By Iola Goulton
Facebook is a social network founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and a team of classmates at Harvard University. The site has around 1.6 billion users worldwide, with around half accessing the site through mobile devices such as smartphones. In the US, 62% of adults have a Facebook account, and 91% of them visit the site at least weekly: more than any other social network. This level of engagement means it’s a great platform for marketers.
Users can post updates themselves (either directly or through third-party apps such as Hootsuite and Buffer), and they can Like (or react using other emoticons), Comment or Share update posted by others. Facebook also has direct messaging and video applications.
If you read my post last week then looked at Twitter, you may have found the number of self-promotional posts close to overwhelming—although that might depend on who you follow. I follow a lot of authors, and many of them do nothing on Twitter except self-promote. Guess who I ignore or unfollow or both?
Unfortunately, a lot of authors use Facebook in the same way, as a way to endlessly self-promote.
For example, American Christian Fiction Writers are currently offering a free one-month course for members on using Facebook. In the introduction, the teacher asked the class what questions they have around Facebook. One self-published author replied that she wanted to know how to get better sales results from Facebook, as she was currently promoting her books in 100 groups each day and not seeing much return.
Yes, you read that right. She’s spamming one hundred Facebook groups each day.
I’ll attempt to answer the question of why endless spamming doesn’t work tomorrow—and what works better. For today, I’ll take a step back and cover some of the Facebook basics (for the non-addicts out there).
First, Facebook is a social network, an online network of social interactions and personal relationships:
Facebook is also described as social media, an application that allows people to participate in social networking:
In both cases, the key word is “social”.
Some people liken Facebook and other social media platforms as being like a party, and says the “rules” are similar: you wouldn’t walk into a party and start trying to sell your product or service to friends and strangers, so you shouldn’t do this on Facebook either (Facebook is not a Tupperware party, where the sales pitch is implied from the invitation).
The party analogy ignores two important facts: some people would walk into a party and try and sell their product or service. And Facebook is not a party. It’s a business. A profit-making venture. In this respect, Facebook is more like a free newspaper—it has enough useful content to ensure people open and read it, but its purpose is to distribute paid advertising.
Facebook is the same.
It is are a business who has taken the long-term view. They invested years into building and marketing a free social networking platform that would make it easy for people to connect with friends old and new, near and far. And they’ve succeeded. But now they are seeking to capitalize on that investment by selling advertising space.
From what’s I’ve observed as a regular (*cough* heavy-bordering-on-addicted *cough*) user, Facebook has two main tactics to achieve their goals:
- Instead of showing users every post from every profile, page and group, Facebook are showing the posts they are most likely to engage with (by liking, reacting, commenting or sharing).
- Facebook are getting tougher on unpaid advertising—they penalize spammers, and encourage users to pay to boost posts, or to purchase pay per view (PPV) or pay per click advertising (PPC).
This makes perfect sense if you think back to my analogy of the free weekly newspaper: Facebook have to have enough genuine content to keep us interested and visiting the site on a regular basis, but enough paid advertising to fund the free platform. But not everyone can advertise on Facebook: that’s a privilege (?) reserved for Pages, not pages.
Types of Facebook pagesNot all Facebook pages are created equal. There are actually three kinds, and the easiest way to remember the difference is to look at how you connect with people:
ProfileYour personal profile (which was originally referred to as an individual page).
You FRIEND or FOLLOW a profile, and you are limited to 5,000 friends (which should be more than enough for most of us). Officially, people can only set up personal profiles using their actual name, but it is possible to use a pen name. Users have the option of making their profiles Public or Private (in theory, only Friends can see Private profiles).
Note that “internet privacy” is possibly an oxymoron: while I can’t see a direct message, or a post on a Private page or in a Secret group (below), I’m sure any halfway competent hacker can. The usual internet rules apply: don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to be public information. Even in a private Direct Message (because while people can’t Share, they can still cut and paste).
Regardless of what you do on Facebook, you need a personal Profile because you can’t set up a Page or a Group without one. Unless, of course, you decide you’re not going to be on Facebook at all.
PageYou LIKE a page.
Pages were originally called fan pages, and can be set up by public figures, organisations and businesses. Pages have some marketing advantages over a personal profile:
- You can have multiple pages (Facebook frowns on people having more than one personal profile)
- You can choose what kind of page to have: I have an Author page (Iola Goulton Author), a personal blog page (Iola's Christian Reads) and a Professional Services page (Christian Editing Services).
