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Can Facebook and third-party APIs play nice?

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If you follow social media news closely, you might have noticed a kerfuffle that broke out last year when software vendor EdgeRank Checker announced that Facebook was punishing third-party APIs, including the ever-popular HubSpot and HootSuite. Not long afterward, HubSpot conducted its own study and found something astonishing: Content published through third-party APIs, including its own, somehow got 67% fewer “likes” on average and 60% fewer clicks than content published manually. Their conclusion? “Bid adieu to scheduled content,” because it was clear that Facebook's EdgeRank, the algorithm that decides how to rank updates in newsfeeds, was punishing third-party APIs. Naturally this wasn't the end of the story. Third-party developers soon alerted Facebook about the “bug” in its system, and in 2012 Facebook announced it had found the bug and fixed it. But did it really? “The short answer is that I believe Facebook isn't inherently punishing brands for using third-party APIs anymore,” said Chad Wittman, founder of EdgeRank Checker. To reach this conclusion, Wittman and his firm studied about 400 pages both before and after the bug was fixed. They included pages that manually handled updates and used a third-party API, and for which EdgeRank Checker had access to their analytics. Based on these results, Wittman found that the discrepancy had narrowed between manually posting on Facebook and using a third-party API, but it had not vanished completely. It appeared that companies using the popular third-party APIs were still garnering fewer impressions, fewer “likes” and less visibility, yet the margin had narrowed enough that Wittman now confidently says the third-party API has been fixed. “Facebook isn't punishing them, but I do think a lot of third-party users are punished by posting too much or not engaging after they do post,” Wittman said. “Whenever people automate too much, there's a human psychological element involved. So it's hard to split the chicken and the egg. How much is due to third-party APIs and how much is due to the misuse of third-party APIs and the content they're publishing?” Even HubSpot seems to agree on this one. In a blog post published last year, Anum Hussain, manager-inbound marketing at HubSpot, wrote that large companies with dedicated social media staff who posted directly to Facebook had much greater engagement with their content than smaller companies that used third-party software. Social media experts such as Stephanie Winans, founder of digital media consultancy Stephanie Winans Digital, has been recommending updating directly from Facebook before the third-party API was fixed and continues to recommend it. “Facebook wants you to use Facebook,” Winans said. “For other social media platforms, I'll use HootSuite because it's not as big a deal. But for updating Facebook, I suggest only using Facebook.”
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