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Facebook's News Feed Follies: Come Back, Lil Wayne!

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Lil Wayne disappeared from this author's Facebook News Feed, and he wants to know why.

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Lil Wayne, where'd you go?

How about you, Pee-wee Herman?

And, Jon Stewart -- I miss you, too!

These are just three of the personalities whose profiles disappeared from my personal Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) News Feed for no obvious good reason.

Oh well. Lil Wayne's got nearly 50 million likes on Facebook, and as of the time I'm writing this, over 200,000 people are talking about him. So he's not alone.



So what happened?

Did Weezy get bumped to make room for Rue La La?



Lil Wayne may be suffering from an emerging trend on Facebook that is frustrating businesses both large and small.

Increasing statistics are showing that Facebook pages are seeing a decrease in organic reach. In plain English, this means that Facebook page posts are going to smaller numbers of fans.

EdgeRankChecker.com, which follows Facebook business trends, analyzed data from approximately 1,000 Facebook pages and showed that organic reach fell significantly around December 2, 2013, which was when Facebook reported changes to News Feed protocols:

We've noticed that people enjoy seeing articles on Facebook, and so we're now paying closer attention to what makes for high-quality content, and how often articles are clicked on from News Feed on mobile. What this means is that you may start to notice links to articles a little more often (particularly on mobile).

Why are we doing this? Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high-quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme. Starting soon, we'll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high-quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile. This means that high-quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.

According to EdgeRankChecker, organic reach was 10.15% in the 28 days preceding December 2. In the 28 days after, it fell to 7.83%.

All things being equal, that's a 22.9% drop in organic reach. So if a post was seen by 1,000 people before December 2, it was seen by 771 afterward.

On December 5, 2013, the company acknowledged the issue on its Facebook for Business page:

...competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we're seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.

The company wasn't lying.

InsideFacebook.com compiled some troubling data following that announcement, with major brands showing enormous drops in organic reach. In a study of 689 posts from 21 large brands during that week, organic reach fell an average of 44%.

Declining reach seems like a mathematical certainty. At the end of the third quarter, Facebook had 728 million daily active users, up from 327 million at the end of 2010.

That means a lot more people and businesses interconnecting, and a lot more content getting pushed through to people's News Feeds, which can only fit so much stuff on them. I have 272 "friends" on Facebook and I also follow dozens of entertainment and media-related pages.

So there's got to be some kind of filtering going on.

Of course, if you operate a page and you're frustrated by reduced reach, Facebook has a solution for you:



So now people are freaking out about Facebook using filtering as a way to boost ad revenue, which doesn't seem like it's out of the realm of possibility.

There's a question interested parties should address: Should for-profit businesses really expect Facebook to help them forever, for free?

When Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Elevation Partners, and Peter Thiel invested in Facebook, I don't think they were doing so for the good of all mankind.

From an investment standpoint, this trend could be construed as short-term bullish for Facebook.

Those most likely to be angry about this issue are those dependent upon Facebook as a source of Web traffic or customer leads or some other business benefit. And those who can't walk away from Facebook will be tempted to pay. So for now, the fact that people are complaining is probably good.

Longer term, declining reach may push some folks away from Facebook. But we just don't know.

The Wake-Up Call

If you depend on Facebook for your business, it's time to think about diversifying.

And the same goes true for Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Pinterest, or whatever else you're using.

We can't ever assume any single platform will exist for our benefit until the end of time.

Remember MySpace?

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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