Once Again, Facebook Denies ‘Bait-and-Switch’ with Promoted Posts. Do You Believe Them?

    March 6, 2013
    Josh Wolford
    Comments are off for this post.

In May of 2012, Facebook unveiled a brand new feature for page owners. It was called “Promoted Posts,” and it allowed admins to pay a small to medium fee (depending on the follower base) in order to hoist their posts to a more prominent placement in users’ news feeds. Basically, it allowed page owners to make sure their most important posts were seen by more people, and provided a great revenue opportunity for Facebook.

A few months later, Facebook extended the Promoted Posts functionality to individual users. By October, anyone with an account could pay to promote their witty status, cool new article, or cute new baby photo.

Ok, cool. So far so good. You may think that the entire Promoted Posts concept is wacky, but hey, to each his own. As a page owner, you could simply choose not to participate in Promoted Posts and go about your business as usual – simply posting away.

As a page owner, have you seen your average engagement decrease since the launch of Promoted Posts? Have you used Promoted Posts? Let us know in the comments.

Of course, that zen-like mentality could quickly disappear if, let’s say, Facebook was rigging the game. And that’s exactly what some page owners began accusing Facebook of late last year: one giant bait-and-switch.

The “Bait-and-Switch”

Reports emerged that Facebook was deliberately decreasing the reach of regular, non-promoted posts in order to force people into paying for the Promoted Post product. In fact, that was the whole point of unveiling the feature – to cast un-promoted posts into oblivion so that people would see such a small return (likes, comments, and shares) that they would have no choice but to pay to promote.

Most of the claims hinged on the simple observation by the accusers that posts published on their Facebook pages were not driving the traffic that they used to – which naturally meant that not as many people were seeing the posts in their news feeds. How could my likes be increasing, but my traffic from Facebook be decreasing?

The common conclusion from people like Richard Metzger at Dangerous Times and even popular Facebook celebrities like George Takei (who hopped on the bandwagon) was that Facebook was turning down the volume on their regular posts.

Although the accusation gained plenty of steam inside the tech media circles, Facebook maintained its innocence in the matter. The company said, point blank, that they did not decrease the visibility of page posts in order to force people into buying Promoted Posts.

And there was some pretty compelling evidence to support Facebook’s innocence. Facebook has admitted that only around 16% or so of a page’s followers even see their posts in the news feed. It’s always been like this. Facebook has never been able to show 100% of followers 100% of posts from pages and people they subscribe to. There’s simply too much competition for real estate in the news feed. As users begin to friend more and more people and like more and more pages, their overall engagement with each individual person and page is going naturally decrease.

Josh Constine over at TechCrunch suggested that a move that Facebook made to fight spam had actually been one of the root causes of the so-called “visibility decreases” that many page owners were reporting.

“We made a relatively large ranking change in September that was designed to reduce spam complaints from users. We used [spam] reports at an aggregate level to find Pages or apps generating a lot of reports [and decrease their reach]. We’ve also added personalized attempts to reduce presence of posts you’re likely to complain about,” said Facebook.

In short, the less engaging your posts were, the less likely they were to show up in your followers’ news feeds.

And the push to control spammy posts is simply one news feed algorithm tweak that Facebook made – and they make a bunch, all the time. Facebook is constantly changing the way its algorithms decide what shows up in whose news feed. The bottom line, according to those who believed Facebook, was that sure, your post reach could be fluctuating (or even simply decreasing), but it’s not because Facebook is pulling a bait-and-switch with Promoted Posts.

Still, page owners continued to complain that for them, personally, they were seeing less return from their posts. Sure, you can throw graphs and excuses at the issue, but you can’t explain that the decrease in visibility coincided with the dawn of Promoted Posts. Although Facebook has been adamant that they are not pulling this “bait-and-switch,” many page owners and public figures with many subscribers have remained unconvinced.

New Accusations

Fast forward to a couple of days ago and to an article by Nick Bilton in the the New York Times’ “Bits” tech blog. It begins, “something is puzzling on Facebook.”

What it asserts is the same argument that we discussed above: Facebook is screwing you. Hard.

