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too much impersonal content is killing facebook

Facebook 2012

This is something that’s been building up for quite some time. It’s not any one single Facebook change that has triggered me in to this ‘attack’ but it’s a combination of new features and ads which don’t sit well with me. I asked myself to compare the Facebook of today -v- the Facebook i first joined and the differences are huge. Some for the better, most for the worst *if* we’re measuring facebook as a ‘social network’.

Exhibit A

I took a snapshot of my facebook page a few days ago and decided to analyse it, highlighting what was ‘wrong’. Check out the image below… everything highlighted is what is ‘wrong’ in my eyes which is hugely worrying.

Facebook Images

The stuff in red is all automated stuff that happens when ‘x’ does something. As an author i publish crap to a site and it gets automatically sent to facebook. That’s not in itself a bad thing, a lot of the time the stuff is semi-interesting if it’s coming directly from people i know. Would i prefer to opt out of it all? Probably, i’d like to have the option at least.

Take the ‘Tech Gadgets’ post…. i subscribed to that interest group. I didn’t want that news showing up on my wall. I just wanted to dip in to it when i felt like it. There’s currently no way to remove posts from a certain interest group from your wall without unsubscribing from the group itself. Sure i can hide individual posts but that’s no good… i want to block everything without unsubscribing. It can’t be done.

It’s a similar story if someone reads stuff on a news site that uses open graph ‘technology’. I’m being kind there, i want to call it ‘targetted spam’. I’m getting a little tired of these automated / publishing / third party thingys. Anyway, ‘Tech Gadgets’ tells me Engadget has 14 new posts. Great. Why not list them all out one by one, like them by default and get me to ‘unlike’ them if i don’t like them? Because that seems to be the way Facebook is going. The problem with these groups is that i don’t want to unsubscribe from them, i just want to hide all this automated crap from showing up on my wall which i can’t do. I can’t just have a ‘text & photos submitted by friends on facebook’ filtering system which is what i want.

The stuff in yellow is sponsored stuff. Check out TheJournal.ie ad in the middle of my news feed. All i’ll say is that Mark Zuckerberg has often said that Facebook have always made their money by having little ads on the side. There’s nothing ‘side’ about these ads. They’re intertwined with content that was previously untouchable so as a user this really pisses me off that Facebook now have ads where previously it was only filled with updates from friends. I don’t care who the brand is or what they’re promoting – get them out of that area. I consider that *my* space, for content that *i* control. Putting ads in there makes me question Facebook’s motives. Like so many other sites before them, they should realise that over-monetising the site will result in short term gain at the expense of long term security.

Ads on the right are not so in your face but i’ve noticed there are more of them plus it may be just me but i feel the targetting could be a lot smarter. For example i don’t play any facebook games yet i’m seeing two ads for games on the sidebar.

The stuff in blue is alerts / notifications which i haven’t responded to, but they still show up. The only thing of value to me in this area is seeing birthday alerts. I don’t want app requests or game requests – if i could i’d pull them off the screen and burn them one by one. If i could, i’d opt out of all games and all apps.

Exhibit B

Brands are great. The likes of Betfair, Paddypower & Guinness (off the top of my head) know what they’re doing when it comes to Facebook and general interaction with people. It’s all about the creativity. Leading up to Ireland’s Euro 2012 match against Spain, i decided to check in on my Facebook and analyse what was being said about the match by various brands… or how they were using the event to promote themselves.

To me, it’s perfectly acceptable to use events like this to promote yourself but not if it’s in a “lets hope we win tonight, like us if you agree” kind of way. That’s lazy, it’s see-through and for me, it shows a complete lack of understanding as to how each and every one of those status updates is killing Facebook’s value to end users like me. I’ll run through several brands in detail, analysing their message….

It could be you

Facebook Images
Everyone wants to win money for nothing and everyone wants Ireland to beat Spain. I don’t like the way they tell me what to do…. “like this”…. almost as if to say – “hey you, facebook person… click that button there and do us a favour”. There’s nothing in it for me and this is probably right on the line between unacceptable and acceptable on Facebook. It’s obvious they’re taking advantage of the match but aren’t being too creative about it.

Lansdowne Road Stadium

Facebook Images
I’m sure they love when people call it that 😉 This update is smart. It’s an image first of all which grabs your attention plus it’s a rare but relevant image of Ireland scoring against Spain in 1989. That was the last time Ireland beat Spain and the Aviva Stadium tell us to “click like” if we think we can beat Spain again. Short, simple, pretty creative and i’ve no problem with this other than the fact they demand i click like. To me as an end user though, this adds value to my life. It’s a little history lesson along with a nice photo.

