Don’t Rely on Facebook for Blog Updates. Subscribe or Visit Directly Instead.

Don’t Rely on Facebook for Blog Updates. Subscribe or Visit Directly Instead. May 28, 2012

Facebook has been an enormous aid to my blogging career. It was through Facebook that I was able to get the word out about my blog posts in the beginning when essentially no one would have known what I was doing otherwise. Then I used Facebook to make connections to a few thousand networking atheists who I didn’t know from offline. That wonderful community has become my primary source of the material I aggregate on the blog, and through Facebook many of them (and their friends) visit my blog everyday. I estimate that as much as 10-25% of my daily traffic comes through Facebook links.

And, it’s safe to say, that were it not for Facebook I would not have had the supreme fortune of being on Freethought Blogs. I was able to find out about the formation of Freethought Blogs just before it launched and was prominently announced because I read about it on Ophelia Benson’s Facebook wall. And right on her wall she (indirectly) asked Ed Brayton if she could join the network. And he said yes. And this clued me in that it was possible to do that, to just ask Ed. It’s not that easy anymore! But that day, at the very beginning, it was possible and I tried it. And he and PZ checked out my blog, and voila, through online social networking I got this extraordinary opportunity to write for a few thousand people everyday.

So Camels With Hammers is very much a social media success story. Without the intermediary of Facebook in particular, it most likely would not be where it is today.

The reason this worked so well is because social media is a great leveler. People without advertising budgets can nonetheless “advertise” links to their friends in innocuous, unobtrusive, and socially acceptable ways. People of similar interests can network with each other and share information and resources freely. They can even reach out and informally engage with people of greater prominence in their community without even having to leave their computers. All of this gives equal access to be heard. If what you have to say is not worth hearing, then people (hopefully!) won’t listen. But at least you have a shot that requires no budget and no prior connections.

So I was discouraged to see in the fall that Facebook was not displaying Camels With Hammers posts to most of the people who had gone out of their way to click “like” on the Facebook page for Camels With Hammers. Facebook gives reports on “impressions” that each post has gotten, which I took to mean how many subscribers had seen each post in their feeds. Before the fall, each post would routinely get around 144 impressions. Not bad, considering the page had about 300 likes. Overnight, one day last fall, the total dropped to about 10-20 per post.

Then recently it seemed (judging by the paucity of likes and comments) that a lot of my links to my blog posts on my personal Facebook wall were not showing up in many of my friends’ feeds either.

I thought that maybe the problem, on both the website’s page and my personal page, was that I was automatically feeding the posts using the (very good) application RSS Graffiti. I worried that Facebook‘s algorithms were privileging manually posted links over those which were being fed automatically. Or that complicated new user settings options may have resulted in people screening out posts made by apps differently than those hand posted by individuals. So lately I scrapped automated posts altogether and have tried to remember to do the tedious task of promoting each post manually on Facebook. This has cut down on the number of posts I have actually gotten up there.

Now, today, I discovered that Facebook has made clear that website pages (or bands’ pages or business’s pages, etc.) will not just get their links fed to a significant portion of the people who subscribe to them simply by “liking” unless such pages pay a fee. [On Edit: It seems like you can still get into about a quarter of your subscribers’ feeds without paying a fee.] So when I tried to post a link to the Camels With Hammers page earlier, I was given the option of “promoting” the post for $5. If I paid $5 I was told it would show up in 300 of my subscribers’ feeds. So now I need to pay $5 to Facebook for each link in order to get my links advertised even to just 300 of the 459 people who have specifically registered on Facebook for information about the site. I am not going to do that.

So I am altogether going to stop advertising the Facebook Camels With Hammers page. I don’t want people to go “like” the page if it is only going to falsely give readers the impression that they can rely on the page to update them about the blog when it actually will not. That not only stops helping the blog, it starts hurting it.

I will continue to link to the blog on my personal page and continue to recommend that you friend me there (at least for all the other opportunities to get to know each other, even if Facebook starts restricting the blog’s feed presence there too).

But if you have simply relied on Facebook to passively stay up to date on Camels With Hammers (or any other blogs, websites, or services), just don’t. Subscribe to the blog directly in a feed reader or, most reliably of all, sign up for e-mail updates delivered straight to your inbox. (Options for subscribing to this site in feeds or e-mails can be found here.) Or, best of all, just bookmark the page and take a moment everyday to stop by directly as part of your web surfing routine. This, of course, benefits me the most.

Camels With Hammers now has enough reliable sources of traffic that it can weather a hit like this. And I feel gratitude towards Facebook for the indispensable ways that it helped Camels With Hammers get where it is. But I worry about the upstarts of the future when the social media gatekeepers start charging increasingly prohibitive tolls for access to their own friends, family, and other fans.

Your Thoughts?

STATUS UPDATE (May 29, 2012, 8:16am):

Long story short: the news is not as bad as I thought yesterday. I am getting over 100 impressions per post I make on the Camels With Hammers Facebook page again the last two months—ever since I stopped using an app to automatically post links. Even the last two days, I got over 100 impressions per post. It’s still less than quarter of my total subscribers but not as bad as when I was getting as low as 2 or 4 impressions for some posts in the fall or only 30-40 throughout the winter.

Apparently it was the apps or automatic posting which was being penalized and not just an artificial suppression of feed representation meant to force page owners to buy access to their subscribers’ feeds (as I had angrily inferred yesterday when I discovered they were offering to give me access to 300 of my subscribers’ feeds if only I paid $5 each time I wanted that).

Facebook is still not a reliable way to be assured you’ll get every update from blogs you follow. In the case of Camels With Hammers you will miss (and have missed) links which I don’t remember to post, even if you are getting the site regularly in your feed. Also, as I already noted, less than a quarter of subscribers are getting impressions of each post.

And page runners should be aware their posts automatically added by apps probably don’t show up in many feeds at all (less than 10%, assuming my experience on my page is typical), unless they get a lot of likes and comments. Freethought Blogs’ own Facebook page, which has nearly 5,000 subscribers and aggregates links to everything on the whole site is automatically updated and I have heard from a friend it rarely shows up in her feed.

So, if you want to make sure you are reliably updated on the goings-on at your favorite blogs, use a feed reader, have a daily e-mail sent to your inbox, or (especially) visit the websites directly. Only use Facebook as a supplemental occasional alert and you should be fine.

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