His story picks up soon after Facebook first allowed users to “subscribe” to public figures back in 2011. At that point, he had about 25,000 subscribers and his average article post on Facebook would receive a few hundred likes and at least a few dozen shares (535 likes and 53 shares or 323 likes and 88 shares, numbers like that).

Today, he has over 400,000 subscribers. If you think that means the number of likes and shares per post will have increased 16-fold, you’re wrong.

“From the four columns I shared in January, I have averaged 30 likes and two shares a post. Some attract as few as 11 likes. Photo interaction has plummeted, too. A year ago, pictures would receive thousands of likes each; now, they average 100. I checked the feeds of other tech bloggers, including MG Siegler of TechCrunch and reporters from The New York Times, and the same drop has occurred,” says Bilton.

So, he tested out a Promoted Post. After paying $7 to get one of his article posts promoted by Facebook, he says that he saw a 1,000% increase in interaction in a few hours.

“It seems as if Facebook is not only promoting my links on news feeds when I pay for them, but also possibly suppressing the ones I do not pay for,” he concludes.

Fact Check

Although Facebook has been denying this claim for months and months, this week was the first time that they published a lengthy “fact check” post on the topic.

In it, Facebook unequivocally states that it’s a false allegation.

“There have been recent claims suggesting that our News Feed algorithm suppresses organic distribution of posts in favor of paid posts in order to increase our revenue. This is not true.”

Facebook says that in reality, engagement has increased among people who allow subscribers – 34%, in fact. That means likes, comments, and shares.

“News Feed shows the most relevant stories from your friends, people you follow and Pages you are connected to. In fact, the News Feed algorithm is separate from the advertising algorithm in that we don’t replace the most engaging posts in News Feed with sponsored ones,” says Facebook.

The “fact check” post seems to stem directly from and come as a pointed rebuttal to Bilton’s NYT article. Twice, Facebook makes a point to say that you can’t just compare anecdotal evidence from separate posts that occurred years apart.

The argument here is based on a few anecdotes of one post from one year to a totally different post from another year.This is an apples-to-oranges comparison; you can’t compare engagement rates on two different posts year over year.

For early adopters of Follow, we do see instances where their follower numbers have gone up but their engagement has gone down from a year ago. When we first launched Follow, the press coverage combined with our marketing efforts drove large adoption. A lot of users started following public figures who had turned on Follow. Over time, some of those users engaged less with those figures, and so we started showing fewer stories from those figures to users who didn’t engage as much with their stories. 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.

Read: that aforementioned spam adjustment. Facebook is saying that yes, we adjust the news feed algorithm to show users more relevant posts, but we are in no way decreasing organic reach to force our Promoted Posts product on people.

All this being said, Facebook is taking it head on. For many Facebook users, trust in Big Blue isn’t a common emotion. For page owners and popular figures who have seen their engagement decline, it may be hard to swallow that there’s not something malicious going on here.

Do you believe Facebook when they say that they are not decreasing visibility of non-promoted posts in order to generate revenue from Promoted Posts? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://www.mobilewebsitedesigncornwall.co.uk Martin

    Its unbelievable that FB think that the dramatic down turn in post popularity (running at 5% of previous popularity for the 10 pages I look after) can be palmed off, obviously you are lying FB. What else will we find you have tried to mislead us on in the future.

  • http://www.desetkuna.com Tom

    I only think that people need smile or hug a day, here is some funny facebook pics and pages and i wish that you have a smile once.

  • http://cozumelmexico.net Bob Rodriguez

    Of course not!

  • Conran

    Anyone actually believe any of these companies when they deny they are screwing the user?

    No? Didn’t think so.

  • Wolfgang

    I have 1450+ likes on my page. Only 60-100 people see my post, unless I pay Facebook their fee, in fact I don’t even see my own business posts on my private page anymore! The promoted posts get a lot of spam and trolls commenting, I get an alert so I can delete the bad comments. Also, I really don’t like the fact that anyone can comment on a post without first having to ‘like’ the page, this is just wrong.

  • http://www.brightpathdigital.co.uk Steve Masters

    Facebook can do what it likes on its own website. I accept that, but as a user of the service, I think I have a right to see anything posted by people I am following, my friends and people I subscribe to. It’s not for Facebook to decide what I can and can’t see.