Guinness

Facebook Images
What i like about this Guinness update is that it doesn’t tell me to “like this” status update like 99.9% of brand updates do. By NOT telling me they want to me to like something, this feels more like an update from a friend or a person with no hidden agenda. Again they’ve  a photo of Irish fans along with a brief history lesson which shows me (a) they’re Ireland fans (b) they genuinely care about the outcome rather than how many likes they get. All of brands, take note. Don’t listen to whoever you’re currently listening to. It’s NOT about likes, shares, fans or anything other than building relationships with & adding value for end users. Don’t do that and i’ll drop you like a hot potato, unless you give me free stuff which let’s face it, is gonna cost you more in the long run.

Morgan Hotel

Facebook Images
This update from The Morgan Hotel refers to the Ireland match but it’s almost secondary to the offer they have on. Which is perfectly fine… it’s honest. Plus it’s a good offer so it makes sense to promote it and place less emphasis on the match itself which everyone already knows about.

Ireland Hotels

Facebook Images
I get the impression this update was a little ‘forced’. The question turns in to two questions and the second one doesn’t really make any sense… “Who’ll be watching?” – oh, just the entire population. It shows a little disconnect to me and the image is smart but again i feel it’s a little generic and can be used for any football event / match. I feel like the match is an excuse to promote the image which in turn promotes their €49 hotel breaks. The copy feels rushed, impersonal and bandwagon-esque. Don’t be fooled by questions… at first glance you think… “oh, they care, they’re asking me something” but that’s because most people are trained to ask questions as it shows you’re trying to engage with people. So marketers end up asking questions because they think it’s the right thing to do to increase engagement – not because they want to ask them or ask them on the spur of the moment (which is the *only* time they should be asked).

Exhibit C

Facebook Images
Hate to break it to you brands who think this is a great way of inflating numbers, but this photo on facebook actually violates Facebook terms & conditions. McDonald’s Headford Road Drive should know this. The fact they don’t shows they’re copying the idea from someone else who did it and got away with it or they’re just not all that clued up on how everything works on Facebook. Either way, it spells trouble for me as an end user because it shows that these guys just don’t care – they just want likes.

Allow me to help McDonalds out…. “You must not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotion’s registration or entry mechanism. For example, the act of liking a Page or checking in to a Place cannot automatically register or enter a promotion participant” – https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php

I’m singling out McDonalds here because they happened to show up on my feed at the wrong time, but there are numerous other examples of these competitions taking place which violate Facebook terms & conditions. This tells me that (a) brands don’t understand / care about the community values (b) Facebook are slacking off in their moderation. Both spell trouble for Facebook’s future. The rules are in place for a reason – to protect the community from getting swallowed up by spam. I feel this is what is currently happening.

Win a stay in a free apartment

I’m not a fan of these tactics from LanzaroteProperties.ie but i blame the public for buying in to it more so than these guys for chancing their arm. Win a week’s stay for free if the page gets 5000 likes. Fair enough… it just means 5000 people need to see this page / photo / competition. How will they see it? If friends are sharing it of course. That’s how i seen it. I enter none of these ‘competitions’ mainly because it’s encouraging other brands to do the same stuff. Share and win. Like and win. We’ll do ‘x’ when we get ‘y’ numbers.

Facebook Images

The problem with this is that it’s too common. Most of them also violate terms and conditions but some of them are smartly worded which allow brands to slip in to gray areas. But as a user, i want a better reason to share something. How about if you get 5,000 likes you’ll give away an apartment stay and fill it with 5,000 balloons on arrival with photos & videos of the event. That might be semi-interesting in a couple of months time when i’ve forgotten all about these guys and i see something crazy happening.

That gives me reason not necessarily to enter but to come back and check out the video & photos when it’s live. I’m more likely to remember them and respect them. This competition right now is disposable to me. I might click enter and then never again go back to this page because i only entered to win something. I’ll unlike it if i don’t win because i’m not interested in these guys at all as a brand, i just wanted to win something for free. Unless they give away an apartment weekly, what will make me want to come back? Nothing. They’re assuming most people will stick around after the competition is over. They will, but remember why those people arrived – free stuff.

Again for me, this is alarm bells all round on Facebook. Facebook are in real trouble and their value to me as an end user is deteriorating rapidly. Content is no longer personal, brands are polluting the network with ill advised, see-through messages and most importantly, there’s no option for me to ‘nuke’ everything 3rd party and just see comments & photos uploaded directly to Facebook. I think that’s what Facebook now need to do – go back to basics or give people the option of doing that.

Their mission statement of making the web more open and connected is destroying Facebook – the social network. It’s no longer a social network if none of the updates i’m seeing are from people i know and if it’s dominated by self-promotion.

Sean MacEntee

Web Developer. Technology Addict. Swimmer. Man Utd Fan. Writer. Designer.