True story. When I first started working at GunsAmerica in the summer of 2014, I was brought on board with the expectation that I would improve our social media presence. At that time, GunsAmerica wasn’t all that engaged on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Part of my job was to see what potential we could get out of these popular social media destinations.
However, there was one voice within the company that thought we should be circumspect with our social media engagement, and as it pertained to Facebook specifically, that we should stay off of the social network because it was a complete waste of time and energy. That man was GunsAmerica founder and owner Paul Helinski.
Though it may not seem like it now, back in 2014 that was quite a radical position. Every gun manufacturer, gun-rights organization and gun blog was on Facebook, using it as a tool to communicate with fans, drive traffic to homepages and keep up with peers within the industry. Facebook, it appeared, was here to stay. Everyone was doing it. Everyone.
Since GunsAmerica is a sorta quasi-democracy (EXECUTIVE EDITOR NOTE: The f**k it is! I just didn’t feel like arguing incessantly and I knew that I would say I told you so down the road.), we overruled Paul’s recommendation and went ahead and started Facebooking. On a bi-hourly basis, I started running content on the GunsAmerica Facebook page. Every day, seven days a week. Early on, we had some success. Some of our reviews, columns, discussions, news stories went viral. We were getting traffic to our website that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. But quickly things started to change. It soon became harder and harder to engage with our Facebook fanbase.
What was starting to become clear is that Facebook now wanted businesses to pay for “reach.” In other words, if you have 43,000 Facebook fans (like we do), when we publish a post, it may reach 1,000. To “reach” more of those fans, GunsAmerica would have to pay for it. It wasn’t huge money, like you can (what they call) “boost” a post for $10-20 but still instead of reaching all 43,000, you may only reach 4,000-8,000. Now, you can see how that can get pricey. Running 50-plus articles a week on Facebook could cost you an addition $500-$1000 in promotional expenses, aka “boosting.”
A quick sidebar on Facebook terminology, reach is the number of people that see your post, but not the number of people who actually click on it. That number is way lower. So, you may reach 1,000, users but maybe you’ll get 10 percent or 100 to actually click on the article. Clicks are obviously what matters. There is no guarantee that if you boost a post you’ll get a proportionally greater number of clicks.
I think we experimented with boosting posts and ultimately determined it wasn’t worth the money. We decided we’d continue to Facebook, but strictly in an organic fashion. Whatever traffic came from posting articles on our page, we’d live with. We wouldn’t be lining Zuckerberg’s pockets to get clicks from our Facebook readership.
I’m sure we weren’t the only gun blog or gun-centric business to come to that conclusion. However, for us, it was an easy decision to make because only a tiny fraction of our traffic comes from Facebook. For other websites, those who invested a lot of time and money into building up their Facebook audience, thus creating a situation where a large percentage of their traffic was coming in via Facebook (I’ve heard rumblings of as much as 60-70 percent), I’m sure the decision was much harder. Some probably ended up promoting — ultimately spending big bucks — to maintain traffic while others probably just decided to cut their losses and take what they could get organically.
Back in February 2016, however, things got decidedly worse on Facebook for the gun industry. Facebook started to suppress posts for a bunch of different websites, including Concealed Nation, The Truth About Guns, Gun Owners of America, USA Carry, among others.
This week, those websites joined forces and put out a press release announcing that Facebook was suppressing news distribution. The coalition says that Facebook has penalized them because users allegedly flagged their content. Subsequent inquiries to further explain the penalties have gone unanswered, as have repeated requests to remove them. But Facebook has offered to show them a free seminar on how to increase traffic with the penalties in place (I guess that’s adding insult to injury).
“We have over 700,000 likes on our Facebook page and tremendous reader response to our material,” said Brandon Curtis, publisher of Concealed Nation, in the press release. “We didn’t change a thing about the way we post. In February, our Facebook traffic fell off a cliff. It sank by nearly 50 percent in that first month.”
The gun-related publishers are currently asking other industry websites to check their reach and engagement for 2016 and report their findings to fbgunfail.com. They want to determine the extent of the suppression as well as the revenue lost because of it.
“Facebook is an invaluable resource for Second Amendment supporters trying to spread the message of responsible gun ownership,” Curtis says. “We’re asking Facebook to remove any penalties on the affected pages, and to create a process that prevents this type of thing from happening again, including a notification system that would notify page owners whose posts are being suppressed. Our readers enjoy and want our content, and it’s frustrating that they are no longer seeing what we post.”
