NOTE: As of 11/7/11 Facebook has officially fixed this bug. https://developers.facebook.com/bugs/151722701585098

Brands using third party publishing platforms like Vitrue, HootSuite, Argyle Social and the like are seeing brand page post impressions plummet thanks to a Facebook bug. Several executives with social media management systems told me Friday they are seeing up to 90 percent drop-offs in Facebook post impressions for their clients, meaning Facebook’s recent EdgeRank changes are penalizing the very companies they certainly want to be more involved with the platform since advertising dollars typically follow them there.

A spokesperson for the social network initially told me there was no such issue, but upon clarification said the Facebook bug is one they are, “working to resolve.” She declined to share further details. The issue is also recognized by Facebook on its developers forum. Still, it has been over a month since the new Graph API was released to developers. Could this issue really take that long to fix?

At issue for brands since the most recent Facebook changes were implemented for many in early September, but to the broad user base on Sept. 21, is that their content is simply not being seen with as much frequency as posts made manually on the page through Facebook.com. A look at posts on Social Media Explorer’s Facebook page shows the vast difference in impressions. The top post you see was made manually on my page. The others were posted using Argyle Social.

Facebook Page posts problem

The drop-off, which as of this writing continues to effect anyone using third party publishing platforms rather than posting to Facebook itself, has infuriated both brands and third party executives alike.

Oddly, though, few would go on the record with me to vent their frustrations. But I spoke with executives from eight different publishing platforms and two other third party platforms that provide games and other engagement content to Facebook and all were, at a minimum, upset over the bug. The only one that didn’t seem to be told me, “Facebook acknowledged to me some major problems again with impressions. They are well aware and working on resolving.” That vendor would not confirm they were seeing the problem.

Worse yet, I spoke to three different executives at large advertising agencies/PR firms, also weary of criticizing Facebook publicly, who were reporting the same large-scale drop-offs in impressions and much brouhaha from clients.

“If this Facebook bug persists, it will most certainly adversely effect our business because it effects our client’s ability to streamline their publishing of social content,” one executive who wished to not be identified told me. “Facebook has made a major mistake here. We don’t think it’s intentional, but it is hurting the very brands they depend upon for advertising revenue.”

No one wanted to jump on Facebook too harshly, though I could sense a level of frustration that has been percolating for over a month now. Since the platform holds the purse strings for many of these companies and their success, and has been known to change policies and algorithms for unknown and confusing reasons, the vendors that rely on their ability to tie into its API handle their communications about and with Facebook with kid gloves.

I get the feeling Facebook has asked a few of the vendors I spoke with to not talk about the bug publicly. Guess they’ve had their fill of public rejection of their changes.

Eric Boggs, CEO of Argyle Social, said this on my Facebook thread about the issue:

“The latest update from Facebook is effectively, ‘We’re working on it … hang tight.’ — Which is obviously sub-optimal. Argyle and all of our friends at HootSuite, Expion, Vitrue, etc., are all up in arms and putting quite a bit of pressure on Facebook to resolve the problem and more clearly communicate about these issues going forward.”

Boggs also told me the issue also brings to light another potential problem area for how Facebook handles third party partners. He said the algorithmic assignment of third party application content weight, which seems to be the main issue here, is flawed thinking. Argyle Social, Expion, SpredFast and the like are very different than Farmville or Spotify. Some third party partners provide games, music, entertainment and other applications. The publishing platforms provide the ability for users and brands to provide content and engagement to other users. Those functionalities are very different.

What Is Being Done?

The Facebook bug was first uncovered by EdgeRank Checker, which published a fairly scathing set of stats based on the new Edgerank testing on Sept. 6. Paul Sutton put together a nice post reporting his problems with it Oct. 2 that shows a bit more dramatically what the impact is.

One reason for the impressions via third party apps being decreased is that on Facebook’s Recent Stories segment of your newsfeed, multiple posts from the same third party application are often folded in together. But this doesn’t seem to happen on Top Stories placements, so the dramatic difference can’t be explained. According to multiple vendors I spoke with, the problem does not seem to occur on status updates placed as text by itself. But add a photo, video or link and you’re suddenly seen up to 90% fewer times.

Facebook’s changes might indicate the platform is sort of saying that scheduled and automated posts are not optimal for the Facebook experience, as EdgeRank Checker indicated in its post. But if I raise my hand and “Like” a brand, doesn’t that mean I want their content, automated or not? I can always opt out.

