Sunday, 8 November 2015

Is Facebook over?

It's a question I'm asking most weeks. Musos might well be asking the same thing.

Over time, things grow, peak and decline. Everything has an allotted timespan, even global IT monsters. Those timespans are getting shorter. 

Facebook is posting fat profits because it's now a mobile platform: the app of choice for idiots texting at the movies. But the number of people actually sharing stuff is going down. And that has big implications.

I think this is about its usefulness to people like me and many others, possibly you too. I'm now wondering if it's still much use at all. My page hits from Facebook have dropped; from elsewhere, they're up.

Since at least 2013, there's been speculation that Facebook deliberately hobbles some types of posts, to get people to pay. I won't do that for my blog, which is a labour of love. It's ironic: Facebook gets free content and a data mountain to mine from us, but we're then supposed to pay to use it. 

I'm not happy, and I'm pretty sure other people feel the same. I wonder.... have we seen peak Facebook? And what might this mean for musicians?

The demon algorithm and how it affects YOU

We all want to tell our stories, especially when they matter. Musicians want to tell you about the next gig, or a long-awaited album. I want to share little tales of freelancer success, and I religiously post each week about Radio To Go. And we've all been marketing our stuff on Facebook, a lot. 

But now I'm seeing less stories from my musician Facebook friends. As I use Facebook much of the time to keep up with local muso news, that's becoming a serious drawback.

I wonder if it's because, as with many local bands and acts, my production work is seen by Facebook's algorithms as a small media business? After all, that's exactly what my business is, and that's what most musicians' businesses are, too, when you think about it. . 

I think we're being squeezed by Facebook. The idea is to get us to fork out for exposure. Misty's Big Adventure did exactly that last week, for a bit. Now you have to hunt them out to see the new video. 

It's a bad sign. It's not really that bad for me, because there are other ways to bang my drum. I think it's bad for Facebook. It's quite possible the app has started to strangle itself, and in so doing it's pissing people off along the way. 

Some alternatives? There's plenty 

I write for Time Out Brum as well as on here. Last week they generously threw a bash for their local bloggers at Birmingham's finest gin palace. Most people there were half my age; some, a third. There were some very savvy social media types. In this group, nobody was talking about Facebook, or using it. Instagram and Snapchat were the thing, followed by Twitter.

I also worked last week with a group of media students, covering music approaches for radio. That group still uses Facebook as a first choice - but not for music. For them Facebook was about gossip and goofiness. For music, it was Spotify, YouTube or the radio (hooray). And as a sidebar, nobody at all listened to Beats 1, Apple's hot new 'radio' service. 

You choose on Twitter; Facebook filters for you. Which is better?

Twitter's OK... but it's not making any money...
Here's an interesting if limited comparison I've been able to make recently. I'm using a cute free piece of software, Bufferwhich lets me schedule posts on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and a few others. You can plan a couple day's worth of posts at once, for free. Any more, and you have to pay. I've used it for a month and studied the responses to posts promoting my blog. 

Bottom line? Facebook, where I have twice as many friends as I have followers on Twitter, is sending half as many hits back to my blog as Twitter. The others? Not really the right tools anyway. 

Here's the thing: Twitter, which by the way has still to make any money, is built to be ephemeral. Posts fly in and fly off your screen faster and faster as your circles expand. To make it work for you, you need to ensure it filters stuff for you. That's a bit of a chore. But despite all that, it looks like I've been included in a number of filters which focus on my area of activities, the same way I've set up filters to search out stuff and people that interest me.

So if you - or your followers, who just happen to be interested in you - do the work on Twitter, you get results. When Facebook does the filtering, they, not you, get the results.

It's not looking good. 

Ooooh! Look, kittens on my smartphone! 

As discussed, Facebook has morphed into a mobile app. That's where the money is. And phones are the realm of chatter and messaging, things you can grab quickly: the new home of clickbait.

Nothing that bands put out, nothing that I put out on Facebook could be remotely seen as clickbait. But clickbait gets the numbers. The more we down this route, the lazier the audience gets. In fact, we've trained ourselves to become lazy. 

I just picked up a fascinating article about trends in Country music, recommended by a pal, on my pc. That's not something I'd want to, or even could, read on my smartphone. 

So mobiles favour quickies: trivia and the purely personal. Facebook isn't alone here. But they have made it worse for themselves by leaning on posters they think they can squeeze. So they lose, and the wider, interested audience that social media is supposed to allow us all to access is deluged with candyfloss and crap. 

The long term trend is closed loop conversations, and beyond that an awful lot of bullshit. 

I'm still interested, but I'm not sure about everyone else.

I'm still a PC Facebook user. The app is still useful; just not as much as it used to be. My main use now, apart from a scroll though a thinning events list every other day, is to message people and catch up with buddies - which was the original plan for the app. Facebook is quicker than email. More usefully, it keeps track of conversations. 

But my increasing frustration is that band posts - the stuff I want and need to see - are fewer and fewer between. A lot of venues seem to have skipped Facebook altogether. I don't see anything today about the important venues in town, for example, that hasn't been put up by bands or, very occasionally, promoters. 

