Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why I kissed my Facebook page goodbye

I tried.

I REALLY tried... to do Facebook the way Facebook wanted me to do it.

But after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I've decided that as a journalist, Facebook's current system just isn't for me in my professional life.

I'm not leaving Facebook outright, (unless the social network giant decides to TOS me... more on this below) but I am kissing my reporter page goodbye... in favor of a second personal profile for work.

Why? It's simple: Facebook has consistently rewarded all of my friends in the news business who broke the rules-- while punishing those of us who foolishly chose to abide by them.

If you're short on time, I can show you my motivation in one chart, prefaced with the fact that my Twitter account and my professional Facebook page have both been active since 2011:


I earned more followers on my Twitter account in the past month than I have in several years of posting highly-relevant news content to my Facebook page. And, finally, I'm here to say: enough.



From here on out, I'm using Facebook the way the company DOESN'T want me to use it: I'm following the lead of many of my colleagues in journalism who have decided to simply be two people on the social network, rather than a person and a company.

MANY OPTIONS, NONE OF THEM GOOD

As a mainstream media journalist, Facebook provides me three legitimate means of building a following on its platform:

  1. Create a "page" for myself as a reporter to connect with "fans"
  2. Allow "subscribers" on my personal profile who can only see my public posts there
  3. Ignore any separation between my personal and professional life and just friend everybody who asks
Now, as much as option 3 may gel with the dystopian future that my Silicon Valley birthplace is building, (you know, the one that has us checking work email whilst on the toilet) I actually prefer a wall of separation between work and personal life on Facebook.

I cover politics for the highest-rated TV news organization in Colorado, which is a job I love. But I'm a D-list celebrity at best... and that's plenty enough for me. I'm not Miley Cyrus, and I don't need all of my social media to be public-facing.

I want to share photos of my wife and dog with my relatives without sharing them with political junkies in Colorado, and I'm sure those political junkies appreciate not being bombarded daily with photos of my pup (though she is, objectively, adorable.)

Instead, I opted to go with BOTH options 1 & 2. The "subscriber" approach is only as effective as the public posts you wish to make on a personal profile, and I honestly don't do much of that. It's difficult to manage, and posting work content their frequently is likely to bore all my relatives around the. country who couldn't care less what the Governor of Colorado is up to on any given day.

Which means that option 1 is really the one that should best suit me. I can write posts about Colorado news and politics as much as I want and reach the intended audience.

With one thing lacking: the audience.

THE ALGORITHMIC PYTHON

About a year after I stated posting to my page, Facebook went public with what was generally regarded as a disastrous IPO.

Ultimately, the company decided it needed to show investors it could make money.

I get this. It's become a familiar cycle in web-based services:

CREATE COOL, FREE NEW PLATFORM --> AMASS HUGE BASE OF USERS --> CHANGE THE TERMS OF THE RELATIONSHIP TO MAKE PROFIT

While that last step never feels good, I'm not philosophically opposed to this. Innovation deserves to be rewarded and this benefits society by providing incentives for new ideas.

But journalists are collateral damage in Facebook's effort to squeeze ad dollars from every possible source.

As a journalist, I can use Facebook as a person (profile) or as a business (page.)

One chooses to be a page at their own peril, choosing to do battle with Facebook's "algorithmic python."

I call it this for a simple reason: IT WILL STRANGLE YOU.

To Facebook, it doesn't matter anymore that I am posting timely, highly relevant information that would benefit its audience. Because I am a PAGE, Facebook treats every post I write the way it would treat Bob's Tire Shop trying to promote a sale on tires.

The thing is: there is no ad budget for me as a reporter (though KUSA does promote its own posts on occasion,) and unlike Bob's Tire Shop, I do not stand to make any additional money by investing in paying to promote my posts.

It takes an EXCEPTIONALLY amazing post for Facebook to allow me to reach more than a dozen or so people on my page without giving them money to promote it.

For instance, when I broke the news that KUSA called the race for Governor of Colorado the morning after this year's election, Facebook tells me the post I wrote to break the news reached 24 people (as of 11/18/14.)

I could do better screaming on a street corner.

By contrast, the exact same post reached 14,457 people on Twitter. 66 people retweeted it. 54 of them clicked on my profile to learn more about me and possibly become followers.

I cannot ignore those metrics. Who in their right mind would see any value whatsoever to playing in the crappy sandbox Facebook put me in?

THE DOWNSIDE

As mentioned above, Facebook could decide to find me in violation of its Terms of Service (TOS) for the choice I've made today.

The company hints at this threat in squishy language on the page where you can appeal to have your page converted into a profile.


If you tell Facebook that you want to "interact with fans," it informs you that it is a violation of the TOS to "use a personal account to represent an organization, business, brand, opinion, or fan club."

I don't view any of those as my primary purpose on Facebook as a professional journalist. My primary purpose is the same as it is on TV and twitter: to provide timely, relevant, informative news content to as many people as I can.

I submit that my activity posting news content to Facebook is a net benefit to the company, increasing its relevance to the sliver of its user base that has an interest in news and politics in my market.

There are other downsides as well, like the inconvenience of having to juggle logins between the two profiles and the cap of 5,000 friends Facebook will allow per profile.

Since Facebook has given no hope of ever coming close to that without paying them, it's an easy pill to swallow.

No. It isn't close at all...
Facebook is free to disagree with my view and shut my new profile down.

I hope not. Unlike some others who killed pages with far more fans than mine, I don't want to exit the space entirely.

It's their platform and they provide it free-of-charge, and while I find my personal profile's relevancy to be on the decline, the company is free to shape and mold its creation as it sees fit.

I do think Facebook would be wise to examine its treasure trove of information it has from classifying different types of pages and take a more mindful approach to the way it applies its algorithms to the different types of pages. Nonprofits, for instance, could benefit from this.

For me, right now, it's a simple risk/benefit analysis: I have next-to-nothing to gain by following Facebook's rules. I plenty to gain by by breaking them.

VISIT MY NEW FACEBOOK PROFILE: Brandon Rittiman (News)

If Facebook decides to TOS my new profile, I'll be done making regular posts as a journalist there.

Thankfully, if that happens, It'll give me something to write about.

At least I can be confident it'll reach more than two-dozen people.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Brandon,
    You have very concisely expressed the frustrations we (as digital marketers) face even when we're trying to promote good things - nonprofits, community service clubs, etc. - that aren't aiming to just turn a profit or sell widgets. Best of luck in your new approach! And thanks for sharing.
    Matthew

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Matthew! I'll post some follow-ups to let folks know how it's going.

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