Do You Really Want Facebook Telling You How Many People Are Ignoring Your Posts?

    July 21, 2013
    Josh Wolford

What does it actually mean when one of your Facebook friends “likes” one of your posts? In reality, the like is purposefully vague. It can show support, solidarity, agreement, and a wide array of positive emotions. It can show appreciation, awe, or simply come about as a friendly gesture. Do I really like this photo of your baby’s first whatever? Probably not, but I know it’s important to you so I’ll “like” it.

In the end, the like (and the comment and share) mean one thing – interaction. They indicate that your friends saw your post, and it moved them to participate in one way or another. More likes, comments, and shares mean that more people saw your post – and more importantly, more people cared.

But what if nobody actually cares what you’re posting on Facebook? What if the amount of friends who are seeing your posts is much higher than you think – and they’re just not interacting. Would you really want to know how many people saw your post and simply allowed it to scroll on by? Do you really want to know the full extent of the situation? That many of your social media posts aren’t going unseen – they’re just being ignored.

Would you want Facebook to tell you exactly how many of your friends saw each and every one of your posts Let us know in the comments.

For some time, page admins have known that posting on Facebook is like trying to get the attention of people at a loud party, only they’re all drunk and you don’t have a microphone. They see you and they hear you, but a lot of the time they just don’t care enough to pay attention. Facebook has shown page admins and marketers the actual number of people who see each of their posts for some time now. For instance, a page owner is able to see that though their post only received 8 likes and 2 shares, 1,700 people actually saw it in their news feeds. It’s both a helpful metric for determining audience size and a powerful reality check.

So, what if that metric could be extended to the average Facebook user? Would you want to see just how many people are seeing your posts but deciding not to interact?

A recent Buzzfeed article suggested that of course people would want to see this, but Facebook doesn’t want them to. In fact, they suggested that it’s in Facebook’s best interest to keep users in the dark.

In fact, most of what happens after an update is sent out takes place out of sight – only Facebook knows the truth. And it’s in the company’s best interest to keep that information to itself. The company knows full well that the only thing worse than speaking to an empty room is speaking to a room full of friends and family and having them ignore you.

The logic here, of course, is that users would probably stop posting status updates, photos, check-ins, etc. if they knew they were simply being ignored by a large percentage of their friends. Discouragement would turn to apathy and Facebook users would stop providing all those juicy data points that the company uses to sell ads and monetize.

Once users were face to face with the reality of their own ineffectuality and were forced to stop blaming Facebook (they’re not showing my updates to enough of my friends!), the illusion could crumble, leaving a disinterested user base. And as we know, disinterest is the social media killer.

The most interesting thing about BuzzFeed’s allegation is that it garnered a response from an actual Facebook News Feed engineer. Lars Backstrom posted this to his Facebook page, denying that Facebook was actively trying to hide this info from users. He argues that the average user probably doesn’t care about the “people who saw this” metric:

As someone who works on News Feed at Facebook every day, I wanted to take a moment to clarify and correct a few aspects of a Buzzfeed story that was posted yesterday:

The main premise of the article — that everyone wants to know how many friends see each of their posts and Facebook doesn’t want to tell them — is just plain wrong. A few of us did build and test a feature like this internally. Our conclusion after testing it: people are way more interested in seeing *who* liked their posts, rather than just the number of people who saw it. In fact, in all of the thousands of pieces of feedback we receive about News Feed each month, virtually no one has asked to see this information. If we saw enough people asking for this, we would definitely consider building it into the product. But, from what we’ve seen, including the raw numbers isn’t worth the space it would take up on the screen. The Buzzfeed author notes that we do show advertisers how many people see their posts. That’s true, but we also show this information to Group members and Page owners who aren’t advertisers. That’s because these people care about how many people see these posts; everyday users — not so much.

I don’t know. Do you buy that Facebook users don’t want to see this information?

Facebook is no stranger to complaints about users’ news feed visibility and allegations of foul play. You may remember that earlier this year, multiple page owners and a few tech writers accused Facebook of pulling a bait and switch when it comes to post visibility in the news feed. The claim was that Facebook was decreasing the visibility of users’ posts in others’ news feeds in order to force them into paying for a Promoted Post.

Facebook vehemently denied those allegations. They admitted to adjusting the news feed algorithm to show more relevant posts (exact quote: The News Feed changes we made in the fall to focus on higher quality stories may have also decreased the distribution for less engaging stories from public figures) – but they denied decreasing organic post reach in order to force the use of Promoted Posts.

In his rebuttal, Backstrom took the opportunity to address this as well:

“I think that this is also a good opportunity to clear up a few other misconceptions about how News Feed works, since there are a lot of rumors and theories floating around. The prime directive of News Feed is to show you the stories that you will find most interesting. If our ranking system thinks that you’ll find a post very interesting, we’ll publish it near the top. If a story seems less likely to be interesting to you, we publish it further down, below other things that seem more important.

Our ranking certainly isn’t perfect and we are continually refining it, but we’ve run many tests showing that any time we stop ranking and show posts in chronological order, the number of stories people read decreases and the amount of likes and comments people produce decreases. That’s not good for our users or for Facebook. All said, this Buzzfeed article suggests that we have lots of ulterior motives when we make decisions about News Feed. The reality is that we’re just trying to show people as many interesting stories as possible.”

Here’s the reality: more people see your Facebook posts that you think. Just because that photo of your awesome lunch only got 3 likes and 1 comment, it doesn’t mean that only a handful of your friends saw it pop up in their news feeds.

In fact, think about this: how many people do you think see each one of your Facebook posts? Got a number in your head? Good, now quadruple it.

Back in March, Facebook contributed data for a Stanford University study that addressed this very issue. What it found was that Facebook users vastly underestimate their audience size.

“Users underestimate their audience on specific posts by a factor of four, and their audience in general by a factor of three. Half of users want to reach larger audiences, but they are already reaching much larger audiences than they think. Log analysis of updates from 220,000 Facebook users suggests that feedback, friend count, and past audience size are all highly variable predictors of audience size, so it would be difficult for a user to predict their audience size reliably. Put simply, users do not receive enough feedback to be aware of their audience size. However, Facebook users do manage to reach 35% of their friends with each post and 61% of their friends over the course of a month,” concluded the researchers.

Simply put, the reason your tuna salad photo only received 3 likes has nothing to do with Facebook’s algorithms. It just means that nobody really wanted to “like” it.

Knowing the reality, would you really want a metric on all of your posts that lets you know exactly how many users saw them? If so, I propose a new metric – the Facebook depression quotient. Just divide the total number of users who saw a post by the combined number of likes, comments, and shares to find your FDQ.

Do you think Facebook is intentionally hiding this metric because they don’t want you to see the reality? Or do you think that the vast majority of users simply don’t care. Would you want this metric attached to all of your posts? Let us know in the comments.