Buddy Media‘s Michael Lazerow published a “this is why you should use Buddy Media” explanation on AdAge in response to Edgerank’s assertions. His post led to rumors that Buddy Media was some how exempt from the changes. If that rumor is true, it certainly makes Facebook look bad. Playing favorites is never a good thing in an open marketplace. Vitrue’s Reggie Bradford responded a few days later, also on AdAge, asserting that his platform was just as good and Lazerow’s assertions led to more questions and were confusing.

You’d think AdAdge would do a better job of not letting their website be used for a competitor pissing match.

Instead of bitching at each other, the executives with these companies should be working in unison to force Facebook’s hand and get the bug fixed. This functionality flaw doesn’t just effect the SpredFasts, Expions, CoTweets and WildfireApps of the world. It effects anyone trying to make more productive use of their time by incorporating technologies to help them manage and distribute activity on their social networks. While it specifically effects businesses with brand pages, that accounts for much more than the big dollar deals the Social Media Management Systems worry about.

If you’re using HootSuite, you’re Facebook page posts aren’t getting the same love they would get if you posted directly on Facebook.com. That effects small businesses and non-profits just as much as it effects Applebee’s (Expion) or Intel (Vitrue) or Bayer (SpredFast).

Why is this happening? I’m inclined to think it was genuinely a bug, but the length of time it has taken Facebook to recognize and fix makes me think they may have been trying to play with their EdgeRank algorithm to assign higher value to on-site publishing. While it makes sense in that more on-site visits mean more ad revenue, it also doesn’t make sense because when you piss off the advertisers using the third party apps (some of which are paying tens of thousands of dollars per year to use those apps), then you lose revenue, not gain it. (Advertisers … keep reading. We may have an idea that you can help with to solve the problem.)

But since when does what Facebook does really seem to make sense?

So Facebook has acknowledged the problem. But we’re working on six weeks now since it was first noticed. What are you to do as a marketer?

My advice would be to take the extra time to manually post your content on Facebook. You’ll get the impressions you should be getting that way. If your service has trackable URLs, generate them with your publishing vendor, but manually copy and paste them to Facebook if possible. And don’t give up on the service you’re using. Facebook is going to have to fix it or they will have a negative impact on the bottom lines of a lot of developer partners they count on for engagement, ideas and innovation with their platform. Oh … and they’ll adversely effect their own revenue as well.

What Will Solve The Problem?

The only thing that will solve this, according to one executive I spoke with, is if the big advertisers who use Facebook’s ad platform and supply the network with its revenue come together and say, “You need to fix this. We need these tools to reach our audiences in ways your platform doesn’t allow. And if you don’t, we may be inclined to not participate as much or as often with your platform.”

If that’s what it takes, let’s see it happen. If you’re a brand-side marketer effected by these changes and want it to stop, say so in the comments. It will at least be an informal petition to let Facebook know the changes are a priority for you, if it they aren’t for them. I’ll make sure at least the press contacts I have there see the responses.

Disclosure: As an industry analyst and consultant, I often work with social media management systems in either consulting, promotional or content provision arrangements. I have provided one or more such services Expion, SpredFast, Argyle Social and Awareness Networks. While I did contact each to provide context or comment on this story, none were aware I was pursuing it until such a request was made.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/godleyju Justin Godley

    I head up Social Media for a large retail brand and we use Context Optional for publishing. We are experiencing all of this and have seen mixed results when posting directly on Facebook as well.

  • http://twitter.com/godleyju Justin Godley

    I head up Social Media for a large retail brand and we use Context Optional for publishing. We are experiencing all of this and have seen mixed results when posting directly on Facebook as well.  Impressions are certainly down, and our ad dollars could certainly get pulled if this doesn’t get fixed.

  • Shane

    Thanks for doing this research, Jason, and for suggesting some solutions. I feel like my “easy button” was just taken away. I hope the bug gets fixed and soon. Not being a techie myself, I enjoy being able to keep the pages of my clients social, even when I’m unable to be online at a specified moment. It’s about being social – and if I post good content by scheduling it, and the community starts a conversation, then my job has been done well. I feel like a kid screaming “not fair!” but I truly do hope these systems can learn to work together again, making the job of those of us who scream from the virtual rooftops about brands able to continue to do the job our clients expect of us. Looking forward to your next update on this topic.

