This special episode of the Christian Publishing Show is a crossover with my other podcast Novel Marketing. While we talk about building a platform from time to time on this show, we talk about it almost every week on Novel Marketing.
This topic of why Facebook is overrated is so important I wanted to share it on both shows.
Important note: The notes below are an outline of what we talked about on the air. Listen to the audio version for the full explanation.
Second Important Note: Overrated does not mean useless! We talk about how you can still use Facebook effectively in episode 167 of Novel Marketing.
When I joined Facebook, it was only for college students. When I purchased my first Facebook ad, they were called “Campus Fliers.” I was the marketing coordinator for one of the first political campaigns to use Facebook for statewide political advertisements in Texas. I have run marketing companies, purchased tens of thousands of dollars of Facebook ads and done dozens of hours of Facebook Live. I have taught at conferences on how Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm in four or five different timezones around the world.
In short, I know what I am talking about when I say Facebook is nearly useless as a marketing platform for authors.
Facebook is overrated for the following reasons:
Reason #1 Digital Sharecropping
The fundamental problem with building your platform on Facebook is that it is digital sharecropping.
Sharecropping is when a wealthy landlord allows a poor person to farm his field in exchange for a share of the crops. The problem with sharecropping is that the poor farmer can be kicked off at any time from “his farm” since he doesn’t technically own it. Most of the economic advantages go to the landlord and most of the risk goes to the tenant. Sharecropping is a technique the rich have used to exploit the poor for millennia.
There is nothing new under the sun.
You don’t own Facebook. You sharecrop on Facebook’s digital land. Facebook gets nearly all of the economic advantages of your activity and if you find something that does advantage you, they will adjust their algotherm to stop you.
I remember when Facebook groups were transcendent. Then when groups got too powerful Facebook destroyed them in favor of pages. Now pages are de-optimized in favor of groups, but only new groups, not the legacy groups. So the cycle continues.
Reason #2 State of Mind
Facebook is a party where people talk about politics and show off photos of their grandchildren.
Trying to sell something on Facebook is like selling Amway at a party.
Now let’s say you throw your own party, a Tupperware party lets say, in this setting people are in the mood for hearing from you about your product. The medium is the message. Trying to break into someone’s political conversation with a commercial is very hard to do successfully.
Throw your own party instead.
Reason #3 EdgeRank
Facebook has an algorithm called EdgeRank. I explain how EdgeRank works in this post. As we talked about in Novle Marketing Episode 123 the algorithm has been tweaked this year in many ways that hurt authors.
Currently, any post about something not on Facebook (like a book for instance) will be hidden from about 96% of followers give or take depending on various EdgeRank factors. Let’s say that 1% of people who see a post about a book will go on to buy it (not an unrealistic conversion rate expectation).
So, you have 1,000 fans on Facebook, only 4% will see the post or 40 people. Of those 40 people, only 1% will buy it so 0.4 people. That rounds down to zero. To sell a single book through a Facebook page with the current EdgeRank algorithm you need 2,500 fans. Do you have 10,000 fans? Congratulations! You can expect to sell 4 books.
Now some authors work long and hard to improve their EdgeRank score so they can sell maybe one book per 1000 fans but in reality, most sales come through other channels.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is most likely looking at pre-2018 data.
Jim’s example when he posted on winning the Christy Award a few weeks ago.
Reason #4 Opportunity Cost
Some authors spend an hour a day on Facebook. Before you think this is not you, check the screen time app on your iPhone and then add the time you spend on Facebook on your computer.
Opportunity cost is the cost of the next best alternative to Facebook. So what is your next best alternative? It depends.
An hour a day is about 300 hours a year, assuming you take Sundays and holidays off. That is about how much time it takes to write a book. So the opportunity cost of Facebook is about a book a year for many authors. That is a very high opportunity cost!
Other things you could do rather than spend time on Facebook:
- Get better at speaking. 6 hours a week is enough time for three toastmasters meetings a week. Then start speaking small, start speaking on your own YouTube channel …
- Telling people directly about your book, never underestimate the power of one on one sales. Jim’s story of telling people when he flies.
- Podcasting. The fastest growing medium for book marketing.
- Blogging. The benefit of blogging is that it gives your readers something to share on Facebook so you can have your cake and eat it too.
- Write more books. This needs to be said again it is so important. The best way to sell a book is to write another book. This is especially true for fiction.
Reason #5 Fake News Machines
Whenever there is an algorithm, there are people with a reason to try to outsmart that algorithm. This is true for Google’s search results and Facebook’s EdgeRank.
Right now there are many state and privately funded “fake news machines” that use Facebook for various governmental and commercial reasons. There are also political groups doing the same thing for both the red and blue teams. These organizations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars at what they do. What was released about Cambridge Analytica is just the tip of the iceberg.
Trying to compete with a hundred million dollar budget by posting clever images with your book cover on them is like walking up to a skyscraper and trying to push it over with your hands.
Some of what Facebook is doing to fight fake news is hurting authors.
The battleground of mighty titans is not a good place to build a platform.
Reason #6 Bubbles
One result of EdgeRank is that what people see on Facebook is what they have liked in the past. This results in people sharing in bubbles that seldom break demographic boundaries. If you are a 50 year old middle class white woman, chances are most of what you see on Facebook is from other people with very similar demographics.
This is not to mention the political polarization into three camps, red, blue, and “please don’t talk about politics.” So the spread of an idea on Facebook is limited by faction as much as by demographics.
Reason #7 Demographic Changes
Speaking of demographics, Facebook is getting grayer. This is not necessarily bad. If your book targets retirees, then this change won’t hurt you. But young people are spending less and less time on Facebook. My wife, who was once active on Facebook, now shows up just long enough to drop off some baby photos and then she leaves for a different social network.
Reason # 8 Publishers Don’t Care
If you want to go with traditional publishing, you need to be aware that publishers aren’t impressed by huge Facebook numbers like they used to be. They know what’s going on, at least the savvy ones do. They realize massive FB numbers and interaction, don’t mean big book sales.
- Huge email lists
- Great ideas
- Great writing
So why do authors still use Facebook?
For several reasons:
#1 It used to work.
Back in 2010, Facebook strategies worked well. Ads were cheap and impressions were easy to get on free content. In 2012 when Michael Hyatt wrote the book Platform (Affiliate Link), Facebook had already crested its zenith in terms of usability. There is a reason he only devotes two pages to Facebook and that was over five years ago.
#2 It’s affermational
The reason some authors write is because they have a psychological need for affirmation and acknowledgement. Getting “likes” on posts can make authors feel validated in the moment even though it rings hollow in the end. This is why studies show that Facebook makes people sad and people use it anyway.
#3 It’s Easy
Compared to building a website, blogging, or public speaking, Facebook feels easy. The problem with easy, is that there are likely a million other authors taking the easy path too. The road to success requires walking the hard path. It requires hustle.
Why should authors avoid building their platform on Facebook?
- you don’t want to become a digital peasant farmer.
- it reaches people in the wrong state of mind.
- Facebook hides your content from 96% of fans.
- you could be doing something more valuable with your time.
- you are competing with multimillion dollar shadow organizations that will outspend and out optimize you.
- social bubbles inhibit viral spread.
- the demographics are growing less appealing for most authors.
- publishers don’t care about it like they used to.
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