For free forever a slogan that Facebook has decided to forget
Mar 4, 2014
Facebook's Decreasing Organic Reach: From "It's free and it always will be" to Paid Advertising Dominance
It's no secret to anyone that Facebook is decreasing the organic reach of the content you post. In other words, every time you post a photo, article, or an update, fewer people are seeing what you posted. This reduction is even more drastic for brands - because Facebook wants companies to pay to display their material. The company's motto, It’s free and it always will be, is effectively abolished.
To explain in more detail: Facebook does not deny that it is making this reduction. According to the company, the amount of content posted is too large and the trend is for this percentage to be reduced until it reaches 1% (that is, 99% of your followers - or friends, in the case of individuals - do not see what you posted). However, there is another theory for the organic reduction - forcing companies to buy more advertising space. When it went public, its revenue growth far outweighed the importance of product quality.
"Oh, but users don't pay anything". That is no longer true. Users pay much more today than they ever have. Their timelines have been flooded with ads. They no longer see the updates they want to see from their friends - but rather the ones Facebook wants them to see. The reach of their own posts has dramatically decreased. Summing up in a sentence by Jason Kirkpatrick: "If you don't pay anything, you're the product".
Facebook knows that it has in its hands a very valuable reach capacity and it dominates an environment in which advertisers and content providers need to be (at least for now), under penalty of being alienated from their own audience. The graph below gives a dimension of the subject to the news media, for example. In the United States, 30% of adults inform themselves through what they see on their timelines. This means fewer people seeking out news and waiting - now literally - for the news to find them.
But there is a relevant point on this subject: if it is true that content producers need Facebook, the opposite is also true. The habit of frequently logging into the platform is also stimulated by the interesting things users find there. Among the various reasons why Orkut failed, is the inability to share content, the nonexistence of social plugins (which allowed providers to 'embed' platform buttons in their content) and the lack of entertainment options users had. Basically, Orkut was a service to update about what happens with your friends and in most cases, that is supercool only for a while. Facebook cannot risk becoming a TV broadcaster that only broadcasts commercials. Or better: it doesn't need to take that risk.
Content companies generate huge traffic on Facebook, whether they are legacies of traditional media or trendy start-ups like Buzzfeed or Business Insider. Content is at the heart of the discussions people have with each other and in the midst of interactions they may even have with those they don't know. Just like when newspapers appeared in Europe, today, the press agenda still promotes discussion. And this is undoubtedly what brings people together on social platforms.
The decision to bring down the organic reach of its users is already a risky decision in itself. There isn't a person who has not noticed the huge increase in the number of ads they see on Facebook, or has not noticed how limited the reach of their posts has been. Turning everyone into "noise" is a risky move by Facebook and from a product point of view, decidedly, not very smart. As journalist Jay Rosen stated, if I don't know who I'm posting to, why would I waste time posting?
But this risk will increase considerably if this algorithmic dictatorship also applies to content companies in general. The rationale that defined Facebook as a platform is that it is a public utility service. Its connectivity, adoption rate, and openness were the locomotives that turned it into a media giant where you can find whoever you want, see things from the providers you want to follow, and have updates from companies, entities or individuals that are of interest to you. All this, without having to pay for it. The further away from this reality, the less interesting Facebook becomes as a platform. Forgetting the promise of free use already annoys users enough. Charging for the use of the product cannot make the product worse and worse.