Facebook Masters the Art of Tone Deaf Word Salad

Facebook wants to help publishers get better at what they do. <insert eye roll here>

“The social network Facebook today posted a set of News Feed Publisher Guidelines which tell publishers what kind of content to post and even how to create it,” wrote D.B. Hebbard last week in Talking New Media. “It is, well, incredibly tone deaf.”

“Facebook has been a purveyor of clickbait, fake news, and worthless content, meant to push members further into their own tribes,” Hebbard continues. “Its role in the 2016 election has both Republicans and Democrats wondering if there is a need to regulate social media companies tighter. Certainly there is a drive to make sure social media companies are required to report political advertising details in the same manner as broadcasters and the press.”

For their part, FB insists that their goal is to connect people to the stories they care about most. And so they offer this priceless bit of advice for publishers: “We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about, but we are in the business of connecting people with the stories they find most meaningful. Publishers should ideally focus on what they do best; making the important and meaningful stories interesting to their audience.”

I have to agree with Hebbard who said, “Emphasis was in the original — and the sentence is, of course, word salad.”

Yeah, not a great way to ingratiate yourself to publishers – and in fact, it’s highly misleading. Publishers are now well aware that no matter how good they create their content, FB will continue to decide who sees what and for how much.

Last month it seemed Facebook might be moving toward reconciliation with publishers, saying they would prioritize video content from them. That idea went over like a lead balloon; The Next Web’s Matt Navarra had a public showdown with Mosseri on what he saw as FB’s attempt to fake video demand and essentially force publishers to create this kind of resource-heavy content. Navarra insisted that FB is doing so not to help publishers engage but to boost their own video ad model.

This comes at a time when the general publishing community is already pretty skeptical. They’ve seen their engagement plunge as social sharing drops, all the while dealing with inflated metrics and doubtful math. And many believe it’s the pay-to-play effect playing out.

To help explain the situation, FB resorted, naturally, to a video called How Does News Feed Work.

“People post a lot of things on Facebook,” asserts FB’s News Feed head Adam Mosseri. Disarmingly cute and speaking in simple “hey guys this is how it goes” language, he launches into an explanation comparing the news feed algorithm to ordering for his wife, who is running late for their restaurant date.

The analogy works, on one level, but it falls flat in a really important way. This isn’t lunch. It’s not a one-time order. This is real time everyday consumption. If I’ve made a choice to follow a particular publisher, that means I want to see what they publish. And Facebook would do well to honor that choice. And if they can’t or won’t do that, they need to be clear about why.

Of course, we know that organic reach went away for brands more than two years ago. Companies (like us) who had built a solid following watched their engagement disappear. Companies are now pay-to-play on Facebook, and that’s the way publishers are headed too.

“Facebook is reportedly experimenting with a scheme that would force publishers to pay Facebook to have their content show up in the News Feed,” explains Hubbard.

Mosseri, meanwhile, vaguely alludes to the recent dust-up about this new publisher development and the algorithms that are in test mode in some countries.

“Now we know we’re not perfect, and that we make mistakes,” he says near the end of the short clip,” which is why we’re constantly iterating and trying to get better at connecting people with the stories that matter to them most.”

I have an idea. How about you simply serve them the content they signed up to get when they followed those publishers in the first place?

Listen, I know FB gets to make a living; I’ve no problem with them trying to get ad dollars out of brands. But what they are getting wrong in this whole tone deaf exercise is that digital ads are great for exposure and reaching new audiences. But once I self-select into your audience, I should be seeing what you’ve got. If the publisher wants to put their content behind a paywall (as many do), that’s their choice and their business model.

Facebook’s intrusion in the cycle means two things: 1) they will continue to monetize any publisher’s presence on their platform with pay-to-play, and 2) they will continue to drive us all further into our algorithm-driven self-selected social media bubbles. Neither of these scenarios is good, for anyone.