Now here is where my story comes full circle. Paul saw this coming. He knew that Facebook would, either through its corporate greed or its anti-gun establishment, eventually put the squeeze on the gun industry. He warned us not to waste time on a network that was scheming to provide websites readers only to monetize that relationship later on. In a way, Facebook was like a drug dealer handing out free meth in the form of readers. Once everyone got hooked on the free crank, and had abandoned or neglected other ways to generate traffic, it was over. Facebook had them by the short and curlies. They needed Facebook to get their fix. And that’s where we are today. Paul was right.
I feel for those who’ve been affected by the Facebook suppression. In fact, on a personal note, I’m a fan of all those websites. But now is the time to tell it like it is. Guys, my friends and peers within the industry, Facebook is as good as dead for gun-related websites. Things are never going back to the way they were. It’s time to move on.
(EXECUTIVE EDITOR NOTE, AGAIN: This is not about gun freedom. It is about money, like everything else. Facebook relies on advertising to prop up its stock price, and when you give a lot of exposure away free, people will be much less inclined to advertise. We are in the heart of an enormous recession/depression, and money is drying up. Facebook, and everyone else, is going to reward who spends money with them, and nobody else.
I am a casual user of Facebook, and I noticed several months ago that nearly all of my subscribed pages dropped out of my feed. The only ones that come up for me are pages that I recently interacted with. Remember that fact, because I am going to come back to it.
The lead website in question here is one that I saw come onto the scene only several years ago, since the ’08 Obama boom. Back in 2012, at the SHOT Show, I had a chance to meet the owner, who came to my booth to try to sell me advertising. I saw his numbers, and they were great, but the content on his site was crap, mostly just click bait.
It just so happened that year that I got into a tizzy with some gun bloggers about Media Day at the Range. Our industry was fairly new to the internet, and they had overcompensated for a late start by inviting everyone who had a website with anything written about it on guns into SHOT Show, and into Range Day. It was a disaster. The manufacturers ran out of ammo, because guys shooting their “coverage” on iPhones ate it all up. We covered range day with a crew of 4 people, and it cost us thousands of dollars. The next year, because of my posts, Range Day was dramatically altered to allow in only writers and videographers in whom the manufacturers found value. Behind the scenes I was thanked over 20 times, with no exaggeration.
So back to the story. The guy comes to my booth to sell me advertising, and in the process, feels the need to prove he is smarter than me, so he explains how and why he started his website. Turns out he had registered a bunch of domains, or such was his story, all with the same kitchy phrase, and one of them happened to be about guns. After the ’08 Obama explosion in gun sales, this was the domain that took off, because he had brought in an anti-gun ranter to offer a contradictory opinion, and that had generated some buzz for him.
When we spoke, we discussed the broohaha that I had managed to create over Range Day. He said he was going to a blogger meetup later, and that maybe I should come visit and explain that I wasn’t talking about the real bloggers in my attack on the free for all that had become Range Day, even though a few of them were shooting on Iphones coverage that would never see the light of electrons outside their memory card.
I didn’t buy his advertising. He didn’t answer my texts. But instead he posted an article that I thought bloggers all suck. I kept to myself his comment “You know if that guy (meaning the anti-gun guy) didn’t show up on his own, I would have had to create him myself.”
Fast forward to now. I have been explaining to industry people for years that eventually the websites that had built a following on dufus posts would eventually crash and burn, because they were relying on Facebook. Facebook eventually had to throttle back pages that weren’t spending real money with them. 2+2 always = 4.
Gun people aren’t dufuses. We all can get baited into clicking something controversial, but when you click, if you don’t find something that genuinely entertains you, or educates you, or stimulates your thinking, or has a really nice rack, you just aren’t going to repeatedly click on the dufus headline. A churn on Facebook will give you new eyeballs, but now that Facebook is taking their bottom line seriously, the free ride for dufus posts is over.
So that website does have a few interesting thinkers that he has taken advantage of to build his following. But for the most part, I have seen little but fluff. Contrast that with The Firearms Blog that always has a great eye for what gun people are really interested in, because lo and behold, the guy who runs that is an actual gun guy, even though he lives in New Zealand and can’t own most of the stuff.
My take on this Facebook story is that it was manufactured for free publicity. It got some, but it won’t be enough to stop the collapse of a couple websites that never should have received the traffic they got in the first place. I didn’t even get into the story about the other one. He tried to sell me the domain back in 2009 (I remember because I was in Hawaii for my brother’s wedding while talking to him). The moral of the story is that websites that post useless content ultimately fail, especially using Facebook, because Facebook only gives free exposure for what you “like”.
Don’t believe every story you read that plays on your 2A defense mechanism. Most of the world is about money. Sure, the oligarchs would love to take away our guns. Why would they want the serfs to be armed? If you were an oligarch would you want the serfs to be armed? Anyway…. -ph)