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Authors and Social Networking: Part 5 (More fun with Facebook)

In previous parts of this series, I discussed some issues that I experienced with Facebook - including my Facebook identitiy (using a pen name and confirming my identity to Facebook), and posting to Facebook groups. I recently had another 'tiff' (not the image format!) with Facebook - this time, regarding "boosting" Facebook posts.

Not knowing much about social networking, and Facebook, in particular, I thought that when someone posts on their Facebook "timeline", it would be shown to all those who are Friends (if the post is on a personal profile), or all those who are "Likers" (if the post is on a Facebook page. The Simone Freier Facebook page now has more than 4,000 Likes ... so I thought that my posts would be seen by this many people.

Then, I learned that Facebook (some time ago, perhaps a year or two?) stopped sending all posts to Friends/Likers, and now only sends a small fraction of those posts to your friends or likers. Who gets those posts? How does Facebook determine where the posts will be seen? Is someone (other than Facebook) able to decide exactly which 'group' of fans (in the case of a page) are actually delivered a specific post?

I can understand Facebook's concept of not sending all of the posts to your timeline from a Page you "Like" - as many of the Facebook Pages are commercial (e.g., famous artist, politician, brand, etc.), then perhaps they don't want to fill everyone's timelines with ads from the Pages they have liked. I do not know whether 'normal' posts on a personal profile are limited in this way, but my understanding is that they are: Only a small number of your Friends will see any given post that you make.

As you will recall (if you have read the prior parts of this series), I was forced to move from a personal profile to a Page - which Facebook says is more appropriate for someone advertising their products (e.g., books). So, I gave up my personal account, and converted it to a Facebook Page. That Page is where I can make announcements (e.g., new books released or promotional discounts being offered) to my "Fans" - i.e., those who have Liked the Page.

If you would like MORE of your fans to see your posts, Facebook offers to "Boost" your post(s). Here, the manager of the page can select a post to boost, and pay Facebook for each day that the post is boosted. Boosting is basically advertising: When someone with the proper characteristics is searching for something related, Facebook will serve them the boosted post (which they see as an ad, and can then click on it to see the full post and click on links within it - e.g., to purchase books).

The Page manager can select to boost the post to Likers of the Page, to Likers and their friends, or to an audience that meets certain characteristics - including location, gender, age range, and interests. The interests can be targeted very specifically - for example someone interested in "erotic novels", "spanking", "fetish", or "kink". The boost can be for a single day, or multiple days, and the amount to spend per day is specified (e.g., $5/day).

Over the past couple of months, I have boosted several of my posts - especially ones when I release a new book, or want people to see my entire series of books. A boost must have artwork, which has a specified maximum percentage of text, and meets other standards. Typically, my boosted posts have used the covers of my books, or the montage with 4 books or 5 books (in a single picture).

I still don't know how much 'boosting' Facebook posts helps to sell books ... but I certainly have seen a 'good' response to the post itself - in terms of the actions people take (clicks, likes, shares, etc.). For example, a recently boosted post was seen by 64 people "organically" - i.e., without advertising it, just based on the Likers of the Page; and also was seen by 3,304 people who I had targeted (not currently Likers of the Page).

The results from this specific boosted post were as follows: 24 post "Likes", 3 post "Shares", and 112 clicks on the link(s) in the post. The links sent the reader to the sales pages on Amazon, where they can purchase my books. That particular boost cost $20, which I spread over 4 days, at $5/day.

Whether this is a 'good' result or not I am not sure. Is it worth $20 to get 112 clicks on the sales links? As I make about $4/book, the boost would have to sell 5 books to break even, whch means that 4-5% of those clicking on the sales link would need to actuallly purchase the book. This seems like a relatively high percentage, as I believe that most people click out of curiousity, and not necessarily an immediate readiness to purchase.

So far, so good. HOWEVER, some of the posts that I've recently wanted to boost were NOT boosted, because Facebook 'determined' that the post (ad) did not meet its standards - in particular for the artwork. However, each time one of my posts is reviewed, I get a different reason why it is not acceptable:

- First time, they said there was more than 20% text in the image (titles, author name, etc.)

- Second time, they claimed the images were "overly sexual" (discussed below)

- Third time, they said it was about the "positioning" of the images/books/etc.

They suggested to change the image to avoid the above issues. However, these images were not selected at random: They are the actual covers of my books! And, they have already been shown in boosted posts at least 10 times in the past 2 months!

