At the beginning of this year, I created a public Facebook page for my blog, Schmutzie.com. I did it because I wanted to create a more private personal profile so I could have at least one place online that felt less public, a little more sheltered. It wasn't long, though, before I started to regret that decision, because I realized that privacy on Facebook is harder to maintain than it seems, real engagement is difficult to come by on public pages, and Facebook's treatment of public pages has been undergoing a slow evolution that favours advertising money over content and engagement.
When I started my public page, it was before this year's rounds of Facebook changes that would prove to make me nearly invisible on the platform. I thought I was increasing my ability to share with people by creating a public page where I could connect with those who read my blog and yet still have a more private profile for family and closer friends. The connection I sought, though, was steadily eroded by Facebook's changing treatment of public pages to favour advertisers and businesses who can pay for exposure and all but shut down those of us who cannot pay for the privilege of having those who like our pages see them.
Historically, we were able to use a page's Like button as a de facto subscription button, and clicking it meant that we would be able to keep up with that page's updates in our timelines. Then Facebook started using some mysterious algorithm to decide which updates from which pages we would be able to see in our timelines, which means we stopped seeing content we thought we'd chosen to see. Then, Facebook throttled the number of updates that a page's followers were able to see unless the page owner paid to boost a post's access to traffic.
Over recent weeks, Facebook has chosen to throttle public page traffic even more severely than ever before, which means that even if we've jumped through all the necessary hoops to ensure we see a page's updates in our timelines, we probably won't see them unless the page's owner has also paid to boost their traffic. For instance, posts on my public page for my blog, which had been liked 1650+ times before I sent out warnings that I was shutting it down, were suddenly only being seen by between 50 and 165 people each. This means that only between 3% and 10% of the people who had liked my page were actually being delivered any content from my page organically.
In fact, our ability to see updates from the pages we like and page owners' ability to have their pages seen has been so diminished that the very point of liking public pages or running them without an advertising budget has been pretty much removed. Why like a page if you will never see its updates? Why pour energy into posts on public pages when sometimes less than 5% of those who like the page will even see it in their timelines?
There are ways to organically increase traffic to pages without having to pay to boost posts, such as creating timely and shareable content that is more likely to go viral. If you have a nose for viral content and this has worked for you in the past, this may be a viable option, but I simply do not have the resources to invest what it would cost me in time and creative energy to garner even half of the traffic I would want to see on my public Facebook page.
Even if I were able to create a lot of buzz about my content, that content would still not be seen by most of the people who already like my page but instead by friends and family of the 3% to 10% of likers Facebook lets in for free to share my content. The resulting traffic from those shares becomes less about engagement and real communication with those who already like your page and more about cold-calling extended friends and family groups. This turns people's likes from their old purpose as a page subscription tool into advertising leads they ferry out for free to their friends and family. This has long been an aspect of the function of public pages, but it is a primary function now that we have to pay for boosted posts or depend on viral content.
Now that the Like button primarily acts as an open door to let boosted posts show up like ads in your friends' and family's timelines and not as a subscription tool, how do you feel about pressing that Like button? A little dirty? I thought so.
As an experiment to see if buying traffic would even be a feasible alternative to keep my page alive, I boosted a post, spending $10 to potentially reach a larger number of those who liked my page. While I could choose to reach both those who liked my page and their friends, I could not choose to solely target likers, which is frustrating, but I decided to see what $10 would do. The people who saw my post jumped up by more than 10 times to a reach of 1492 people, which means that 92% of my traffic to that post was paid.
That means, if I only posted to my Facebook page once a day and wanted to have even most of my page's likers see my content, I would have to pay a minimum of $300/month, that's $3600/year, to unleash the 90-95% of my page's old potential organic traffic through likes alone. If my page likes increased, the cost of reaching them would go up, too.
If I were a larger organization or retailer, I might be able to justify this kind of cash as an advertising expense, but as a medium-sized blogger who genuinely wants to connect with people, I cannot argue my way into believing that Facebook's public pages make sense for me anymore, especially when personal profiles offer so much more as far as connection and conversation go.
The only conclusion I can come to is that it's time to close down my blog's Facebook page and use my personal profile as my main point of Facebook engagement. This is actually a good thing.
Over the last year, I found that my public Facebook page made engagement very one-sided. People came to see me, but I could not go to see them in the same way, because pages do not behave like personal profiles as part of the conversational back-and-forth in people's timelines. Our public page conversations are effectively lifted out of the general Facebook timeline and primarily isolated on the pages themselves. It has felt too much like broadcasting and too little like connection.
Over the last week since I asked people to use my personal profile instead, my Facebook profile increased from about 140 to over 600 friends, and it's steadily climbing. I have had so much more human and meaningful interaction in less than a week than I ever saw in the whole year that I ran my Facebook page. I am back in the general thick of it chatting, seeing what other people are up to, and being present with people as a friend and acquaintance rather than a broadcaster operating through a blog page's agenda.
Facebook's public pages are basically a paid advertising game now, which makes sense for Facebook, apparently, but the kind of interaction that this pushes me towards as a personal blogger is no longer a good fit for me or my content. Rather than feel upset about the changes, though, I am happy.
Facebook's throttling of public page traffic has pushed me to reexamine my engagement there — what I do, why I do it, how I do it, and who I do it with — and I have come to a more integrated and human approach again, a place that feels more meaningful to me and more true to what I commit myself to online.
Of course, there are certain privacy issues you need to take into account before choosing to use your personal Facebook profile as a more public forum, but with Facebook's ever-loosening privacy settings, it's not a great idea to give over information you wouldn't have public there to begin with. Even Mark Zuckerberg's sister, Randi, had a photo she thought was private escape into the public eye because of the slippery nature of relationships and privacy settings within the platform.
A Facebook page might seem to offer the prestige of appearing bigger and more important, but as much as it offers a socially elevating facade, the trade-off for lesser reach and engagement is likely no longer worth it. It isn't for me.
I want to be able to see you, talk to you, and know you beyond age range and location statistics, and the best way for me to do that with Facebook pages' new throttling and push for paid traffic is by going back to my roots as a non-corporate individual bent on meaningful creation and opening up my little, old, personal profile to those who will have me.
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