The Sad Truth About Facebook

Everything in life comes and goes. Sadly, photographers using Facebook to promote their work is coming to an end. It wasn’t that long ago when newsfeeds were sorted by the things most recently posted and not by what Facebook thought we’d be interested in. There was a time when followers of any given Facebook Page would scroll through their newsfeed and they saw every photo or status posted. The good old days are behind us. Facebook’s algorithm is a bottomless, money hungry pit. After making some huge mistakes on Facebook, I now realize that Instagram is the only platform that provides photographers with the greatest reach. 

Almost every photographer using Facebook has spent months and years building a following on Facebook, only to be disappointed. Personally, I cannot count the amount of marketing books and articles I have read to gain knowledge on the best way to use it. From experience, I learned to always provide a link to my page on all other social media platforms. On Facebook itself, I tagged my page shamelessly on other photography groups and on the FStoppers articles I have written. After four years, I finally reached  over 50,000 followers. As excited as I was, I also felt heavy-hearted. Knowing that people are trying to follow your work, but will never see it is nothing short of bittersweet. 

MY BIGGEST MISTAKE WHILE USING FACEBOOK

Two months ago, PRO EDU asked me to boost a few of my posts for the upcoming release for my tutorial. We wanted the extra reach, but nonetheless, I had a bad feeling about it. I did it anyways. We spent over $2,000 from our budget to boost posts for a week, advertising the tutorial. Now, while the reach was tremendous, every post after that tanked. I have strong reasons to believe that Facebook notices if you're willing to spend money to boost posts and automatically cuts your organic reach to get you to boost posts again. Facebook is not what it used to be. Before they went public, Facebook was a way to connect humanity. After becoming public, Facebook became a business and like any business, the company needed to find ways to generate profit. Ever since then, Facebook’s algorithm has been constantly changing and evolving with ways to help bring in cash. Giving Facebook my money was a mistake I made that crushed my page and now it is nothing but useless. Do not under any circumstances even dare give them your money; not only do they take it and barely give anything in return but they will try to suck you dry.

Before I started boosting posts I was getting solid engagement.

It’s possible to argue that Facebook, like any business, needs to make money. But honestly, how far are they willing to push the limits before people leave them behind for another platform? Just look at MySpace. Seeing my posts reach 1/10th of my followers these past few months has me running for the hills. I’m running from Facebook into the loving arms of the newer, hotter model: Instagram. My feedback on Instagram has me convinced to put all my time and effort there. With only half the fans on Instagram, I’ve been getting double and even triple the feedback. 

Here are some side by side comparisons between my Facebook page and Instagram after I had started boosting posts on Facebook:

53,000 vs 27,000

For those who still find this hard to believe check out this video that explains the issue in depth.

Let me conclude by saying that while Facebook has it’s issues, it is also an excellent form of communication. There is no question that it’s difficult to connect one on one with friends and followers on Instagram. With that being said, I still use it to converse privately with other photographers. However, when it comes to promoting my work, Facebook is no longer the place I do it. It is nothing but a disheartening experience. 

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Dan Thompson's picture

Dani, you are dead on. I learned this the hard way also. Stopped giving them my money 6 months ago. Its a bottomless pit they drive you to.

Tor Ivan Boine's picture

how do you feel about 500px?

Anonymous's picture

500px has also become a joke for me... for example how on earth can a post like this onehttps://500px.com/photo/117237155/buck-by-kimberly-hicks?from=popular get such a high rating? And you never get sales anyway...

Scott S's picture

As a social media researcher, I would like to offer a few counterpoints to this article. You're taking an apples to oranges approach and looking at only one specific metric, albeit an important one. We all know the engagementThe industry average is about 1-2%. However, Facebook, so far, allows some things that Instagram doesn't, and that's the ability for two-way symmetrical communication that helps go from developing brand awareness to more enthusiastic brand advocates. You did mention this though :) For a good book, check out KD Paine's "Measure what Matters."

Yes, they have changed their algorithm (what we used to call Edge rank), but GOOD content is still king. While I get the most "likes" on Instagram, Facebook is still king, especially in the 30+ women demographic. I've been able to get my reaches to about 15,000 - 100,000 on just about every post organically. I know that's peanuts all of you out there, but we all have to start somewhere. Then I use advertising to specifically target demographics that I want to start building relationships with.

