Is Facebook Still Worth the Effort?

My library has been using Facebook since about 2008.

But if I was trying to decide today whether to set up a FB page, and specifically whether the ROI would be worth my effort, I’d have a hard time deciding that it is.

For a long time I felt strongly that it offered great opportunities to create community connections – especially for organizations like the library, which has no products to sell, and therefor also has limited financial resources.

But developments over the last year have had me increasingly concerned that Facebook is a loosing game for my library.

What am I worried about? I’m increasingly aware of the way that FB’s EdgeRank algorithms allow (or don’t allow) your fans to see a Page’s status updates in their news feeds (and that the algorithm seems to keep evolving)*.  FB also just announced a new News Feed, which will automatically separate page’s updates into a separate news-stream from friend updates.  And of course the overall focus on Page Promotion (i.e., paying for marketing your page) is a constant reminder that FB is a privately owned company, not a community platform.

As of today [March 10 2013] my Library has 1255 FB fans. Because of EdgeRank, only some of those people see our status updates:  over the past month, our most-viewed status update was seen by 793 people. And most of our posts only get seen by 200-600 people. So half, to three quarters, of our fans are not EVER seeing what we post.

What changed?

When we started using Facebook in 2008, there were two big reasons why it was attractive to an organization like the Arlington Public Library.

Cost:

In 2008 – It was FREE. Remember 2008? That’s when the economy went kablooey – and libraries took a big hit at the same time that library use increased.

In 2013 – In theory, FB is still free – but it clearly wants to charge us. And unfortunately, libraries are still working hard to make every penny go as far as possible.

Reach:

In 2008 – FB helped us to take our message to busy patrons online, instead of making them have to come to us.

In 2013 – If up to 3/4 of our fans have to search out the Library’s FB page in order to get our status updates, then we’ve failed at taking our message to them.

So why not quit using Facebook for the Library?

There’s a third reason why it was worth our time in 2008, and why it still might be: Social relevance and online findability. For better or for worse, having a strong presence on Facebook has become a measure of your organization’s digital literacy and online community awareness.

Are you using Facebook for your library? Are you thinking about these issues, and if so, how are you dealing with them?

*For more info on EdgeRank, I recommend this November 2012 article from techcrunch called “Killing Rumors With Facts: No, Facebook Didn’t Decrease Page Feed Reach To Sell More Promoted Posts.”  My personal experiences keep me from agreeing 100% with the author’s premise, but he does make one of the better efforts I’ve read to explain how the EdgeRank algorithm works on page content.

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