    Pretty soon, if it continues to behave in this way, people will find an up and coming rival that doesn’t come with such restrictions. An element of algorithmic prioritisation of content is a good idea, but only if it makes the experience better – not if it is used to force people to spend money.

    Either it’s free or it isn’t Facebook, decide.

  • http://www.tomjelenphoto.com/ Tom Jelen

    As a user I have promoted but at the moment I am blocked from sending out messages for what I have no idea and to complain is useless to ask why I would not get an answer, like who you going to complain to ,,, the server ?
    They have no apparent customer service least someone thats awake.

    To pay for advertising when blocked for no apparent reason,, Not going to happen!

    They cut their noses off despite their face hahahaha it was a face book joke.

    You have to approach the clowns as a means to the end.

    I will put my money where I will not be hindered. Bing

    Why should I pay for being blocked? I am an active user so I am social go figure.

    Advertise to the 47.3 million unique searchers who do not use Google in the U.S Bing

    in the end Face Book did not get My money because of service,,, someone else did because they had better service. Period See ya Tj

  • Randy Fox

    Facebook is already starting it’s descent. In a day of instant gratification Facebook’s appeal is sliding. With sites like Tumblr, Pheed and Pinterest that offer so much more without the fascist Facebook rules. Facebook is old hat. Does anybody really care what someone had for lunch? No. Pictures, links and freedom are offered by new more modern Virtual venue’s.

  • Geoff

    The amount of people that see my posts is around 50% less than it was before promoted posts began. It’s not hard to trace those simple stats which makes FB’s claims unbelievable.

    For the user to mostly see what others have paid for them to see turns the internet into http://www.television! The big/smart players develop their products to keep people within the boundaries they create and that includes social media, news, search engines and apps. Can’t blame them when their goal is to increase profits for their owners/shareholders.

    Will the masses will wake up and say ‘no more’, are the masses any more awake now then when the internet first came into being? I think not.

    Ain’t nothin new under the Sun 😉

  • http://www.prettyyourworld.com Lora

    YES! I suspected this myself: I have about 1200 likes/fans. When Post something it said maybe 300 saw it. I paid $5 to promote it and it said 3000 saw it. Before they started the option of promoting, I KNOW there were at at least double the amount that saw it than who see it now.

  • http://ovchotels.com Mike

    The number of people who see the posts on all of the FB pages I look after started falling shortly before the introduction of promoted posts.
    I for one would never invest a dollar in a promoted post based on the existing FB model.

  • http://www.leatheronedirect.com Don

    Since FB started asking me to pay to promote posts, I have seen a significant decrease in reach of my updates. I have almost 400 followers on our main corporate page and was seeing results of 45-55 views per post before the pay-to-promote offers. Now I’m seeing an average of 30-35 views per post (at best). I’ve been combating this by having employees share and like the posts in hope they might gain greater reach, but even the employees are not seeing the posts, and these are people that visit our fan page more than twice a week. You can’t tell me that FB hasn’t restricted the feed of my posts to my followers; I’ve seen it in the numbers they give me. I find it more than coincidental that the numbers started decreasing the day they wanted me to start paying to promote!

  • http:www.growingherbsforbeginners.com Rhonda

    Our post views went down dramatically- with our 16K fans some posts went from 100K views to under 20K. That was immediately followed by the “photos vs status update” bite. Our page works largely around photos and it seems photos are being penalized- unless paid for. The number of photo post views seems very shady when compared to the number of views on a plain ol’ status update.

  • http://danas_fanpage_2@yahoo.com dana

    I have paid a couple of times for Promoted Posts, yet have been unable to see or track their visibility rate or even a record of the charge.

    And several times, I will discover that there is a post that says “I” “promoted” it, which I did not!

    And yes, decreased traffic since this addition.

  • http://www.charityengine.com Mark McAndrew

    We have quit our FB page of 550,000 followers.

    Huge numbers of fake profiles are stuffing fan pages with non-existent likes/followers. It’s pure click-fraud.

    Facebook forbids page owners from seeing their own fans’ profiles, so nobody knows how many fakes they really have. Except FB, of course.

    And the more fakes you have inflating your page total, the more FB charges you to talk to them. Promoted posts are priced by the number of fans you have.