We are seeing lower reach numbers, but reach is really a vanity metric. What are those followers doing? Are we tracking the consumer pathway of those followers once they engage in a post? What's the perceived relationship of those followers?

I think some of the animosity is with the advent of paid advertising...we got used to "drinking the Koolaid" for free. Most of the people I interview shared similar beliefs. It was like their favorite trade magazine with a huge reach and hold on their target market was allowing free print advertising for years. Soon, they decided they had to monetize the magazine to make money, started charging for ad placement, and people no longer liked it.

Facebook won't be around forever, but it's still the 800lb gorilla in the social media living room. I'm focusing a lot more on Instagram and YouTube to try and get ready for when the millenials will become my primary source of income. Their analytics are also pretty darn useful, especially if you use their export to Excel option.

In the end though, there will always be a place for good, relevant, entertaining content that speaks to a target audience.

Just my two cents, but you have some good points :)

Savi You's picture

Let's all go back to Myspace. Who want's to be in my top 10?

Tomash Masojc's picture

Just a little bit about 500px - i know that a lot of photographers use it like a portfolio, bcoz of good quality photos. Another thing, i saw a lot of bad/poor photographers having a lot of followers on facebook, but i never have seen then to have a lot of followers on 500px. So i think 500px can be like an real quality metering place.

About boosting, i with ~4k followers on facebook got 200 and more likes, but never boosted any post. I think as you boosted it ones, you should to do it all the time then.

Scott S's picture

My personal thoughts on that. I don't boost while my content is gaining organic reach. I wait till the organic reach stagnates and then I boost my post. It seems to have been working so far.

Tomash Masojc's picture

interesting idea :) but you gain organic reach like always?

Colin Murdison's picture

Dani: I'd be interested in your opinion on the recent 500px website. Is 500px going the same way as FB? Anyone else with thoughts on this?

Nate Creamer's picture

Facebook is a great advertising tool just like google ads, magazine ads, or any other marketing source. Although fans no longer see organic post, the paid advertising works wonders and reaches those that you wouldn't reach prior. I have ran multiple ad campaigns on facebook with great success. We all know "Likes" don't help your business, so what does? I for one know that driving traffic to my website helps. So, I run ads that allow people to click directly to my website which is WAY more powerful than a "Like". If you use it correctly it is not a waste of money by any stretch of the imagination. Facebook wants you to succeed with their ad tools because if you do then you spend more money with them -- its a win win.

Also a side note -- Facebook recently bought out IG for 1 billion dollars. Guess what that means? Same algorithms are coming to IG. Have you noticed they are already allowing larger companies to advertise on IG? They are in beta and soon enough the average small business owner will be able to do the same. To me, this is business. If you want to make money you need to spend money. Why should marketing be free?

Connor Katz's picture

Well said. All customer acquisition has a cost. The idea that likes and shares equals dollars is bogus! FB makes it easier than ever to get your marketing message in front of the people most likely to do business with you.

Anonymous's picture

Facebook is garbage, I left it in the dust last year and havent looked back.

bNj Photo.fr's picture

Maybe you should try to post your pictures square cropped on FB !

Stuart Smith's picture

Interesting article Dani. I've worked in Social Media Marketing and broadly speaking I would agree it is harder for small businesses to gain a presence, without spending money.

First time I have come across the drop in reach with regards to paying for a boost then it having a perceived negative effect on organic reach. One to watch.

I think one problem is no one really wants to pay for advertising and marketing. Facebook can't be free and the free lunch days are other. It algorithms seem to drive a business to paid promotions or oblivion. Which is kind of fair enough. Strategically, why would they want any business promoting for free?

I suspect in time Instagram will see similar issues and of course Snapchat is on the rise!

Scott S's picture

I agree. In my research with small business owners, their main complaint against Facebook is that they don't get any interaction or sales from it (even though they aren't tracking it). However, they are spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on traditional advertising like Magazines, Radio, and Television where there is virtually no way to track the engagement of an ad without asking them at the register why they came in.

