John Jalsevac

On the restoration of Christian culture

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How Facebook is making it impossible for us to reach our 500,000 fans: the technical details

John Jalsevac John Jalsevac Follow John

Earlier today we sent out a fundraising e-mail to our readers explaining how some recent changes Facebook made is making it increasingly hard for us to reach our Facebook fans with our news, and pointing out how this is having a seriously negative impact on our mission.

There was only so much information that we could include in that e-mail, and some of our readers wrote saying they wanted to know more details.

So here is the more technical explanation. It’s all sorts of fun. Trust me.

Last December, Facebook formally, but quietly announced that they already had been, and would continue to throttle the “organic reach” of business pages.

What this means is that whereas previously the owners of a business page (like our LifeSiteNews page) could post something (say a pro-life article) and expect that a certain number of fans would see it in their newsfeeds, in the future that number would begin to drop.

And boy, did Facebook follow through on their promises.

According to the best data available, whereas in the past owners of a Facebook page could expect that each of their posts would reach around 16% of their fans, that number has since plummeted precipitously to around 1-2%.

The difference for a social-dependent publisher like us has been…well… startling, to say the least.

When you consider that we have over 500,000 fans on our various pages (Note: LifeSiteNews runs several different pages, including LifeSiteNews.com, We Can End Abortion, We Can Defend Marriage, and others), you’ll begin to understand just how dramatic this change has been for us.

Using the numbers above, if in the past we posted one of our articles to all of our pages, we could expect that around 80,000 people (16 percent of our fans) would see it. Now, however, we can expect about 5-10,000 (1-2 percent) of our fans will see that article. Ouch.

This of course means not only that devoted LifeSiteNews readers are less likely to get the news and information that they deliberately “followed” us to see, but also that they are less likely to in turn share that information with their own Facebook fans – essentially derailing the “viral” effect before it has a chance to get going.

Yes, yes, there are ways to deal with all this bad news. Let’s get to those.

In the first place, because Facebook’s algorithm rewards click-baity headlines and content, we could just post articles all day with Buzzfeed/Upworthy-like headlines like “SHOCK: this shocking thing you won’t ever believe happened, did happen, and it’s really shocking.” That could get us a lot of traffic and make us feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about ourselves and how we’re “growing.” But we have a team of actual journalists who do actual journalisty things for a reason, and besides, it’s not entirely clear how that would promote our mission to create a Culture of Life.

And then, of course, fans can opt in to receive “notifications” whenever we post to one of our pages. And it would be great if everybody did that. (This is your cue to go to our LifeSiteNews page here, “like” it, and then click the “liked” button and select “get notifications.” Voila! You won’t miss any more of our awesome Culture of Life-y news!)

The problem, of course, is that most Facebook users have no idea that they can do this, or even that they need to take this extra step – because previously all they had to do was “like” our page to get updates, and most people naturally don’t spend their days greedily devouring the latest articles about Facebook’s algorithm the way I do (at least, I hope not), and so have no idea anything about Facebook has changed.

And besides have you ever tried to get 500,000 Facebook users to do something…anything? You can’t. Why? Well because, in the first place (oh the irony!), we can no longer reach them to tell them to do it, because Facebook will only show our post to a tiny fraction of them. And secondly, because it’s like herding cats: social media users are notoriously bombarded with so much information that getting any sizable portion of them to do any particular one task is nigh impossible.

Of course (and here’s the kicker) we can pay Facebook to reach our fans. In fact, when Facebook first announced that they were throttling “organic reach” of pages, they very comfortingly pointed out that if we still wanted to reach our fans, all we would have to do is give them money, and voila, problem solved! (They’re helpful like that).

Facebook has claimed that the changes they made to their algorithm had nothing to do with increasing revenue, and everything to do with increasing the quality of content in people’s news feeds. There may be a seed of truth there, but I’d put good money on that being about 97.38% total rubbish.

There’s a reason, after all, why Facebook’s earnings and stock values are way up. They’re masters of monetizing their platform. And good for them.

True, I do think some of their methods, particularly on this issue, have been deceptive. After all, the whole thing amounts to pretty much a massive bait-and-switch. Lots of companies like us have spent time and hard cash (including on Facebook advertising) compiling our fans, under the understanding that we were paying for the right to communicate with them. Now Facebook has completely changed the rules. And because they own the game, we have to abide by them.

Fair enough.

The good thing is we’ve got enough years of experience to know what to do about it. We’ve got some exciting stuff in the works to reduce our dependency on Facebook, and reach people in other ways. But the reality is that to move forward and to fulfill our mission of building a Culture of Life through news reporting, we’re going to have to spend quite a bit more on marketing than we ever have before.

That’s why we sent out that fundraising letter earlier today. That’s why I’m hoping you’ll click on this link here and make a donation today.

Thanks for listening!

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John Jalsevac

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John Jalsevac is the managing director of LifeSiteNews.com. He has a bachelor's degree in philosophy with a minor in theology from Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. He has published hundreds of articles in publications including Crisis Magazine, Catholic Insight, The Wanderer, and of course, LifeSiteNews.