Facebook's News Feed formula sparks a brand break-up

Some long-simmering resentment over Facebook’s formula for determining which posts appear in a user’s News Feed – and a sneaking suspicion that recent changes are aimed at getting companies to buy more ads – has re-surfaced thanks to a humorous but sharp-edged volley from food-delivery start-up Eat 24.

Writing on its company blog, the San Bruno-based start-up addressed Facebook like a lover penning a break-up note: “Look, we need to talk,” the startup wrote.  “Not to be rude, but you aren’t the smart, funny social network we fell in love with several years back. You’ve changed. A lot.”

The problem that Eat 24 described is part of a long-running beef raised by other companies and groups that maintain pages on the social network.  Facebook has made several changes to its algorithm over the years that have the effect of showing fewer updates from those pages in the News Feeds of users who “liked” the brand or its page.

Companies don’t have to pay Facebook for those pages or posts –  although many have invested heavily on consultants and content  – but Facebook often encourages the companies to “promote” the posts and expand their distribution, for a fee.  Some disgruntled brands are convinced Facebook is constantly cutting back on free distribution in order to sell more ads, instead.

Facebook, for its part, has acknowledged that companies may need to pay to make sure their posts are seen, amid the rising volume of material on the social network. But Facebook insists its algorithm tweaks are aimed at showing users more of what they want to see.  And it hasn’t really backed down from that position.

Eat 24 put its complaint this way:

“When we first met, you made us feel special. We’d tell you a super funny joke about Sriracha and you’d tell all our friends and then everyone would laugh together. But now? Now you want us to give you money if we want to talk to our friends. Now when we show you a photo of a taco wrapped with bacon, you’re all like “PROMOTE THIS POST! GET MORE FRIENDS!” instead of just liking us for who we are. That’s hella messed up.”

The blog item got lots of comments and discussion over the weekend, with many people noting that small start-ups, artists and nonprofits don’t have the budget to promote their posts.  It wasn’t long before a Facebook spokesman replied with a post of his own – also tongue-in-cheek, and just as biting – on Eat24’s Facebook page.

“The world is so much more complicated than when we first met – it has changed,” wrote Facebook’s Brandon McCormick:

“And we used to love your jokes about tacquitos and 420 but now they don’t seem so funny. There is some serious stuff happening in the world and one of my best friends just had a baby and another one just took the best photo of his homemade cupcakes and what we have come to realize is people care about those things more than sushi porn (but if we are in the mood for it, we know where to find it Eat24!).”

In keeping with the “break-up” theme, McCormick suggested the door was open, without offering any promise that Facebook might change its ways:

“So we are sorry that we have to part this way because we think we could still be friends – really we do. But we totally respect you if you need some space.”

 

 

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (348 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.