By starting off free, Facebook has created a negative stigma about advertising.

In reality, the average person still spends 45 minutes a day on Facebook. They are still actively sharing content that resonates with them. Why wouldn't you want to pay for that over some radio station where you have no metric to track it and improve your content.

Deleted Account's picture

A few thoughts - While Facebook and any social channel can be leveraged as a sales or promotional tool (organically) it's real purpose or value is as a relationship building tool. As with traditional networking, you get some sales as a result of just showing up. Normally, I won't refer my audience (and endorsement) just because we've met. I need to know who you are, trust you, even like you (if I connect with your brand - there's an art to creating this on social sites) to turn over my audience. Think of it as indirect sales.

Social is also a great tool channel for customer service so you need to be visible.

Measuring success by organic reach is dangerous. Facebook may limit posts seen in feeds but that fails to take into account people who follow you, go directly to your page, take notes and leave. Good integrated marketing helps drive viewers to social sites without relying on feed views. Those are the bonus views in my opinion (of course there are multiple ways to increase reach for free).

In the case of IG, huge exposure yes, but does that translate to more sales? At least FB allows the ability to link back to your site and lead generation or sales. That option is in the link itself or the body of the post. With IG the only 'hot' link is in your profile. Getting back to your website and sales point takes additional clicks - I'm not sure if most IG users take the time....it is afterall, instant.

Pinterest might, with it's rich pins, be a better place. Pin from your site, build a strong visual following, showcase a personality. Leverage your Facebook audience (business and personal) to promote Pinterest following. WIth inexpensive ads and upcoming Buy It Now options it could be the best bang for your buck and time.

As for ROI and real value - the ROI of social is in relationships. Relationships drive sales. The more concrete ROI, to see which platform, regardless of their flawed metrics, is working - track traffic from social to your site. I can track every post on every channel not only to identify which channel is best overall but which content is best on which channel.

Obviously your particulars (product, target, etc) will affect some of the above. My point is that while FB is making things tough, there are ways to leverage it and you could actually be seeing significant value without realizing it.

Robert

Scott S's picture

Great points. So many people don't view social media, Facebook specifically, as a relationship management tool. That's where it excels. It can help direct sales, but that's not what social media, relationship management, or relationship marketing is about. You can't treat Facebook like an equation: I put x money in, I get x amount of sales. You actually have to do some advanced measurement statistics to really see what your'e getting out of it. That could be in the form of simply looking at your engagement rates over time, conducting surveys, or even phone interviews. This might seem silly for a photographer, but that is what the large competitive brands that rock social media are doing.

Robert Nissenbaum's picture

Thanks Scott. It's also interesting to note that there are some valuable tools and techniques to drive reach for little or no money. Then again, reach is a worthless number. It only measures who sees your posts in their feeds, not who actually sees your posts. If you have a loyal following you are likely getting views. If not, it may also be the content or message.

Leveraged correctly (relationship between traditional marketing, social and a website as the hub of your online presence) you can actually track and monetize social traffic. I have worked with clients who have little reach yet generate revenue from Facebook activity. We even know exactly which content is driving web traffic and what isn't.

It's not that sites like Facebook don't work, it's understanding HOW they work and leveraging it.

Scott S's picture

True. Engagement and reach also go hand in hand because engagement influences the algorithm. Reach can also help influence brand awareness, but like you said, it's a vanity metric I do t put too much weight or thought into.

As you mentioned, strategy, strategy, strategy :)

Robert Nissenbaum's picture

It's interesting that a consulting client of mine actually received a messaged today in the form of comment on a Facebook post I created looking to hire them. A direct result of simple share of an article on the company.

Connor Katz's picture

Facebook has turned itself into the greatest direct marketing tool in history. Its all a question of what you want to have happen when someone views your post.

The targeting on FB is off the charts. It is now easier to get a message in front of a select pocket of people who are likely to pay for your product or service, than it has ever been.

Getting likes and comments may make us feel good, but you can't deposit them in your bank account. Photography and art in general have to be treated like businesses.

Want to get a message in front of newly engaged couples... FB can do that. Want to get a message in front of mid twenties women who spend money on fashion... FB can do that. You see where I am going here.

