The Facebook Bait-and-Switch

How Facebook’s changes have made it tough for an author to build a following.

The Facebook Bait-and-Switch

Introducing the Facebook "Pay" button the only way authors can reach anyone
Introducing the Facebook “Pay” button the only way authors can reach anyone

In the past, Facebook provided a great free service for authors. Allowing us to create fan pages to reach our readers, it let us keep separate accounts for our friends and families. Choosing to “Like” our pages, audiences got updates on projects, saving our other accounts for personal status.

As brick and mortar book stores crumbled at the feet of e-readers, social-network-self-publishing seemed like a viable option. Author pages became a yard stick for agents to measure the worth of a client. Traditional publishers changed their contract criteria. Now it wasn’t about how many awards a writer had won, or how many short fiction collections they’d been featured in, it was about how many smiling icons they had at the bottom of their profile page.

Social media gurus preached, “The keeper of the publishing gates will look at how many followers you have and judge you accordingly.”

We thought we were paying Facebook, by keeping the social network relevant. As far as we knew, money was exchanging hands. Advertisers were paying to reach users outside of the ones who’d “Liked” their product, while we ground along winning ours one by one.

When we shot trailers for our books, Facebook was where we premiered them. Our revenue came from iBooks and Amazon, but Facebook was where we made our sales. Not limiting us to 140 characters, we filled our elevator pitches with the details that gave our stories meaning.

Writers put everything they had into their author pages. Some used them as a substitute for a blog. Why not? Instead of linking readers to an off site destination, Facebook could make that connection. Livelihoods depended on what they were offering.

Facebook gave authors a broad reach, then they chopped off our arms. Why? So they could sell us all prosthetics. They hooked us on a free service. Made it crucial to our business, then made us pay for what it once was.

It’s a classic bait-and-switch grift.

The Facebook Bait-and-Switch
The Facebook Bait-and-Switch

In the span of a month, my posts went from reaching half of my followers, to five percent of them. Rather than entice me with membership only features, they’re charging for ones they used to give away for free.

Why not pay? Because I don’t trust their brand. I could shell out the cash to reach 100% of my followers, but next month they could throttle me back and ask for a larger chunk of change. I’m just building a following, I haven’t even tried to sell anything.

Recently, I wrote an article on how the hate group leader Fred Phelps accidentally struck a blow for gay rights. Despite having nothing to do with the type of fiction I write, I want all of my followers to see the piece. Still, I’m not going to pay to boost it.

I’m not going to pay Facebook to promote my author page either. Why, because I want to represent myself on social media, finding readers through a direct connection. I don’t want to depend on an impersonal algorithms recommendation.

I’ve considered abandoning my Facebook author page in favor of posting on my personal one. It’s a broader audience, a few friends with shared interests are among them, the rest are relatives, classmates, and coworkers. This is a temporary solution that might cost more “Friends” than it gains. I’ve already written about getting flack for it.

Embracing Facebook’s monopoly on networking, we let it step all over us. While social media gurus still sing its praises, this author has been priced out of it.

Face Palm

Authors should consider which social media plates to spin and which ones to let come crashing down. It’s hard enough to balance life and work with writing. Social networking can eat up even more of that time. You need to be selective about which services you invest in.

At this point, I’d tell new authors that building a following on Facebook is like building your house on sand.

12 thoughts on “The Facebook Bait-and-Switch”

  1. I started an author page exactly for the reasons you highlight. I was getting flack from some personal friends on FB for my writing based status shares and links. I didn’t want to annoy my friends so I began a page for those who wanted updates on my progress with my book and those who didn’t were free to not have to read it. It also meant as a public page I got more followers and likes from others whom I didn’t know through people I did know. It also saved people having to go to directly to the blog as they may not, as you say, want to. I noticed my reach figures suddenly plummet a few months ago, despite my followers go up and even when I posted something new there was not the same reach as previous posts. I only found out about the changes FB had made more recently. I am thinking of abandoning the page completely and returning to my personal page and if this means I lose some followers I guess I’ll have to take the pay off. I’m not reaching them through my page anyway. Ironically I had an email from FB just the other day which read thus:

    Hi Joanne,
    You haven’t visited Writeaway in a while and there are some quick things you can do to build interest in your Page:
    Post a new update or photo.
    Make sure all the basic parts of your Page are completed, including profile picture, cover photo, about section.
    See our Page posting best practices to increase engagement on your Page.
    The Facebook Pages Team

    This was despite the fact that I had posted something only 7 days before the email. I was only posting once a week-ish anyway but all of a sudden they seem concerned by this.

