facebook. In exchange, users  built Facebook pages, clicked on Facebook advertisements, gave Zuckerberg oceans of free data and helped transform Facebook into a $144 billion company.

Fools that they are, Facebook users naively continued to believe Zuckerberg’s promise: It would always be their Facebook. And for ten years, that is exactly what it was. But everyone should have known that a good thing like this wouldn’t last.

Or maybe they didn’t. Users continued to build followings for blogs, online businesses, political affiliations, hobbies, church groups, schools. They started mommy and recipe groups, created fan pages for favorite bands, actors and movies. People actively put their time and effort into the network and used the mobile apps because they believed  everything would always be free, organic and fun.

Facebook made wheelbarrows of money by selling advertising to larger companies who could use Facebook data to target their message, helping them extract even more money from Facebook users who could spend a few dollars to increase their reach.

Facebookers diligently clicked away, creating more page views, generating more and more money for Facebook, which grew into a social networking behemoth, a business clearly more concerned with making money than with the mission Zuckerberg had promised in 2012.

Zuckerberg lied.

And what he lied about is that those likes you diligently collected — responding to perfect strangers who became your closest cyber buddies, acquired as a result of your care, compassion and humor — all those pages created, fine tuned, and grown by you are no longer your pages under your control.

Users can no longer Connect with Your Friends • Discover and Learn • Express Yourself • Control What You Share • Stay Connected with Your Friends on Mobile Devices because Facebook has changed the algorithms.

Your pages are now subject to Facebook’s whims. The situation is not unlike President Obama’s “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” half-truths: You can keep your doctor if you like, but only if you pay a premium for the privilege.

Next page: What Facebook’s changes mean to you

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  • Andy Z

    I never expected much from facebook anything important goes by e-mail my information mostly from user groups and forums. Facebook is just a toy as far as I am concerned. I don’t even look at the ads and I am not really swayed to purchase anything by the ads they make I work to hard for my money to be swayed to purchase some cheap Chinese junk from a clown I have never met and has no established business reputation. If they screw with the user interface too much I will just close the account It is also not a good thing that employers are now demanding to see your personal pages now as a condition of employment

  • turbomama

    Wow! Talk about hitting the nail on the head! Most excellent article! Talk about squeezing out the little guy! Dispicable!

  • Linda

    Facebook installs a cookie in your start up….they know every place you surf. I found it last night and disabled it.

    • Cathy Sarah

      Pass on the tip? Is it under Account set up? The best justice is to enable everyone to disable it.

      • Linda

        Read the above Cathy.

    • commdiginews

      Tell us how you did it Linda!

      • Linda

        I downloaded CC Cleaner…under tools check your start up under each browser. There are more there than you need to have. I was wondering how they found someplace I surfed when I didn’t even have FB up… cookies are how they track where you surf…Go to your main start up on your computer and go under customize… skype for FB also installed a cookie. This slows your computer way down. You have to monitor this weekly if not daily…I swear I think Windows is part of it.

        • Brandon

          And why does AVG tell me this is a malware virus?

          • Linda

            It did on mine too. But I have never had a problem with it. I only use it when I need it. If you haven’t noticed, AVG and AVAST will say programs are malware and you can whitelist them.

  • Sandra Goetz

    Great article, very good information.

  • Creta De Vault-Ford

    I enjoy Facebook and have been able to connect to long lost friends and recitatives. I have made friends in several countries and even visited FB friends in Tunisia and it was a wonderful experience! I find many of the posts informative. I don’y pay much attention to the ads but I have found one or two sites that I have purchased a few items from and I am quite pleased with my purchases. Companies advertise on FB because they know they are able to reach millions of viewers and if only ,5% responds to that ad it is a windfall, That is called smart marketing!

  • Mark Jeghers

    Facebook’s filtering algorithm has made our band page useless for reaching our audience. We don’t have the budget to buy advertising and it is a slap in our face to demand such a thing anyway. I’d gladly bail and go to another platform if I only knew one that would actually work. And getting known fans to migrate from Facebook to another platform is extremely hard at best. So we are stuck for now.

    If anyone has suggestions on how to move to a better platform than Facebook, I am all ears.

  • Bill Benson

    This is the most straightforward and honest appraisal I have seen in the past few days. Unfortunately many writers (who I bet are on Zuckerberg payola) are defending FB in saying the throttling is all for user convenience. Well, bullhockey.

  • maggier

    Thanks for this article. It’s very informative and makes me even more irritated at Facebook! FB has limited the amount of items coming on my Newsfeed. Not only that, but even if you try and go back to find something that was scrolled by at first, it is gone to the Netherworld! I’m on FB to keep in touch with friends and different groups. FB is making it harder to do so. The next best thing better hurry and get here!

    • fredweasley

      I think the next best thing may be Glassboard.

  • 6 one way half a dozen another

    I first joined Facebook in the fall of 2012 under a pseudonym to try it out before I put my real name on an account. How anyone could think that having more than fifty “friends” and even more than that in pages and still get to see everything from everyone is extremely naive. And it is even worse going the other way; that anyone would expect that you would be among a small enough amount of pages that you wouldn’t get squeezed out bigger or more prolific pages is just foolish thinking. i have purposely kept people and pages to a minimum so that I will see all of the posts.
    I knew all of this before they made any algorithmic change. I sympathize with the pages because Facebook almost demands that you “like” more and ever more pages and people. But, let’s get real. It’s simple math: there is only so much room and time for posts. Someone has to get the short end and pages are those someones.

  • Dave Weaver

    nice job, Tanya! Keep shining the light for us!

  • RJ Groves

    It cemented my resolve to get off fb forever. I’m clearing out my pics, notes, and other personal information items, and keeping just to Pinterest and email. I’m out, fb.

  • Joseph Littleton

    As an admin on a political page that has over 170,000 fans, I can attest to this. We used to create a meme and it would be seen by thousands. Now it’s a hundred if we’re lucky. And if it isn’t seen, it isn’t shared. It’s a reverse cascading effect. Of course, we have the opportunity to “boost” our posts, but we’re a non-profit. In some ways though, I think FB needs us because if we aren’t posting, our fans have nothing to follow. As usage falls, the pendulum will swing back they will have to change their algorithm.

  • counterofbeans

    Just rename him to Barack Zuckerberg.

  • phall777

    I wondered. Now I know. Whenever I’d advertise my page, I would get as many as 500 likes a day. But when the advertising time ended, I would sell little to no response. This sets it straight. I’m done with FaceBook advertising for the most part. Thank you.

  • Bren Pool Vignaroli

    Always great reads from Tanya Grimsley! Lots of great info and insight! Thanks Tanya!!

  • HangEmHigh

    I have two fan pages. Not big pages. 2000 plus fans. They are local pages. It’s hardly worth posting anything on it anymore. I post, 60-80 people see it. Paid a couple of times to promote the post. More than Half went to Vietnam. WE have NO fans in Asia.
    I won’t waste my time anymore on FB. Twitter, I reach MILLIONS!!!!

  • My reach went down by over 50% within a week. I’m done with Facebook for my blog.

  • Conservative_Utopia

    EXCELLENT article, Tanya! I had no idea what was going on.