- You can have an unlimited number of followers (LIKES), while you are limited to 5,000 Friends
- Pages are indexed, which is a fancy way of saying they will come up in Google searches
- You can sell from a Page (selling from your personal profile is against Facebook’s Terms of Service)
GroupA group is just that: a group, and you JOIN a group.
A group is set up by one person, but may be managed and maintained by a team of administrators. Anyone can post to a Group, but (usually) only administrators can post using third-party tools (e.g. Buffer), and only administrators can delete posts.
Most groups have user guidelines, often displayed in a pinned post at the top of the group. These guidelines cover whether a group permits self-promotion, and under what circumstances. Some are no self-promotion ever, while others allow one self-promotional post per week or per month, or on a specific day of the week. Break the rules at your own risk: most groups have little patience for hit-and-run spammers (i.e. people who self-promote and never return to the group).
Types of GroupsThere are three type of groups: Public, Closed, and Secret.
PublicAnyone can join a public group, anyone member can post to the group, and any member can add other Facebook users to the group. Personally, I steer clear of most public groups as they are often full of advertising . . . as if I don’t see enough already.
ClosedClosed groups have a degree of privacy, in that while anyone can search for a Closed group and request to join, only members can see posts, can post to the group and only administrators (usually) can add people to a group. Posts made to a Closed group usually can’t be shared beyond the group.
Some Closed groups are formal membership groups. For example, I’m a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Omega Writers, and Romance Writers of New Zealand, groups which only paid-up members can join. I find them to be a useful networking tool, and an easier way of keeping up with news than long email loops.
I’m also part of several groups where all members have taken the same training course (e.g. Shannon Mattern’s WP BFF group, for those who have taken her Five-Day Website Challenge). These groups allow members to work together to offer technical support, with the group owner chiming in where necessary. I think these groups are excellent—everyone in the group has a similar level of knowledge on the topic and is working on a similar project, so it’s an easy way to get advice.
Other Closed groups are informal membership groups, and this includes a lot of reading, writing and editing groups. Australasian Christian Writers has a Closed Facebook group—because we want our group to be Australasians (wherever they live) who are Christians (of any denomination) who write (anything—book reviews, books, blog posts, articles, poetry). Without wishing to sound exclusive, we don’t want our group filled with non-writers who want to sell us coastal properties in landlocked countries, or any of the other strange ‘offers’ we see on the internet.
SecretYes, Facebook also has secret groups. You have to be invited to join a secret group, as they don’t come up in searches (well, it wouldn’t be a secret if everyone knew about it, would it?). The Secret groups I’m part of tend to be highly specialised. One is an editing group which chose to become Secret so posts wouldn’t show up in searches (editors need to be able to ask advice or vent without worrying that the author in question might come across the post). Another is an author’s street team.
The Facebook News FeedMost users access Facebook through their News Feed, which shows what Facebook believes to be the most relevant posts based on previous user interactions (Like, React, Comment or Share). For example, I’ve heard people claim they don’t want to join Facebook because they don’t want to be inundated with pictures of what everyone else had for dinner. That’s easy: don’t interact, and Facebook will gradually learn not to show you these posts.
The News Feed doesn’t show you every post made by every friend or on every page or in every group. You can select to always see posts from particular people, pages or groups, but otherwise you will only see what Facebook thinks you want to see. One way it works this out is to show a post to a small percentage of personal or page followers. If enough people interact with the post (by Liking, Reacting, Commenting or Sharing), then Facebook will show the post to more people—effectively rewarding people for posting interesting content. Facebook also “rewards” users for posting unique and engaging content by showing these posts to more people.
This ‘curating’ of the News annoys some long-time Facebook users.
There was a time when they saw everything in their News Feed, while now they only see what Facebook thinks they want to see (which makes sense. The average Facebook user receives 1500 messages a day even with a filtered feed. I don't know about you, but I don’t need that much information).
Facebook now take action against people who routinely promote themselves without paying by restricting them from posting for up to two weeks. I often see authors complaining about these sanctions, about being sent to “Facebook Jail”, and I’m sorry but I have little sympathy. Facebook is not a place to self-promote, advertise, or spam. If I wanted wall-to-wall advertising, I’d watch the Shopping Channel.
Facebook is a social network: the key word is “social” not “self-promote”.
Facebook is a venue to be social, a place to connect with family and friends, with readers and writers, with other people with similar hobbies and interests.
So how do people use Facebook, and how should authors use Facebook to promote themselves and their books? I’ll be back tomorrow to consider the answers to those questions.
Do you use Facebook? What are your favourite features?