  • Shane

    Thanks for doing this research, Jason, and for suggesting some solutions. I feel like my “easy button” was just taken away. I hope the bug gets fixed and soon. Not being a techie myself, I enjoy being able to keep the pages of my clients social, even when I’m unable to be online at a specified moment. It’s about being social – and if I post good content by scheduling it, and the community starts a conversation, then my job has been done well. I feel like a kid screaming “not fair!” but I truly do hope these systems can learn to work together again, making the job of those of us who scream from the virtual rooftops about brands able to continue to do the job our clients expect of us. Looking forward to your next update on this topic. 

  • http://argylesocial.com/ Eric Boggs

    Thanks for surfacing these issues, Jason.

  • http://argylesocial.com/ Eric Boggs

    Thanks for surfacing these issues, Jason.  This is a comprehensive, well-written assessment of the situation.

    Your readers can help shine more light on the issue by following the bug on the Developer forum - https://developers.facebook.com/bugs/151722701585098 – and perhaps leaving a comment.

    Eric Boggs
    CEO, Argyle Social

  • http://www.brainwads.net/drewhawkins Drew Hawkins

    Manual posting is exactly what we’ve been doing for clients. We noticed this about a week ago and did some testing between native posting and 3rd party posting for verification. Definitely a huge difference in regards to impressions. It’s been a pain for us, especially for weekend posts, but having posts plugged into Google on my phone to alert me to post has kept things from getting out of hand.

  • http://www.brainwads.net/drewhawkins Drew Hawkins

    Manual posting is exactly what we’ve been doing for clients. We noticed this about a week ago and did some testing between native posting and 3rd party posting for verification. Definitely a huge difference in regards to impressions. It’s been a pain for us, especially for weekend posts, but having posts plugged into Google on my phone to alert me to post has kept things from getting out of hand. 

  • http://www.sociallyengagedmarketing.com CharityHisle

    Thanks for the post

  • http://www.sociallyengagedmarketing.com CharityHisle

    Thanks for the post @JasonFalls:disqus !  

    I do not believe this is a bug… I believe it is intentional to boost traffic to Facebook by forcing admins to use their U.I. instead of 3rd party tools. They have also decreased the value (within their algorithms) of views with 3rd party apps compared to views from their U.I. They say it shouldn’t be weighted the same for engagement and people talking. Whatever.

    I stopped using 3rd party tools to publish in late August when I saw a huge decline in visibility and engagement. Then the reports started coming out and I knew I could officially stop paying for my 3rd party tools – and that I would be posting manually from that point on. Facebook wants revenue from ads. What they don’t realize is that they are losing visibility. My gut (and my experience) is telling me that people in the U.S. are logging in to Facebook less than before – I’m just waiting on the new data to roll in and prove my theory. The algorithms that tell people what they want to see in their news feed really frustrate users. People may be spending more time on Facebook right now, but that may just be because they’re having to go page-to-page to find what they’re looking for. We’re missing more updates from friends and pages, it takes longer to find what we’re seeking. 

  • Anonymous

    Interesting “big brand” angel Jason, but what if “engagement” just can’t be streamlined and will force a localized voice rather than a

  • Anonymous

    Interesting “big brand” angel Jason, but what if “engagement” just can’t be streamlined and will force a localized voice rather than a corporate voice from brands. I believe Walmart is doing a trail test of something like that now. That must scare the hell out of ad executives, lol.

  • http://mikethoughts.com miketempleton

    From what I’ve been hearing and reading, the problem is impacting ANY posts that include a link

  • http://mikethoughts.com miketempleton

    From what I’ve been hearing and reading, the problem is impacting ANY posts that include a link – whether posted via Facebook.com or a third-party application. I’ve seen a major decrease in visibility of posts for the page I manage and it is frustrating.

    What’s interesting is that unless these developers and brands get together to confront Facebook, I imagine most will just continue operating. I don’t see many brands giving up or moving elsewhere – they’ve invested too much.

  • http://twitter.com/rogerdooley Roger Dooley

    I really think Facebook’s abrupt changes re an ongoing threat to any marketer who relies on them too heavily.

    • http://twitter.com/NVEchols Noah Echols

      Sounds a lot like the AOL days. Remember AOL keywords? Businesses invested way too heavily in that trend when everyone thought it was there to stay.

