Facebook is being accused of an underhanded bait and switch, with brands and even personal users now forced to pay for "promoted posts" to reach all of their "likers" and friends.
Evidence suggests that the algorithm that determines which posts appear in your News Feed, called EdgeRank, has been tweaked so that posts are visible for under 15 per cent of your connections unless you pay.
For individuals the cost to promote a status update is US$7.20 and for brands the cost depends on how many fans or "likers" they have, but is around US$20 per post to reach 3000 fans and US$200 to reach 50,000 fans.
Catherine Cincotta, 33, from Melbourne, runs hair accessory firm Dazzle Strands, which has about 4000 likes on Facebook.
"I was getting at least 800 to 1000 post views and then July hit and then all of a sudden it started going progressively down so I was starting to see 300, 200 and now it's at about 90 on average," she said.
"I find this to be underhanded ... all of a sudden the posts are being suppressed and you're getting bombarded with requests to advertise with them."
Lisa Dale, 32, runs an online gift hamper business, Signed Sealed Delivered, and Facebook is one of her main avenues for promotion. She also has about 3000 fans and has noticed her post views have likewise trailed off significantly, despite her fan base growing.
"They've sucked me in. I've worked so hard to build up this great page and now the only way I can maintain it now is to pay. If they were going to do it, they probably should've done it at the start," said Dale.
Mashable journalist Matt Silverman wrote in a recent column that Facebook's EdgeRank was creating artificial scarcity by "rigging the game and then asking users to pay to level the playing field". The New York Observer wrote that "Facebook is broke, on purpose, in order to extract more money from users".
Last week blog Dangerous Minds wrote a post titled "Facebook: I want my friends back", accusing the company of turning down the volume on users' Facebook reach. To reach the blog's entire 50,000 fan base Facebook charges US$200 per post.
"We post seven days a week, that would be about $14,000 per week, $56,000 per month ... a grand total of $672,000 for what we got for free before Facebook started turning the traffic spigot down in Spring of this year - wouldn't you know it - right around the time of their badly managed IPO."
Earlier this week Simon Dell, director of Brisbane-based marketing firm TwoCents Group, said for his firm's page the average "reach" over the past 10 posts was 195 or 16 per cent, but at times it dropped to just 94 views.
One of Dell's clients had an average reach of just 12 per cent of their 5400 fans and another was 19 per cent.
"Facebook isn't seeing fans as a community anymore, they're seeing them as numbers," he wrote on MarketingMag.com.au. "Being able to reach just 15 per cent of your brand advocates who have opted in to receive your communication isn't a great ROI for your time and effort."
Facebook has been under significant pressure to turn its huge user numbers into revenue and the company is now worth a bit over half as much as it was when the company went public. Its shares are worth $US21.94 down from the offer price of US$38 .
In a recent blog post Facebook ads engineer Philip Zigoris wrote that any changes Facebook makes to its news feed algorithm were more to do with offering users more relevant posts than making money.
"Regardless of whether you're paying to promote a story or just posting one to your Page, the news feed will always optimise for stories that generate high levels of user engagement and filter out ones that don't," he wrote.
The response from readers was mostly negative with most complaining that they shouldn't have to pay in order for their posts to be visible by their friends.
"So tell me, how are people meant to engage with the content if they're not being shown the content in the first place?" wrote one.
Another said: "I have to tell you the vast majority of my friends really hate this, find it very frustrating, and the only thing that keeps them from leaving Facebook is all their friends are here and there is no real option ... yet."
Facebook declined to comment for this story.
- Sydney Morning Herald