    It makes me just let out a very big sigh. I don’t think I’ll be bothering much more as you say, I have enough plates to spin.

    Thanks for an informative article Drew.

  2. I just use my Facebook for personal use and a few close friends. I use Twitter and purchased a website because I know Facebook doesn’t do what I need it to do for promotional purposes. Whether that knowledge comes from working as a full time marketing person or because I earned my bachelors degree in business, I have learned over the years that Facebook marketing is for localized buyers/readers and there are other more profitable ways of earning a following in readership than through Facebook. I think it just helps to know what works for you as a writer or a business and as we all know, publishing is a business. I think Facebook has caught on.

    1. I agree, publishing is a business. Self-publishing on the other hand, feels like it’s still in its infancy.

      I’d been chatting with some friends about how Facebook could make an yearly $100 service attractive to authors, something with the ability to push cover art surveys into followers feeds. Something with features the average user wouldn’t have access to.

      Facebook is a business and I hope they can achieve growth without becoming the cesspool of advertisements that MySpace became.

      It’s tough to get someone to pay for a service they were getting for free. I hope they have some better tricks up their sleeves.

  3. I’ve always felt icky about making an author page on FaceBook. (Sorry, I can’t think of a better word … I was just put off by it, but I couldn’t come up with a reason why.) I’d love to say that it was because of these changes, that I saw them coming, that I was the only smart one, but I don’t think that’s it. However, now that they’ve come, I’m glad I didn’t waste my time.

    But I’m still pissed off for people like you, for all those other hardworking authors, who had their work thrown out the window by a greedy corporation. It’s ridiculous.

  4. So glad I read this, Drew – I was wondering why my posts used to reach about 700 people and now reach only 90! I couldn’t agree with you more – I’m certainly not giving Facebook money, because I don’t think one really sells via FB anyway. I just use my author page for notifications, odd coments and my blog posts, just as a way for those who read my books and like them to keep in touch with what I’m doing, so it’s certainly not worth paying for. I do get your idea about the personal page – I’m really against doing book stuff on personal pages, though, and don’t do any on mine apart from a bit of a splash when I have a new book!

    It’s not whether or not one sells via FB, though, is it? It’s the fact that the owners of FB have seen yet another money making opportunity….

  5. Great post! I agree 100%. I tend to use my personal profile for my writing updates, but have to moderate how much of that I post. I barely put up a fan page a few months ago, and now, I wish I had those hours back (I made custom app covers and everything). Oh, well. I’m having much better luck building up my Google+ following, although there’s no reason that can’t go the way of FB, too, someday.

    1. That’s a good point. It’s hard to know which platform to trust. I trust WordPress because I pay them to host my site. I wish Facebook had a yearly payment option with enhanced features. Something more practical than paying to boost every post

  6. Thanks for a great article Drew! You are coming at the timely topic of Facebook from a slightly different angle than I’ve been reading recently. Some important points that are missed by some of your commenters:
    1) Facebook is part of the fabric of our society and as such, the public expects us to have a presence on FB. If a new reader goes looking for us, they will expect to find some information on FB. At a bare minimum there should be information on our books and how to find out blog/website
    2) According to FB TOS authors can’t promote their books on their personal profile (no business can promote their product on a personal profile)
    3) If you decide to break the rules and promote your books on your personal profile, only people with FB accounts will be able to see what you share. To see a personal account, at a bare minimum you need to be logged in. (as well as a friend of that person, often) There is no need to be logged into FB to see an author page (or business page) It is visible to the general public.

    Thanks so much sharing your information!

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