When Facebook revealed Graph Search to the world last month, a lot of people were excited by the potential it had.
While some had concerns about privacy, the general consensus was that the service would be immensely useful as it would finally graph the entirety of Facebook and make the vast quantities of information out there accessible.
While resorting to a keyword search would have been the wrong option for Facebook to take – its partnership with Bing pretty much takes care of that part – there is a problem that the site still has to address, one that has been happening since last year and is basically gaming the Edgerank system.
The Fight For Likes
If you have a look at your newsfeed right now, chances are a large number of you will see some kind of competition being run by a page. Some of them will be apps, others will be competitions being run on a site, but more often than not, you’ll come across the ‘illegal’ competitions. That is, those competitions which require you to like and share a status update to be in with a chance to win. While all competitions require you to like a page first before you enter, that’s done under the pretext of accessing an app where the competition is taking place.
There are numerous examples of this happening across the board, but it gets worse when you come across pages like this. This one is from a page called GadgetsGiveaway, which was only recently taken down.
With 22,000 likes and 9,000 people talking about it, it must have some pretty engaging content combined with paid promotion, but if you haven’t guessed by the title, the increased interaction was coming from status updates like this.
Those familiar with the rules surrounding Facebook promotions will know all too well the frustration experienced when they see statuses and pages like this. For those who aren’t aware of the rules, Facebook’s page guidelines are pretty direct about what you can and can’t do. To save people reading, here are the points of interest regarding competitions (emphasis our own).
i. Promotions on Facebook must be administered within Apps on Facebook.com, either on a Canvas Page or a Page App.
ii. Promotions on Facebook must include the following:
a. A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
b. Acknowledgment that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.
c. Disclosure that the participant is providing information to [disclose recipient(s) of information] and not to Facebook.
iii. You must not condition registration or entry upon the user taking any action using any Facebook features or functionality other than liking a Page, checking in to a Place, or connecting to your app. For example, you must not condition registration or entry upon the user liking a Wall post, or commenting or uploading a photo on a Wall.
iv. You must not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotion’s registration or entry mechanism. For example, the act of liking a Page or checking in to a Place cannot automatically register or enter a promotion participant.
v. You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion.
The big problem is that while the majority reading this already know the rules, a large number of page owners don’t and are still functioning with the old rules in mind. Even if they don’t understand the purpose of Edgerank, they see other pages running ‘like and share’ competitions and decide to do the same since it gets people involved. It’s the social media equivalent of those competitions which ask you “Where is London?” and provides the answers “(a) Italy, (b) England, or (c) Japan.”
When it’s a major brand engaging in this practice, it gets noticed pretty quickly. However, the perpetrators in this case are the smaller pages – mostly small to medium size enterprises – that will barely register on Facebook’s radar. And since pages can get away with it, that’s what they will continue to do.
This becomes an issue when you realise that Facebook’s Edgerank decides how relevant your posts are by how much interaction they get. Since the newsfeed only shows content from people & pages you interact with, a ‘like and share’ competition alone would drive this ranking up for a page. This boost wouldn’t be massive by any means – unless it ran these competitions continuously – but enough for the next status update to be given a more prominent position the next time you check your news feed.
With more pages fighting to get noticed and get more likes so that more people see their content, it can be frustrating to see a page not following the rules, especially when you put the work into building a specialised app and pumping money into sponsored stories and ads. Seeing a page run such a competition makes a mockery of Facebook telling us that ads are the only way to get our content out there.
There are two major problems behind this. The first is the lack of education about the rules surrounding competitions on Facebook. While Facebook is usually showing businesses how it can improve engagement and reach out to its customers more, it’s neglecting the fact that the people they’re appealing to (a) are already clued up about marketing on Facebook and (b) have the funds necessary to buy ads and run these competitions.
It’s the latter part that leads to the second problem. Since its marketing conference back in February 2012, Facebook changed the rules so that brands would have to cough up money if they wanted to run competitions or get noticed. What it has done instead is create a massive divide between the bigger brand and those smaller businesses trying to get noticed.
Pages Vs Edgerank
Building up your likes when you’re a small page starting out isn’t the easiest by any means, while larger pages have to cope with a reduced percentage of users viewing their page the bigger it gets, another problem in itself that’s highlighted by Socialbaker’s graph from a few months ago. The greater the number of fans on your page, the less chance there is of your posts appearing organically; but even with the added advantage of smaller pages appearing, they’re still going to be fighting for attention among each other and with limited space (especially on mobile), so a number of pages are going to lose out.
Most businesses don’t have funds to spare towards regular advertising and by extension, creating an app that will bring more people to visit your page. Since setting up on Facebook has been free, and since there are examples of many other pages running similar competitions, why wouldn’t they? Offer a half-decent prize, ensure that some people will share it and sit back as people start liking and sharing in their droves, Facebook already has so many pages and people to monitor, it’s not going to notice a page with 5,000 likes running such competitions.
No Middle Ground
So what are we left with? Small businesses don’t have the finances to build up their audience and so have to resort to other measures to build it up, while larger businesses who have been playing by the rules are left frustrated that their posts are being limited.
There is an argument that showing everything on your newsfeed would only be a recipe for disaster as there are so many posts fighting for your attention. In a sense, Edgerank is a necessary evil since there’s no way any of us would be able to properly digest an unfiltered newsfeed. Try making your way through content marked as ‘most recent’ and you’ll have to filter through a lot of content to see the posts you actually want to interact with.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a proper middle ground for either side, instead, the divide between small and large businesses only grows to the point where growth is only done either by having a significant marketing budget to work with, or by playing dirty. Even the former doesn’t guarantee that you will get the kind of audience you’re looking for, making you question the wisdom.
For now, the only one winning is Facebook itself, and as Graph Search improves, perhaps Facebook will be able to identify these posts since it will be graphing likes. Yes, it is a business and Facebook doesn’t really owe brand pages anything, but it’s does owe businesses to stamp down on these type of posts since it’s encouraging them to pay to reach larger audiences, otherwise what’s the point playing by its rules?
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