Dear Facebook: Please Clean Up the Mess

When Facebook recently changed the functionality of its Pages, I was optimistic. Features I’d long been waiting for as an admin of the University of Michigan-Flint Facebook Page were finally available to me. I had the ability to use Facebook as a Page, allowing me to comment and interact with users as UM-Flint instead of myself. Most importantly, I was finally going to receive email notifications of Page activity. What I didn’t fully understand, at least not immediately, was the price I would pay for this shiny, new functionality. With these new features came a Wall post filter that makes it nearly impossible for users to interact with each other in predictable or productive ways. Add to that the inconsistency and unreliability of admin email notifications, and you have a redesigned, shiny, new mess.

The Mess That’s Been Made of the Page Wall

In the good old days, the Wall on the University of Michigan-Flint’s Facebook Page was a place where students, organizations, and departments could post information or questions for others in the UM-Flint community. By default, users would see a stream of posts with the most recent at the top. UM-Flint’s posts and its users’ posts were mixed and equally visible. Facebook was a tool used the way effective social media applications should be. It was social.

Today, it is virtually impossible for users to participate in the UM-Flint community dialog in the same way. Pages are given two options for Wall view: “Everyone,” or only the Page’s posts. According to Facebook, “When viewing a Page Wall with the ‘Everyone’ filter on, the most engaging posts will appear at the top. These might include your friends’ posts on the Page, other posts by people, or posts by the Page.” The algorithm used for determining which posts are most engaging is not clear. However, if we set our Wall filter to “Everyone,” we do know that:

  • No two users will see the same thing when they visit our Page Wall.
  • The most recent and potentially most important posts made by UM-Flint might be buried in users’ Wall feeds if their friends have posted things on the page, or if other posts have received a lot of comments and/or likes.
  • Posts made by student organizations or campus departments hoping to share information may never be seen.

By clicking “Admin View” on a Page, I am able to view all posts made by UM-Flint and others in reverse chronological order. Users are not given this option. For fear that pertinent announcements might be missed with the “Everyone” filter, the UM-Flint Page Wall view was set to show only posts by UM-Flint. Users can click “Everyone” to see everything else, but in an unpredictable order. There is no way for me to know if students will see the link for making Presidents’ Ball Award nominations, or the post from a student asking for class recommendations. The decision to change the Wall filter was not made lightly. I worry that highlighting only UM-Flint’s posts diminishes the social value of the Page. But we have to be sure that important information is immediately visible as well.

As a (perhaps the) social network, should Facebook be forcing us to choose between sharing information and encouraging social connection?

Messy Email Notifications

It was a promise that I so willingly believed: email notifications of Page activity. Imagine! No more nights of refreshing the UM-Flint Facebook Page repeatedly to check for questions or comments. Email notifications are an option for Page admins and can be turned off. I, for one, welcomed each and every new email. How was I to know when I stopped receiving them consistently? The short answer is that I didn’t know. On a night when the UM-Flint Page received over 70 comments, I received not one email from Facebook.

Winter weather can very directly affect a university’s social media activity. Understandably, students look to outlets such as Facebook and Twitter for information about class cancellation, activity scheduling, and more. On Monday, February 21, the University of Michigan-Flint had canceled classes due to inclement weather. The decision to reopen and hold classes on Wednesday, February 22 was posted on the UM-Flint Facebook Page at 8:22 p.m. Tuesday. Typically, after posting closure/reopening information, I would spend my evening watching the Page for questions and comments. Instead, I put my smartphone in my lap and checked frequently for emails.

At 10:45 p.m., I casually visited the UM-Flint Facebook Page before shutting down my computer for the night. I was shocked. Since the last post at 8:22 p.m., there had been over 70 comments. I had not received one email notification from Facebook. In fact, as I write this on the afternoon of February 22, I still have not received an email notification for UM-Flint Page activity.

How is it that a status update can receive a total of 117 comments and an admin doesn’t receive even one email notification? Other UM-Flint Page admins received a handful of notifications, but no one received notification of all activity. Luckily, I am not the only admin who watches the UM-Flint Page. But what if I was? I’ve spoken to colleagues at other universities, and this isn’t only happening to us.

Dear Facebook: Please Clean Up the Mess

I cannot fathom the manpower that must go into every change and upgrade to Facebook. I’m not so unreasonable that I can’t accept a hiccup here and there when transition takes place. However, bugs like hit-or-miss email notifications threaten the responsiveness of a brand. A Wall filter that limits user interaction is more than just a bug, and in this case seems intentional.

I ask you, Facebook: Please revisit the recent modifications to Page Walls. If nothing else, provide some more concrete information about how the Wall view is rendered. Do you have suggestions for how we might optimize the new format? And please, please work out the kinks in the Page email notification system. I am so very grateful for the impending option. I would love to be able to count on it. I’m certain that I’m not alone.