Monthly Archives: October 2012

Dark Social idea is wrong

Alexis Madrigal’s “Dark Social” premise is flawed.

Alexis Madrigal published a piece to day on how people find content on the web. While I agree with much of his piece including the contention that the web was social long before social media media (think IM, forums, email, etc), and that a large portion of visitors to sites cannot be tracked to the source, I believe he was led the wrong way by his “expert” Josh Schwartz of Chartbeat.

While Alexis acknowledges in this piece that mobile  apps could account for part of this unatributed traffic, he provides a footnote with comments from Schwartz:

Chartbeat datawiz Josh Schwartz said it was unlikely that the mobile referral data was throwing off our numbers here. “Only about four percent of total traffic is on mobile at all, so, at least as a percentage of total referrals, app referrals must be a tiny percentage,” Schwartz wrote to me in an email. “To put some more context there, only 0.3 percent of total traffic has the Facebook mobile site as a referrer and less than 0.1 percent has the Facebook mobile app.”

How is mobile defined here? If they are just looking at screen size I guess is it possible only 4% of The Atlantic’s viewers are on phones, although that seems very low (web in general 16%, news sites 7% reported nine months ago). There is no mention of tablets, iPad specifically. Which leads me too…

What is missing from the analysis is Mozilla Web Kit.

What type of apps could be sending content to The Atlantic? It isn’t much of a stretch to think that the referrer might be one of dozens of popular news reader/personalization apps (think Zite, Flipboard, etc). Those apps generally use their own browser to display pages, and those browsers are almost 100% using a web kit.

As I detailed in my article on underreporting of Pinterest traffic, the majority of apps use Mozilla Web Kit to provide a more integrated experience, and none of these app browser provide referring data. Once you include iPad in your numbers, I have to believe a significant portion of this untracked traffic is coming from apps, and it doesn’t just have to be news apps.

Social traffic is underreported, but much of it comes from the big social networks.

To quote my previous piece:

Jim Gianoglio, Manager of Insight: Social & Mobile at LunaMetrics, told me that many app visits will show up this way. He indicated that Facebook has figured out a way to resolve this issue with their app, but that Twitter, while better tracking referrals with the link shortener, still sends traffic from their own apps  (as well as many third party apps) without clear referral attribution.

My own vist to Alexis’ piece would have fallen under this “Dark Social” traffic. I was using Hootsuite on my mobile phone when I saw a tweet with a link to the article. I clicked on it and read it using Hootsuite’s browser that use web kit. So this “Dark Social” traffic includes, at least in my case, traffic from mainstream social media.

The purpose of this piece was to clarify that there isn’t an unknown majority of people who forgo social networks to share links. Certainly some people email links or share them in chat, but to attribute around 50% of The Atlantic traffic to this group of people isn’t even close to the most likely scenario.


Facebook Pages Unlike

Facebook makes unannouced change that is significantly affecting the reach of your page.

The key change seems to be that Facebook is now making it so when fans share your post, their friends are much less likely to see it. Facebook is doing this to achieve a newsfeed ratio where paid posts are 20% and only 80% is organic.

As an example, you make a post on your page. It is is popular and gets shared by some of your fans. In the past that post would be seen frequently by the friends of the person who shared the post, but a new algorithm change means it takes significantly more shares before Facebook deems it relevant.

Greg Colon of Ogility blogged on September 25th that

Facebook announced last Thursday [my note: that would be Septbemer 20th] that it would alter the algorithm that decides what a user sees on their newsfeed. The crux of the change is centered strictly on organic brand page posts, in an effort to de-clutter the amount of posts served up to mobile and tablet users by brands.

After his post started to spread by social media this weekend, he clarified in the comments on his post that:

There was no PR or public announcement on behalf of Facebook of these changes. This information came from Social@Ogilvy and WPP’s relationship with Facebook on product updates. Thus, one reason you cannot find announcements on AllFacebook, etc. Curious to see if reach is down for many. The algorithm is updated periodically and as stated, may not affect all brand pages equally.

While Greg’s post did not explain where the loss of reach would come from, Jon Loomer did extensive research back on September 17th that may have identified at least part of where this loss of reach has and will come from. The first area that Facebook attacked is viral reach:

All along, we’ve been freaking out about Fans seeing our content. You know, EdgeRank is limiting it to only 16% and all. But it would appear that the new problem isn’t reaching our Fans (though that may be down slightly), but our Fans being able to reach their friends with our content.

Jon wrote an extensive piece that is worth reading in entriety; especially his graphic at the top of the post.

I have long been sceptical of Facebook because of how they manipulate who sees what posts from both brands and individuals. I prefer Twitter where once someone follows you, they will see your post if they access Twitter after you post it or in the period immediately after. I have recently highlighted a way to improve Facebook reach by including an image with each of my updates. But Facebook is moving the bar with this latest update.

Greg Colon wrote that:

The change may allow Facebook room to grow its organic/paid offering ratio, in which 80% of content in the newsfeed is organic and 20% is paid in the form of sponsored stories, a form of premium advertising within Facebook.

It is quite possible that if limiting the visibility of fan shares is not enough to get Facebook to this 80-20 ratio, that Facebook will limit the visibility of your page posts by just changing the Edgerank.

This change has had widespread implications. Mari Smith posted a discussion of this issue last night on Facebook and the majority of the 100+ comments are from Facebook page managers reporting the same decrease in reach.

The long term implication is clear. Facebook is becoming more of a “Pay For Play” social network. All those hours and money you spent working to connect with your audience via page Likes could be largely for naught. Facebook not only wants you to compete with all new baby announcements and friends weddings which is understandable, but now they want to take even more of the newsfeed back and give it those who are willing to pay to promote posts.