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Will Facebook’s 2015 Changes Affect Your Author Page?

While I was on vacation last week, a post over at The Write Conversation (and then picked up by The Passive Voice) stirred up quite a buzz among some authors. A savvy client sent it to me yesterday and asked what I thought. Did I recommend that we all give up on Facebook?

At first read, the news was dire. Facebook, it says, is on the brink of instituting a monthly fee that small businesses, including authors, will have to pay in order to have their content seen by their followers. No more cover reveals, no more book signing announcements, no more links to giveaways? “These changes are going to cost money—serious money,” says the blog.

But wait. Read the article again. Does something seem a little…off?

The blogger certainly sounds confident about what will happen to authors, but there are no links anywhere, to any other source, to back up the facts. When pushed in the comments, she says only, “As far as where I got my information. It came from speaking with people certified from FB who are training businesses how to use FB legally in light of the upcoming changes.”

But if Facebook has people out there right now, telling small businesses that they’re going to pay monthly fees in order to share their updates, wouldn’t that information have leaked? There is a legion of journalists who specialize in social media and technology. There are 50 million Facebook pages that would be affected by this. How is no one else talking about a change as major as monthly fees for promotional content?

I spent too much of my afternoon yesterday procrastinating researching online and came up with…nothing. I can’t find a single other article that mentions the implementation of fees for Pages in 2015. (Interestingly, though, there is a persistent urban myth about Facebook charging its users.)

Is your Facebook marketing sinking in quicksand?  Photo by mkhmarketing. Used under Creative Commons.

Is your Facebook marketing sinking in quicksand?
Photo by mkhmarketing. Used under Creative Commons.

 

It appears to be much too soon for authors to panic and walk away from the biggest social media platform in the world.

 

Yes, there are changes afoot in 2015. Facebook announced on November 14 that they will more aggressively weed out purely promotional or “advertising” posts from users’ news feeds. (That’s the automatically updating scroll of updates in the middle of every user’s home page, sorted chronologically or by some arbitrary “Top Stories” algorithm.)

Specifically, Facebook says:

 According to people we surveyed, there are some consistent traits that make organic posts feel too promotional:

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

Beginning in January 2015, people will see less of this type of content in their News Feeds. As we’ve said before, News Feed is already a competitive place — as more people and Pages are posting content, competition to appear in News Feed has increased. All of this means that Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.”

This announcement has gotten a lot of coverage, including these good articles in The Wall Street Journal and the blog Making a Mark.

But what kind of content will be affected? Go through and read the whole Facebook announcement. They’ve got examples of the kind of posts that won’t make it to the front anymore. Personally, I’m okay with not seeing more of those “Buy this right now!!” messages, anyway.

Which brings me to the real point here:

You shouldn’t be using your Author Facebook page as a blatant commercial sales tool, anyway.

 

If you think of Facebook as a one-way channel where you promote yourself and your products with hard-sell messages like the ones in the Facebook report, you’re already missing the point—and are probably disappointed with your results. This is a social network, not a sales channel.

The best Author Facebook Pages aren’t about selling book(s)—they’re about the people behind the books.

Remember, most of the people who will like you on Facebook have already read your book; they signed up for your page to get to know more about you. Your Facebook Page is at its best—and its most viral—when you treat it like an opportunity to sit at a virtual table and visit with your most loyal fans. What would you share with them? Probably not a link to buy your book, or an impersonal, splashy form for yet another raffle. No, hopefully you’d talk to them, person to person. You’d chat about the back story of your work—show them some pictures of the historic village where your novel is set, or link to the latest research on the disease that filled the pages of your memoir. You’d give them updates on how the next book is going—and maybe even a sneak peek. If you got a great review or award, you’d share that, too—not because you want your fans to do something, but because this news makes you happy and you want to share it with the people who value your writing

You share yourself.

There is no formula to finding your unique voice, but you can find inspiration by studying how other authors are successfully using Facebook. For example, check out:

Anne Lamott

Paulo Coehlo

Mary DeMuth

Louise Penny

Neal Stephenson

Each one has a different style, just as each author has a different audience. But there’s not much on any of these pages that would be flagged as inappropriate under Facebook’s three guidelines, above. These are authors who are each engaged with the people who share this space. They have thought carefully about what their readers want to see—whether it’s links to articles about the latest discoveries in science, or long thoughts about life, or pictures of the author’s Christmas tree.

They treat their Facebook followers as friends, not as customers.

 

Bottom line:

No, there’s no evidence that Facebook is going to force monthly fees on business pages, or restrict an author’s genuine, personal content about themselves and their work. They’ll probably still try to get you to pay for advertising, but it will be optional.

But yes, the mysterious Facebook algorithm is going to make it even harder for people to see your content if you’re advertising to them instead of engaging with them.

The solution is not to abandon Facebook as a channel if it’s working for you and you enjoy it.* And it’s not to shell out money for paid advertising or “boosted” posts (which almost never work). The answer is to change the way you treat your Facebook page, and start creating content that readers will want to see.

 

*Facebook isn’t a required part of any marketing plan. (In fact, I wrote a pretty popular post earlier this year about why I don’t have an Author Page myself, and I still have those concerns.) If you’re not interested in engaging with your readers in this way, don’t do it. It’s better to not have a Facebook page at all than to have a neglected, empty-feeling one.  

 

 

A few people have privately commented that it seems like I’m knocking The Write Conversation blogger unnecessarily. I don’t mean to be. The site has a lot of great advice and information for writers. I suspect this particular post is a case of misunderstanding, or of being vulnerable to the rumor mill. But it’s a good reminder that we should verify everything we read.      

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