Figure out your audience, who will pay you for your product/service and put messages in front of them that will pull them towards your business.

It may seem "unpure" or whatever to talk about photography in a business context. But guess what all customer acquisition has a cost. The idea of "free marketing" is bogus, get it out of your head. The sooner you can figure out how much a customer is worth to you the sooner you can figure out how much you are willing to pay to acquire them.

Christian Berens's picture

I don't know if I would count 100% on just the likes alone (If you mentioned that sorry I skimmed since my lunch is almost over)
But I find myself "Liking" photos on IG more than the SAME photo on FACEBOOK just for the simple LAZY fact that i double tap the photo on IG and facebook i have to move further down to click LIKE lol, as odd as it is, i bet that would instantly account for 60%+ of the difference.

Either way, I agree with most of what you wrote, FB is a constant money grab and it's unfortunate its life of free advertising and posting was short lived :\ oh well

Liam Doran's picture

I rarely post to my photo page anymore and just post to my personal page...

Anonymous's picture

I'm kind of over Facebook also.. I "unfriended" about a thousand people I honestly didn't know, leaving only my family connected to my personal FB. As for the 5k+ followers on my business page, well, they don't actually see much of the content, so I've shifted some of that energy over to my IG account (@dustywooddell), which seems to reach a decent amount of people, but often from some other country or? And don't get me started on all the apps out there for boosting likes or followers.....

Kyle Medina's picture

FYI, Hootsuite has integration for Instagram that allows scheduled postings!!

Pabst Photo's picture

Instagram will monetize eventually and it'll be the same decline. Nothing lasts forever.

Randall Hedges's picture

This guy explains in great depth why Facebook ads are not worth what you pay. It's worth a watch.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVfHeWTKjag

Randall Hedges's picture

Sorry, should add that it explains in depth the exact experience Dani has had and why it happens.

Andrei Dragon's picture

Let me break it up for everybody: people care about value for them (interresting stuff). Marketers (we) are interested about where the attention is, so we can advertise there. Facebook cares about people using the site as much as possible and make money (because it's a business just like us). So how would a platform that makes everybody happy work: someone creates a platform where anybody can share stuff, so people like it, because they care about what other people do. Marketers see that people use the platform so they start sharing whatever they sell, people don't mind, until there are so many marketers that people only see commercials in their newsfeed. So the platform decides to limit the each of marketers in a very easy way: if it's interresting to people we share it, if not, you pay us to share it. It's exactly what will happen to Instagram if everybody will start advertising there. Marketers ruin everything, facebook is just trying to limit this. You might say that if someone liked your page they should see everything you post, but we all know how getting likes to pages works... And if people who like it don't interract with your posts enough(like, share, comment), facebook considers that it's not interresting for them.

Anonymous's picture

You should've watched this video from Veritasium :/>

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Pratik Naik's picture

My last post on my public page got one like. I have 13k subscribers.

Peter Stavrinides's picture

Thanks Dani, good of you to share this valuable insight, but we kinda need to keep an eye on this, as Facebook owns Instagram and Instagram has become possibly the leading social media platform for advertising campaigns. How long until they cash in and squeeze us again.

Trent Jones's picture

I know instagrams resolution is lower (1080px vs 2048px) but why not make the original post on Instagram and then share it to Facebook. This way you can focus on Instagram and keep your Facebook followers up to date too. That might also encourage them to migrate to Instagram over time.

Matt Rennells's picture

From some of the research that I've done and a few tests, It is not that you shouldn't boost your post, it's that people didn't "like" the boost post enough.

Their algorithm seems to go off of a "reach vs. engagement" ratio. Look at your posts around a certain time period, the ratio between reach and engagement is fairly linear. Looking back over July, I started out the month with an engagement/reach ratio of about 10-15%. I then posted a photo that got a lot of engagement for the reach (roughly 35%) and my reach started to improve, as well as my engagement ratio up to closer to 20-25%. Then I posted something at an off time, which had very little engagement and while the reach was there, the engagement wasn't. After that, my reach steadily declined back down to around 10-15% of my followers.

So this appears to be a "moving average" of reach vs. engagement. The higher that % the higher your reach will be. It even happens on a minute by minute basis. Get a lot of engagement right after the post goes up and the reach for that post is normally 30-50% higher for me than normal.