  • http://twitter.com/rogerdooley Roger Dooley

    I really think Facebook’s abrupt changes re an ongoing threat to any marketer who relies on them too heavily.  You can’t ignore Facebook, and they provide great exposure and traffic, but building a significant presence outside Facebook is as important now as it ever was.  Businesses that are migrating much of their digital effort to Facebook could be in for a rude awakening. 

    • http://twitter.com/NVEchols Noah Echols

      Sounds a lot like the AOL days. Remember AOL keywords? Businesses invested way too heavily in that trend when everyone thought it was there to stay. 

  • http://twitter.com/cksyme Chris Syme

    I remember Mari Smith talking about this at Social Media Summit last spring–it seems that Facebook had earmarked a group of “preferred” third party posting apps that weren’t being penalized–I even saw a list published somewhere but can’t find it now. She warned people not to completely automate their posts–said this piece was part of the Edge Rank algorithm, or so it seemed. Good luck with getting them to change it. Doesn’t seem to be their historical bent (pay attention to the masses). It’s a pain, no doubt. I use a scheduler (Sprout Social) for everything but Facebook just for that reason. I don’t agree on one point: don’t think it’s a bug. I think it’s intentional.

  • http://twitter.com/cksyme Chris Syme

    I remember Mari Smith talking about this at Social Media Summit last spring–it seems that Facebook had earmarked a group of “preferred” third party posting apps that weren’t being penalized–I even saw a list published somewhere but can’t find it now. She warned people not to completely automate their posts–said this piece was part of the Edge Rank algorithm, or so it seemed. Good luck with getting them to change it. Doesn’t seem to be their historical bent (pay attention to the masses). It’s a pain, no doubt. I use a scheduler (Sprout Social) for everything but Facebook just for that reason. I don’t agree on one point: don’t think it’s a bug. I think it’s intentional.

  • http://wadeonbirmingham.com Wade Kwon

    I’ve seen the same problem with the Facebook pages I manage and came to the same conclusion.

    This punishes small businesses disproportionately, since they will not have the resources to have staff to post “live” throughout the day. You know, those businesses that could actually grow into bigger businesses that could spend more money advertising on Facebook.

    It’s hard to get worked up about the millionth arbitrary change that Facebook makes to reward Facebook, not anyone else. But shame on the third-party apps for not making more of a fuss.

    I found a similar problem with Twitter using t.co for every link, making all custom short domain URLs virtually obsolete. I have a couple I use through Bit.ly, and I pointed out to Bit.ly that if they didn’t stand up to oppose Twitter’s heavy-handed change, it would render Bit.ly obsolete.

    Bit.ly responded as the third-party apps have above: with mild disinterest.

    Oh, well.

    Adding: I’m surprised Facebook hasn’t been hacked like the jailbroken iPhone. Would give everyone some unsanctioned alternatives.

  • http://wadeonbirmingham.com Wade Kwon

    I’ve seen the same problem with the Facebook pages I manage and came to the same conclusion.

    This punishes small businesses disproportionately, since they will not have the resources to have staff to post “live” throughout the day. You know, those businesses that could actually grow into bigger businesses that could spend more money advertising on Facebook.

    It’s hard to get worked up about the millionth arbitrary change that Facebook makes to reward Facebook, not anyone else. But shame on the third-party apps for not making more of a fuss.

    I found a similar problem with Twitter using t.co for every link, making all custom short domain URLs virtually obsolete. I have a couple I use through Bit.ly, and I pointed out to Bit.ly that if they didn’t stand up to oppose Twitter’s heavy-handed change, it would render Bit.ly obsolete.

    Bit.ly responded as the third-party apps have above: with mild disinterest.

    Oh, well.

