Tech Writers Surprised At Facebook ‘Pay-For-Play’

I confess that I was surprised to read Nick Bilton’s piece the other day, where he finally realized that Facebook’s EdgeRank is siphoning off his followers as part of an ‘advertising’ model that is more like a Mafia shakedown than advertising. Other tech writers (Anthony De Rosa, Felix Salmon) also seemed surprised. But EdgeRank is year-old news, and many have griped a long time ago:

Ryan Holiday, How Facebook Gets Away With Being Broken On Purpose

I don’t mean to pile on any of these well-meaning writers. (Some, like Zach Seward at Quartz, pretty much nailed it with his analysis of how Facebook tweaks “the black box that is EdgeRank,” in order to promote and incentivize features). They are right to be outraged and perplexed. Facebook’s pay-for-placement program is ridiculous. Except it’s been ridiculous for quite some time. And apparently part of the reason Facebook has been able to get away with it is that few media gatekeepers, who are supposed to follow this stuff for a living, know how the platform really works.

The common dismissal I’ve seen from far too many journalists–“how else should Facebook make money?”–implies that they or their sources just don’t understand the ad business. They aren’t able to see that Facebook’s sponsored story play is fundamentally different from most ad models.

Take Tumblr’s new ad platform Radar, on which I have done six-figures worth of buying for my client American Apparel. To create it, Tumblr designed entirely new advertising space on the platform that people have to pay to be a part of. In that case, buyers didn’t previously have access to it so if they want it, they have to pay for it. Tumblr’s interest is to make that space as attractive and valuable as possible to buyers, so they’ll pay for it. In this case, our interests are aligned–however long it took Tumblr to get here.

That’s very different from Facebook’s model, in which the worse Facebook posts ‘work’ for brands, the more brands will need to pay Facebook. That means that Facebook and I now have divergent interests. Intentionally or not, the less my posts show up, the more I need to spend to cover the difference, especially since brands have invested in and become dependent on Facebook over the years.

And all the more reason for all of us – including brands – to ditch Facebook, just like all the teenagers are.

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