What I'm guessing happened with your "boost" posts is that while your reach went way up, your engagement % for those posts was quite low (especially if it wasn't to your followers). Also, and I don't mean to be mean here -- but if you were posting an ad of some type for an upcoming tutorial, there may organically not be as many people who would like it as much as your normal content. So that could have killed your reach vs. engagement ratio -- which appears what Facebook bases so much of their calculations on.

I do totally agree on Facebook hurting business pages. I just try not to worry about it and I have my Instagram linked to it and just duplicate posts. I get far more inquiries from Instagram, but there's no reason to just ignore Facebook. Long ago I decided that I was going to post the content that I wanted and what I thought my fans/followers wanted to see and not worry about the actual numbers of likes, hearts, or clicks.

Brian Carpenter's picture

From my own experience, "likes" don't mean jack.

I've learned more from my following by actually speaking with them directly. I've found a large majority of my following is actually viewing my work, but are just tired of the constant "liking" and have just stopped pressing the like button because its become so repetitive. I have found they are still viewing my posts because they are engaging me in conversation about the work they are seeing me post to my FB account during personal interactions outside of the FB web interface.

I've wanted to delete my FB account in the past but decided not to because I know people are still viewing my work, regardless of the likes I'm getting.

Anonymous's picture

Don't ignore the 'quality' of the audiences on each. "likes" on IG? vs maybe a more captive target audience on Fb. I know people who actually HIRE me are following me on facebook vs. random people clicking like on pretty pictures they like.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Facebook is now a publically traded company. They want their 10-Q (quarterly report) and 8-K (annual report) to look good to investors in their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (http://www.sec.gov/).
Will they report this scam in their quarterly and annual reports? No. Unless there is a lawsuit filed against Facebook or a significant number of complaints are filed with the SEC about this abuse.

joanna mendes's picture

But how to do marketing on IG? How to target the right audience? I've tried and didn't have much luck . Not sure how to be seen and found by right people. Hashtags, places?

John Johnson's picture

Sadly, FB owns IG now. Someone recently told me that he has seen a massive drop in likes lately and suspects IG will soon go the way of FB...I certainly hope not...

Bliss Trevize's picture

I'm sorry, but Facebook evil has spread its wings to Instagram. Here it is:
http://www.businessinsider.com/instagram-switches-on-ads-api-2015-8

Frederic Hore's picture

I've read with interest many of the posts, including those flaming FB. I must admit, I am an occasional user, as my revenue comes from editorial and commercial photography, plus teaching photo workshops here in Montreal.

But I've had considerable success with FB promoting and filling spots in these workshops, which I link to
my website. I don't need thousands of likes or comments to fill 10 spots!

FB along with Twitter and whatever other free social media you like to use, should be viewed as a method to reach out and promote your business. And like anything in business, it doesn't make sense to place all your eggs in one basket. At least, that's my guiding philosophy, which has worked well for me through the years.

Cheers,
Frederic in Montréal

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

I'm seeing the difference in likes, but I'm not seeing the difference in conversion rates. Are you tracking where your customers are coming from? Can you post those numbers? Surely those numbers are more important than how many likes an image gets?

Calder Wilson's picture

IG has a bigger problem. IG bots like instagress have ruined the platform for me, and fake accounts themselves that fuel these bots, the ones with 9-49 bad photos and a hugely disproportionate number of followers, are pervasive. Look at your own IG posts - a ton of those likes you're getting don't event seem like real people. I see this everywhere on big pages. I think if you cut a lot of this from the equation, you'd see numbers between FB and IG more closely aligning.

Dudley Didereaux's picture

I am absolutely no admirer of FaceBook. But, it was always meant as a social instrument, a money generator for FB yes, but as a base for casual social interactions. People like yourself began to realize its commercial value and almost succeeded in turning it into an eBay of ads. Which started to erode the user base. So FB making such changes appears to have caught on, and are taking steps. Good on them!

I think the best way for a commercial based user is to use FB to share links to their commercial sites. And quit trying to use it as a storefront.

michael buehrle's picture

what's Facebook ?

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