When we live in a world of clickbait and distraction, attention spans and loyalties wither. That stuff is the polar opposite of what makes me tick, and it's really not good for musicians and those who care,.work with, and support our music industry. As I discussed last week, a performer has a story to tell to her or his audience. It builds on a relationship of affection and trust. It's not about baby pigs, puppies, people falling over, or girls on skateboards with badly fastened bikini tops.

So it it all over for Facebook?

No, of course not. Well, certainly not yet. But look at this damning article from ten months ago: it's part of a continuing trend. I still use Facebook every day, and I'll keep on using it as an information source and a messaging tool. But if they continue to insist on making my posts hard to access, and doing the same to all the bands and acts that I need to know about - because we're small semi-pro media businesses they think they can exploit - then a Nokia / MySpace future will ultimately beckon. 

Not that Zuckerberg will be too bothered - he's already done just fine out of us all. 

More music business posts on Radio To Go


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Ronan Fitzgerald said...

As a marketer with some involvement in local music, here’s my two cents:

As you said, Facebook is popular as an app these days. It's only in the last year or so that smartphone/app usage has become rapidly adopted by the "older" generation. So while social apps are the norm for 16-35 year olds, 45-55 year olds are traditionally - apologies for the sweeping generalisation - late adopters. For big business, this is mostly the age of the senior managers/directors, so while three or four years ago, savvy marketers who knew their audience were on top of this, businesses with decision-makers of this age are just coming around to it now. It's fairly valid: Facebook is still the top social media network, by a long way for older folk, but with Snapchat rapidly gaining market share for teenagers. That should inform your marketing: use Snapchat to reach teenagers; use Facebook to reach older people.

Local bands also have an obsession with Facebook. They seem to spend as much time begging for likes as playing music (an aspect mocked by some scally here: A friend was begging for likes for his band: band members had over 2000 friends between them, but their page only had 300 likes. Intrigued, I asked about it - I closed my band's social media channels, accepting that at our age, the only people coming to our gigs are friends and family. Apparently promoters won't give you gigs if you don't have many likes on Facebook. Having regularly seen somebody with 3000 likes on Facebook bring nobody except her mum and her best friend to gigs, I saw this as careless criteria for giving a band gigs!

But here's the thing with social media marketing, for local bands AND companies: social media is the lowest performing digital channel ( On Facebook, less than 16% of people who like a page are going to see its posts ( unless you pay for them, which local musicians largely will not do.

Late adopters push Facebook in business, despite the evidence. Anecdotally, in various jobs: I listened to managers slag off the social media manager because they didn't feel Facebook was achieving enough; I listened to a manager rant about doing more through social media, then declare she didn't use it, demonstrating that she didn't know what she was talking about; an ad for a senior comms role said applicants should have experience of social media for an audience who may not understand it; I undertook primary research that supported the secondary evidence saying that Facebook was not that big a deal to our customers, but the director told me to do it anyway.

I assume clinging to Facebook marketing is based on getting caught up with earlier hype, spending thousands of pounds on it, and not wanting to be the one to say "Actually, as a marketing channel, this is wrong for our business. We're clearly not connecting with the audience and making the millions we thought we would."

I can’t slag off Facebook completely. My sister runs her own holistic therapies business, and most of her new business is generated through Facebook marketing. She has a unique offering for her location, knows who she wants to attract, gets it across well to whom she intends, and tada! Business and monies!

So my concluding opinion on whether Facebook is dead as a marketing tool is varied:

- Facebook isn't dead at big companies as long as late adopters in charge of such things won't admit it.
- Facebook isn't dead amongst local musicians as long as promoters tell them they won't get gigs unless they have a large Facebook following.
- None of the parties involved in my first two points seem to consider the single most valuable thing to business: customers.
- Facebook may still be of value to companies targeting an older market. But if you're going to do it, you need to commit to it, and do it right: know your audience, measure relevant data etc.

That's what I think anyway!

Kelvin Leitch said...

If you're running your music or output as a business you have to operate on the net in the same manner. Rather than being buddies, you want fans not friends. The music business is the daftest thing I've ever been in and you can only survive if you do something to make 'em want you. Bottom line....we are song and dance men/women and if we don't booking....and that's all aspect to of the industry, bloggers, bookers, cookers, players, dancers, chancers, actors, X factors, buskers, mimers, Dj'ers.....
Do...something.... different, in a way that makes people enjoy your output or you'll carry on doing it for beer one is owed a living. Have a happy Sunday x

Elizabeth Jones said...

I think its a great way for promoters, pub owners etc (people who book music acts) to access your music, just point 'em in your direction, When I think of how many cassettes/CD's I've sent out of the past 50 years, it's mind blowing!

Nick O'Connor said...

Hi Robin, great article as always.

The biggest appeal about a Facebook page are twofold: the audience reach and the cost - some hours of time are all that are required initially to set the page up. Perhaps there are some gig brokers who think "If they don't even have a Facebook page, they aren't worth booking" without listening to a demo are not doing their jobs properly - next year's superstars could easily slip through that net.

Apart from the Facebook presence, bands have a whole range of facilities and tools available targeted at groups, managers, booking agents and fans. Names such as ReverbNation and BandCamp should be known to professional acts and booking agents alike.