Facebook now 100% irrelevant to me – The impact of advertising vs user engagement

By Matt Cornock

Facebook’s approach to advertising is one of those topics that has its fans (the marketers) and its foes (the average user). With the desire to make money in order to facilitate the service, advertising is a key revenue stream for Facebook. However, yesterday (probably not for the first time), advertising took up 100% of my Facebook screen space. The problem with this is that as advertising space goes up, my willingness to engage with the site goes down. There should never be a situation where 100% of the screen holds meaningless content.

Nothing of interest on my Facebook feed

Screenshot of my Facebook feed featuring a) adverts for games, b) advert for a page, c) more adverts for games and d) links to people I don't know

The above screenshot shows my Facebook feed and the four dynamically-created (i.e. not fixed) areas of the page that change. Each part should have been designed to invite me to participate on the site. Originally, Facebook’s aim was to connect people and the personal interactions between people were its value to users. With the content presented to me on my feed, perhaps the non-personal interactions (i.e. those with games and pages) are now the focus of Facebook. However, that conflicts with my reasoning for participating on the site. Let’s take each of these areas in turn to see how they attempt to engage me with use of the site.

A. The most important part of the page

The top central part of the page is the most important part of any webpage and where the lead content sits. It is where the eye is drawn to after it has eliminated the standard layout of site icon, navigation and obvious advertising boxes (the irony). Here, this is where I want to see the latest goings on of my friends. In this case though, it has pulled some of my friends’ names into an advert for the various games that they play, including what is a not-so-subtle rip off of Scrabble. Now, I’ve never clicked on any of these games or pages associated to them in the many years that Facebook has been churning them to me, so you would have thought that by now, Facebook would serve something different as I’m clearly not interested in using Facebook for games.

Engagement level: 0.

B. Where I would expect extra useful content

Further down the page, still within the central content block, I would expect to see at least a glimmer of meaningful content, yet here is another advert. This time, because I have declared I am male on my profile, it has served me a male-oriented advert. Now, I don’t know whether Facebook has also analysed my photos and come to the conclusion that I’m not the most ‘buff’ of chaps and hence should start to be worried about not fitting with the idealised physical norm (and whether I should be offended or not by this), but this page does not interest me. It is probably the case that because I have limited information on my Facebook profile (I do not declare any ‘likes’, see this post and this Prezi as for why), Facebook can only target adverts on the information I have provided (that I am male and live in York). In these circumstances though, it would be better for Facebook to present something meaningful than clutch at straws. Facebook could even use the content of my public posts (not my friends-only posts) to get a better idea of my interests considering this is already linked information I have provided.

Engagement level: 0.

C. Feature area

The top right of a web page is commonly used for advertising or eye-catching features. Again, Facebook has planted adverts here pushing their games platform. Whilst I do have a sweet tooth (Candy Crush), I do not have a penchant for recreational drugs (Pot Farm). What irks me more is that I cannot provide feedback that this game goes against what I believe is acceptable behaviour. It also means that there are three obviously questionable things now cropping up on my Facebook feed: a word game that rips off a brand, a page advertising muscle growth and idealised human image, and a game appearing to champion growing cannabis.

Engagement level: 0.

D. Additional features

The rest of the right column in a ‘horse-shoe’ page design is filled with further feature spaces. These regularly change to ensure they catch the eye. On Facebook these might be suggested pages, more adverts, or as in this case, suggested friends. Here however, none of the people listed (blurred for their own protection) I actually know. There is even a fake account that someone has set up to separate their personal details from the games and apps they use on Facebook (a wise move if ever there was). The desire for Facebook to connect you to people that you’ve probably not heard of or spoken to for a long time is an interesting one. Is it to facilitate a better, socially connected world? Or is it to support the ‘so and so likes this page’ type of peer-stamped advertising? I keep my friends list short as the ‘friends of friends’ audience selector on posts is a dangerous option if ever there was.

Engagement level: 0.

Conclusion

As you might expect, I’m not one of Facebook’s biggest fans, but I do appreciate the networking ability it provides to keep in touch with the people I want to and to let them know what I’m getting up to. Certainly, in my professional capacity I do use Facebook for advertising and presenting my workplace online to offer engagement with our students. Yet, when I am confronted with poorly-targeted content, that is frequently regurgitated to me, my interest in the site as a user is challenged. I am less inclined to spend time on the site and hence less inclined to actually click an advert should one that interests me come along. As an advertiser then, I ensure that I do target specifically so that my money does not go to waste filling up the empty spaces that Facebook can’t fill imaginatively. 

Tip

If you are designing a web site, ensure that there is always content relevant to your user and their needs visible on the screen. Don’t expect them to hunt it down, and don’t repeatedly show what might be meaningless to them.

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