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Facebook “Followers” vs. “Subscribers”: What’s in a Name?

January 10, 2013 - 18:41:02 by
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followers-wanted-resized-600In September 2011 Facebook launched the ability for people to “Subscribe” to public posts from other Facebook users.

At the time, I thought the move was a reaction to the quick popularity of Google+. On G+ you could “Circle” (follow) someone’s public posts without having to connect with them in a personal manner — meaning I didn’t have to let you see all the pics of my kids, where I check-in, etc.

When FB launched their “subscribe” functionality, they completely changed their purpose and focus. Before “subscribe”, the only way to connect to people was (1) to become “Friends” with them (and expose all your personal info to them), or (2) spend hours putting everyone in lists and then excluding certain lists.

For marketers, business leaders and “popular” people with tons of friends, this is nearly impossible — and could be risky.

Too many friends!

I know a lot of people who quickly maxed out their 5,000 friend limit — instantly barring anyone else on FB from interacting with them. But by allowing people to subscribe to updates, Facebook quickly stole eyes from Twitter and G+.

Instead of having to answer 2000+ friend requests, I could simply allow people to subscribe to my public updates and then keep my personal information, pics of my kids, etc. private. And I could limit the people I “friend” to the people I’ve actually met in person and know — or the people I’ve known online for a long time and trust.

Fast forward to today

After a year of allowing people to subscribe to profiles, Facebook has now changed the terms “Subscribe/Subscribers” to “Follow/Followers” — see the before and after image below:

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While the change is a subtle one and doesn’t change any functionality, I think it’s a significant mental shift for users. When you subscribe to something, you’re giving that site, app, business, etc. permission to push content to you.

For example, if you subscribe to our blog you’re telling us you want emails from us. In a way, this means that in a “subscription” dynamic, the one in control of the relationship is the one being subscribed to.

Whereas when you follow something or someone, it’s up to the follower to control the interaction and delivery of the content. Twitter for example has always called it Followers. But if I want to see the content of someone I follow I have to go seek it out, it doesn’t drop into my lap. I’m in control, not the person I follow.

“Subscribe” = spam?

Plus to me, the word “subscribe” has negative connotations because of so many sites you end up opting into and getting hit with spam:

Subscribe to get our free crap and then get 100 emails per week from us!

That’s the sort of thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “Subscribe” — at least as it relates to the online and social media world.

It also makes you wonder if Facebook is working on a feature perhaps that is a “Pay to Subscribe” down the road so maybe this is why the change occurred?

Overall though, I love the feature whether it’s called Subscribe or Follow. As it has allowed me to let others follow my public rants while still keeping my friends and family semi-protected.

A few side notes… Did you know:

  • when someone makes a friend request of you, they automatically become a follower of your public updates
  • when you un-friend someone, they still stay connected as a follower

Often times I do not even answer friend requests because I know the person is now simply Subscribing..err.. Following me!

How to turn it on

If you want to find out how to turn on or off the ability to allow people to “Follow” you on Facebook go here. And feel free to follow me on Facebook while you’re at it!

What is your thought on this change? Do you like Subscribe or Follow more?

Sound off in the comments below.

About the Author:

Co-author of Facebook All-In-One for Dummies and "Ambassador of Awesome" at Post Planner, Scott became addicted to social media before even MySpace (the first time around!). