On Tuesday we published the results of a study indicating that Pages that sync or auto-post their content to Facebook from Twitter or blogs using tools like HootSuite, Twitter, and NetworkedBlogs receive significantly fewer Likes and comments per posts than those that post manually using Facebook’s web and mobile interfaces.
This is partly because Facebook consolidates into a folded thread all posts from across Pages and friends in a user’s news feed that were published through the same tool, displaying a “Show x more posts from [publisher app] link”.
We’ve now learned that Facebook maintains a secret whitelist of companies that are exempt from having content posted through their publishers consolidated across different Pages and clients. This protects them from a reduction in news feed impressions. The whitelist includes some top enterprise Page management tools from the Preferred Developer Consultant program including Buddy Media, Vitrue, Involver, Context Optional and Syncapse. Facebook has forbidden those included from discussing the existence of the whitelist. Facebook has confirmed with us that “trusted partners” are having their posts treated differently.
Since consolidation negatively impacts Page post engagement and other key performance indicators, brands have to consider using whitelisted publishing tools. If they aren’t already, they should out of necessity either ask their Page management solution provider about gaining admission to the whitelist, or switch to a tool protected from consolidation. Overall, the surfacing of the consolidation whitelist may anger developers not on it, and push Facebook to change its policy on whose posts are consolidated.
Here’s some more context on what’s happening. In order to gain the maximum exposure, clicks, and other key performance metrics from publishing to the news feed, Facebook Pages need to optimize their EdgeRank, or prominence in the news feed. To do so, they need to consistently publish compelling and widely seen updates to draw Likes and comment that improve their EdgeRank.
However, Facebook has an automated system in place originally designed to collapse flurries of posts published by users playing spammy social games. That system causes any posts present in a user’s news feed that were published by an API publishing tool with a same App ID, whether from one or many Pages or users, to be consolidated into threads that show one post but require users to click to unfold and view the rest of the posts. Since users don’t always unfold the threads, consolidation reduces the impressions of posts, giving them fewer opportunities to score feedback that helps their EdgeRank.
The study by EdgeRank Checker and another by Momentus Media show reductions in post engagement rates by as much as 70% for Pages using third-party publishing tools that have posts consolidated across Pages. This engagement reduction cannot be entirely attributed to consolidation, as differences in the content of scheduled or syndicated posts, Page size, and the types of companies that pay for third-party tools all impact engagement as well. Still, post consolidation does negatively impact impression rates, and therefore publishing apps that cause posts to be consolidated should not be used by brands.
To insulate some of the world’s biggest brands who are also heavy advertisers on Facebook, as well as some of the biggest third-party Page management companies from its Preferred Developer Consultant program, Facebook quietly offered admission to a post consolidation whitelist to a few Page management developers. Tools whose App IDs are whitelisted do not have their posts consolidated across Pages (though, in some cases, a single client’s Page may have its own posts consolidated together if it posts multiple times in rapid succession).
Brands using tools on the whitelist have an advantage over their competitors, as they can attain more news feed exposure for their posts. Page management companies can use the higher engagement rates afforded them by the whitelist to attract clients. Page management companies left off this whitelist may feel the double standard is unfair, especially if brands using Twitter, HootSuite, TweetDeck, or NetworkedBlogs ditch them for whitelisted tools.
Executives of Page management companies tell us they don’t believe Facebook was intending to penalize any publishing tool developers with the consolidation system, and rather it was a holdover from a spam prevention effort that Facebook has since handled by limiting how much game content appears in the news feed.
[Update: Facebook has responded to our inquiry about the existence of the whitelist saying “We’re focused on ensuring that users see the highest quality stories in News Feed. As part of this, related stories are typically aggregated so users can see a consolidated view of stories from one app. In some cases, we work closely with trusted partners, such as Preferred Developer Consultants, to test new ways of surfacing stories, and gather feedback to improve the Platform experience.”
Though Facebook calls this a “test”, the exemption of certain tools from post consolidation has been going on for many months. The whitelist could therefore be interpreted as favoritism rather than just an attempt to gather data to improve the user experience.]
Exempting trusted publishers from post consolidation may have intended as a temporary solution until a more sophisticated way to keep individual publishers from overrunning the news feed could be developed. But in the meantime, the whitelist has created an uneven playing field where certain publishers and the brands that use them receive much less visibility in the news feed than others.
If Facebook wants to keep the long-tail of third-party developers happy and working on its Platform, it will need to provide more transparency around how the post consolidation system currently works. It will also need to quickly fix it so no publishing tools and their brand clients are penalized for legitimate promotion in an effort to control game spam.
[Thanks to Momentus Media for data that informed this post]