  • Josh Jordan

    Maybe somebody should create an opensource version of Facebook …. BWWWWWAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Josh Jordan

    Maybe somebody should create an opensource version of Facebook …. BWWWWWAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • http://www.jasondettbarn.com endonend

    One thing I’ve noticed is that many 3rd party apps don’t have the Public icon (the little globe) next to the Via line…

    The few that I’ve tried:
    -Hootsuite doesn’t (poor impressions)
    -WebTrends Social

  • http://www.jasondettbarn.com endonend

    One thing I’ve noticed is that many 3rd party apps don’t have the Public icon (the little globe) next to the Via line…

    The few that I’ve tried:
    -Hootsuite doesn’t (poor impressions)
    -WebTrends Social  (poor impressions)
    -Crowdbooster doesn’t  (poor impressions)
    -Involver doesn’t  (poor impressions, but better than any of the others with impression issues)
    -Tweetdeck does (normal impression level) 
    -Wordpress plugin that posts to page wall  – does (normal impression level)

    So I’m thinking the bug has to do with this… wonder if it’s due to the permissions changes that were made with all the latest platform changes.
    Anyway, I hope they fix it soon. It has been driving me nuts… and I manage 3 pages, along with SEO and PPC, so I don’t have time to direct post most days.

  • Shane

    One of the comments I read in here a few hours ago.. can’t find it at the moment, said (if I’m reading properly) that posts that include links/pictures are getting low impressions. I have one page I administer that will not let me post without a link. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I’ve tried changing the type of business it is, no luck. Anyone else have this issue? If FB insists I put a link with it, then I should get the impressions expected, right? A little off topic, but would welcome any advice. Feel free to contact me directly on twitter @520eastbrands if you have any thoughts. Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/NVEchols Noah Echols

      This is a reflection of the Edgerank algorithm that prioritizes some content over others depending on the users potentially seeing it. What I have seen on the few pages I administer is that posts with links perform worse than just text posts. Posts with images uploaded to Facebook directly perform the best in terms of impressions and interaction.

  • Shane

    One of the comments I read in here a few hours ago.. can’t find it at the moment, said (if I’m reading properly) that posts that include links/pictures are getting low impressions. I have one page I administer that will not let me post without a link. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I’ve tried changing the type of business it is, no luck. Anyone else have this issue? If FB insists I put a link with it, then I should get the impressions expected, right? A little off topic, but would welcome any advice. Feel free to contact me directly on twitter @520eastbrands if you have any thoughts. Thanks! 

    • http://twitter.com/NVEchols Noah Echols

      This is a reflection of the Edgerank algorithm that prioritizes some content over others depending on the users potentially seeing it. What I have seen on the few pages I administer is that posts with links perform worse than just text posts. Posts with images uploaded to Facebook directly perform the best in terms of impressions and interaction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=767353085 Laura L. Link

    Does this bug apply to posts from WordPress that are automatically posted to Facebook via “Publicize”?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Not 100% sure but it’s a third party app, so I would assume so.

    • http://www.double-take-photography.com Sav

      I’ve found this to be the case (90% down on impressions via WP Publicize). Not happy :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=767353085 Laura L. Link

    Does this bug apply to posts from WordPress that are automatically posted to Facebook via “Publicize”?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Not 100% sure but it’s a third party app, so I would assume so.

    • http://www.double-take-photography.com Sav

      I’ve found this to be the case (90% down on impressions via WP Publicize). Not happy :(

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  • http://themarketingspot.com Jay Ehret

    I am an admin of 4 business pages, my own and three clients. Three of those pages have not even received an impressions report on status updates since the 12th.

  • http://themarketingspot.com Jay Ehret

    I am an admin of 4 business pages, my own and three clients. Three of those pages have not even received an impressions report on status updates since the 12th. 

  • http://morewebsitetrafficguide.com Spatch Merlin

    Marketers relying heavily on FaceBook are faced with threat with the current and ongoing changes the platform has. Of course, Facebook provides great traffic and increases a site’s visibility. However, promoting and establishing one’s authority outside Facebook is relatively quintessential than it ever was. Too much relying on FB may result to demise in any online business.

  • http://morewebsitetrafficguide.com Spatch Merlin

    Marketers relying heavily on FaceBook are faced with threat with the current and ongoing changes the platform has. Of course, Facebook provides great traffic and increases a site’s visibility. However, promoting and establishing one’s authority outside Facebook is relatively quintessential than it ever was. Too much relying on FB may result to demise in any online business.

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  • http://twitter.com/NVEchols Noah Echols

    Ive written about this same problem for the pages I administer. Overall impressions dropped slightly with the new rollout, but impressions made from 3rd party apps were cut by around 90%. It is dramatic.

  • http://twitter.com/NVEchols Noah Echols

    Ive written about this same problem for the pages I administer. Overall impressions dropped slightly with the new rollout, but impressions made from 3rd party apps were cut by around 90%. It is dramatic. 

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