Mark Cuban: Facebook Is Straying From Its Original Mission

Billionaire Mark Cuban used his blog on The Huffington Post to clarify his thoughts on Facebook and his dissatisfaction with the social network’s page algorithm, saying that Facebook is behaving more like a search engine in trying to deliver content to its users’ news feeds based on relevancy and engagement.

Earlier this month, Cuban used the example of a Facebook post promoting an upcoming game featuring the National Basketball Association team he owns, the Dallas Mavericks, pointing out that the post reached only about 27,000 of the nearly 2.36 million Facebook users who liked the team’s page, and saying in an email to ReadWrite’s Dan Lyons:

We are moving far more aggressively into Twitter and reducing any and all emphasis on Facebook. We won’t abandon Facebook, we will still use it, but our priority is to add followers that our brands can reach on non-Facebook platforms first … It’s not feasible yet, but we have no choice but to continuously evaluate alternatives. We have already pushed more to Twitter. The new MySpace looks promising. And Instagram and Tumblr and others are much more open and are getting more of our attention. The big negative for Facebook is that we will no longer push for likes or subscribers because we can’t reach them all. Why would we invest in extending our Facebook audience size if we have to pay to reach them? That’s crazy.

Cuban’s blog post Monday morning questioned Facebook’s motives, saying that a social network is supposed to be a “time waster,” and that delivering the most relevant, engaging content was a job for search engines, and not Facebook. Highlights follow:

Facebook believes that its news feed is an engaging information source. It seems to really, really want to make sure that you get the information that is most engaging to you. I honestly didn’t know this.

This has to be a good thing, right? What could possibly be wrong with wanting to improve engagement? What could possibly be wrong with optimizing its news and information feeds? IMHO, everything. Defining engagement by clicks, likes, shares, unlikes, and reporting works for Google’s search engine. I don’t believe it works for a social network.

People go to Google search with every intention of leaving it. They want to “engage, click, and leave.” On the exact opposite side of the spectrum, people go to Facebook with the expectation that it is very likely they will stay on Facebook for an extended period of time. In fact we spend more than 26 minutes per day on Facebook. As this study said, Facebook is an alternative to boredom. Facebook is far more like TV than it is Google search.

Facebook is what it is. It’s a time waster. That’s not to say we don’t engage — we do. We click, share, and comment because it’s mindless and easy. But for some reason, Facebook doesn’t seem to want to accept that its best purpose in life is as a huge time-suck platform that we use to keep up with friends, interests, and stuff. I think it is overthinking what its network is all about.

So how does this relate to brands and sponsored posts? In a perfect Facebook world, every post enters the friends/like/subscriber’s timeline. If they log in and want to spend the time searching their timeline, they see it, if not, not. Facebook users go on Facebook looking to kill time. Why not let them?

From a brand’s perspective, not having to try to fall within the parameters of the algorithm (EdgeRank) allows us to post fun things, tidbits, information, anything, knowing that there is at least a chance that those who have a connection with us can see it, and knowing that we won’t reduce our chances of the algorithm showing our post.

Again, Facebook is overcomplicating a simple issue. A user can govern his/her news feed far better by hitting unlike than an algorithm like EdgeRank ever can.

But this overcomplication via algorithm and not knowing why people use its site (feel free to say right here that of course Facebook knows how people use its site better than I do) creates a financial problem for brands. By trying to be an incredibly efficient information-delivery source, it confines our ability to organically reach most of our followers to using sponsored posts. It also significantly increases our costs, because if we create a post that doesn’t engage our followers to the level the algorithm expects it to, it can impact our ability to be seen in the future. Talk about pressure. Put up a post, but be sure that EdgeRank doesn’t think it sucks.

I’m not against sponsored posts per se. I’m against sponsored posts being the primary, if not the only way, to reach most of the people my companies have built a connection with on Facebook.

Take away EdgeRank so that we all have a fair chance to reach those who like us, with sponsored posts being a way to improve our odds — great. I’m all for it. That is like any other medium.

I also think that Facebook is making a big mistake by trying to play games with its original mission of connecting the world. Facebook is a fascinating destination that is an amazing alternative to boredom which excels in its simplicity. One of the threats in any business is that you outsmart yourself. Facebook has to be careful of just that.

Readers: What did you think of what Cuban had to say?

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