    Pay once to advertise to fake profiles, pay again to talk to them – and if you don’t pay, don’t be surprised if your posts reach 1 person in 1000.

    Biggest scam on the net.

  • Theresa

    One of the problems I had with Facebook involved my paid ads and also the two business pages I created with them. The paid ads include a “budget” to spend during the week. I started with $20, which grew into $150 in six days! It was supposed to be $20 a week! Then I noticed that the moment I did not promote my pages views fell off to nothing. I have since taken down the pages and I rarely visit FB anymore, thanks to the constant stream of spam occupying the right column. For a social interaction site, FB has fallen down a long time ago, and if they are suppressing posts which are not promoted, there is no point in being there anymore. I have access to hundreds of friends but do not add them for that reason. Linked In did the same thing, and I said goodbye to them last year. If anyone wanted to really talk to me, they can contact me at my sites, where I wait to get something other than spam in my inbox. But if they don’t know who or where I am, then the internet is nothing but a big commercial search engine where people disappear if they don’t pay for access. I did not sign on for the selfishness of social media or total monetization of access. I signed on for real interaction online. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t trust the hype.

  • Maria C

    Everything went down! So I do not believe them

  • Linda

    I noticed in my personal account that many of the pages i liked dropped off my news feed. I experiemtned by going to those pages and liking every post and commenting on every post. After about doing this for about a week they reappeared!

    On my buniess page we were growing steadily, with alot of hardwork on our own newsletters and website, but last year at about 9,000 came to a grinding halt. we could not explain why??? I noticed that in the past month – have started growing again!!!

    I do not mind paying to promote – as long as it is to new people. I think it is unethical to pay to promote to the people I have already aquired, they choose to like my page and should recieve my posts – unless they elect to drop me from the feed, or unlike me!!
    Shame FB shame. Very very fishy.

  • julia.harwood1@facebook.com Harwood

    I have found Fb less and less useful as a marketing tool and now even as a personal contact page. Before I used to catch up with what everyone was doing, now less and less of my freinds posts appear and more and more paid posts appear. Not happy, have changed to Google +

  • http://onepersoncanmad.blogspot.co.at/ Hans Lak

    Facebook used to be great! Back in 2009 2010 2011 until september 2012 i have been able to reach 200.000 people on a weekly basis in a couple of my Facebook Pages…. NOT ANYMORE…. Forget Facebook they will follow Myspace! I used to be in the Facebook Grader top 100 with a Grader of 99,9% now my Twitter and Linkedin activity is increasing and i stop using Facebook! Look at the stats of the pages you like you can see that the people stop using Facebook..its not just the newsfeed problem..people stop wasting time on Facebook. Maybe the Facebook Bubble will soon BURST?

  • http://www.hnsgiftsncandles.com Howard

    I was starting to think that something was smelling a little fishy! Over the course of the last few months when I would make a post it would take several hours before they would show up on the news feed of my friends and family. So in order to get more traffic to my website I started a facebook ad campaign a few days ago but I have noticed that in the last couple of days the clicks have been going down now I don’t know if facebook is not putting my ad out or if they just don’t care about the small business owners. If I do not start seeing some results soon I will be looking for some place else to spend my money!

  • http://pain-and-depression.com sgl3213

    I rarely visit my FB page due to the same thing, more likes but no page views. I just can’t figure that one out! How can someone like my page but not view it?

    Anyway FB never really did me any good, and has lost me about 30 group members because they hate FB so I am not going to pay them anything or more than what I pay elsewhere for better, actual results. I share my articles and people come to my page, I don’t have discussions on FB it’s just not worth it. I also cannot stand that if I don’t reply to everyone on my feed that they decide to remove those people from my feed. I got very ill for several weeks and did not visit FB or did not reply and most of my follows were removed when I returned. Now, I visit no more than once every 4 days.

  • http://facebook Mary Liz Danuser

    I’m sure they think with everything new,it suppose to bring improvements…………………..often with them it causes alot more confusion.Does all things have to be improved?Can’t anything stay as is?????????????Liz

  • Fred

    FACEBOOK used to be the place…. taking much of MySpace business…. well it’s going to happen again. FACEBOOK is acting more like the crooked governments. I hope someone that is not greedy makes a site not in cahoots with government, that will be the downfall to FACEBOOK and their anti privacy, money grabbing, hypocritical, greedy company.