Among the Facebook 'standards' for posts is the following language: "Your ad wasn't approved because it violates Facebook's Ad Guidelines by featuring an image containing excessive amounts of skin or suggestive content. Facebook does not allow images that depict people in explicit or suggestive positions, or images that show nudity or cleavage--even if portrayed for artistic or educational reasons"

The images were of a girl, lying on her back, with her legs up. These were commercially licensed, and I have many versions of the image (taken during a single photo session with the same model), and can say that the model WAS wearing shorts and a top - she is NOT nude!

So, I debated this in several e-mails with Facebook. Following were some of my points:

1) There is nothing sexually suggestive about a girl with her feet up. She is clothes. Only her feet and arms (and top of head) are shown; the image is only 'sexual' to those with a dirty mind!

2) There is no way to ‘re-position’ the girl on the books: that is their covers

3) The positioning of the books is in a “fan” shape that purposely DOES NOT show any of the girl images completely (especially the one with legs apart)

4) As noted below, there is NOTHING “overly suggestive” or “sexually provocative” in the images - only a clothed girl, lying on her back, with her feet in the air

5) As noted below, Facebook has approved the same image 10 times over the past 2 months; the same image is now not being approved - for no logical reason

(the “positions” of the girl and the books are identical to the prior ads, as it is EXACTLY THE SAME image used)

6) Please explain further WHY you think the image is “sexually suggestive”; what kind of “sex” would be involved with a girl in that position? And clothed?

7) As I noted, the ad is TARGETED - only to people who have already shown an interest in “erotic novels”, “spanking”, and “medical fetish”

8) There are plenty of books advertised on Facebook showing MUCH more skin than our books; as noted below, even a running book shows more legs and skin than ours

9) Any “ads” placed will be too small to see ANYTHING in the images; if someone clicks them, then they WANT to see the images

10) Facebook evidently is getting into the book censorship business ... and not even based on the actual text of the book (which has no sex); you are judging the book only by its cover

11) [To the Facebook lady:] When you go to the beach - with children around - I would be willing to bet that you show that much skin (if you wear a bikini); there is nothing WRONG with this!

It would seem that the 'targeting' alone should solve the problem: I wanted the boosted post to target ONLY: women, between 25-60, who are interested in erotic novels, kink, spanking, and fetish. This population would obviously NOT be offended by the images! There is no cleavage shown. There is nothing remotely sexually suggestive (in my opinion). And - as noted above - there are many 'boosted' posts for books (e.g., running books) that "show more skin".

FINALLY, I tried using the image from the top of the Facebook page (i.e., the background image with my avatar in the lower left). This time, Facebook APPROVED the boost, even though it showed the exact same image (covers of books) in the background!

Overall, it is clear that Facebook's policy is arbitray, and is interpreted and enforced variously, depending on the Facebook representative reviewing the post. If the Facebook team cannot agree on what is 'acceptable', then how is anyone else supposed to design a post that will be approved?

And, WHO ARE THEY TRYING TO PROTECT? The boosted post will obviously not be sent to any children (minimum specified age of the boost is 25). It will ONLY be sent to people who have already expressed an interest in these subjects (erotic novels, spanking, fetish, kink). I really dout that any such people would be offended by the post!

Interestingly, I also tried boosting a post with only my original 'background' image - of a grove of trees in fog. This image was totally not representative of ANYTHING useful ... but it was approved. And, not only did the boost provide a lot of clicks, etc., I actuallly got quite a number of "Likes" of the stupid image that I used!

It is an 'art' to work with Facebook, and their arbitrary rules and variable interpretation makes it impossible for a 'real' business to advertise successfully; especially, when the images are of the product being sold. While some people may view my books as strictly "erotica", I have written them as "literary fiction": They are Way beyond just erotica, and talk about current social issues regarding relationships and sex. Evidently, Facebook doesn't care what the books are really about ... as long as the image meets their 'guidelines'.

It is clear that the members of the [young] Facebook team have dirty minds! They have rejected images where show no more skin than those same members of the team show when they go to the beach. I'm still awaiting an answer on "what kind of sex do you think that girl is having, with her legs up and together?" But I do not expect to receive any "answers" from Facebook.

I would be interested in hearing your feedback and personal tales of Facebook experiences in the comments, below.

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