    We should all know better…. MARK stole it from someone else lied about it and made a fortune………… hhhhhmmmmm it started out on the wrong foot from the conception but this goes to show what a bit of advertising and misleading can do.

    There is a black soul running facebook and we all fell for the deceit which happens way to often in our society. Bait and Switch…… I’m deleting facebook……It’s a waste of time anyway!


    Stealing someones idea/project and making billions is legal and we can get away with it, especially if you are in meetings with the United States Government.

    People should start deleting accounts…. ha ha ha but that will not happen…. most people can’t even stand up for basic human rights and our freedoms…… To get rid of FACEBOOK it is as easy as clicking delete. No Military or police force to beat us in line….JUST CLICK DELETE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It goes to show once again how we as society let the crooked get away with it. We don’t have to participate in FACEBOOK and make MARK richer by the second.

    DELETE! DELETE! DELETE! FACEBOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.marinamarket.com Jonathan Rowe

    Absolute BS. Facebook’s assertion that views are not suppressed is illogical when compared to graphs of actual reach before and after the change. Our page’s reach dropped like a rock to less than 1/10th the day the algorithm was changed. And what really ticks me off is that leading up to the change, I was getting telephone calls from Facebook sales people asking me to increase my advertising. I was already advertising every day on multiple channels until this change happened, and now I give them nothing. When you bite the hand that feeds you, you might end up starving.

  • http://artspaintball.net Art

    I got pure negativity posting what I have ever thought about F/B, that being they are money grabbing vultures. It has never been in my eyes a place to market anything.
    When are people going to wake up and see F/B for what it is.
    I agree with hoping F/B falls and it is no longer a place for meeting.

  • http://www.rameezulhaq.com SEO Expert

    I think now a days Facebook is not even allowing 16% organic reach, In my case I witness after using promoted post I got above 150 likes in a day for an event company’s business page. And I got relative Page likes and good comments. But after a week or two I observed our organic reach is getting down rapidly and I am still facing the same thing I don’t think Facebook show our post to even 16% of our followers / subscribers.

    or some fox says More people see your post then you think just Facebook Hides the figure in reports.

  • Tad

    I found this article because I googled (i know this is a lot) “do post views go down on business pages once you pay to promote and then don’t promote posts”. The only reason I am now searching for the answer to this is because the post views/interactions on the work page I manage has gone WAY down on the un-promoted posts since I started paying to promote occasionally. Before I ever payed to promote we used to get a couple hundred “saw this post”s. Now it’s like half that. To me it almost seems like their program is set up to realize that when a page starts paying to promote – they are more likely to do it again. So lower their unpayed posts to encourage them to keep boosting posts? Is this how it works now?

  • http://www.wisconsingazette.com lmn

    Our page posts were doing fine even after some of the early controversy on this. At the time, we weren’t paying to promote posts. Once we started that, it seemed like the only posts that were getting views in news feeds were paid posts. Dramatic drop for the unpaid posts. They are all links to news stories on our website. So the only difference here is paid vs. unpaid.

  • http://Www.jamjewelz.com Michele Evans

    Not only is Facebook decreasing post visibility, but now they are taking money from businesses such as mine and DENYING the promoted posts. I’ve had five posts be rejected for absolutely no reason. No mention of alcohol, drugs or anything unscrupulous. I make handcrafted jewelry! I’m over it right now! I have over 6500 followers on my page and get zero likes, except for when I pay…how ironic. I played the game, but now they’re refusing to even accept my promotions but still taking my money!

  • http://www.rosieweisencrantz.com caroline

    I did my first promoted post today and what seemed so straightforward suddenly became very confusing. I promoted the post because I was promoting a giveaway and the post was doing really well organically, so I decided to promote it to try and get new fans. Since the promoted post ended a couple of hours ago however, I have had not one single view which is bizarre as I it was upto 2500 views over 3 days up to that point. I didn’t even receive an email with regard to the post going ahead or billing, which makes me very very nervous indeed. I doubt I will do this again. there is not enough info on how the biling side works, not the timing element, and something feels not right.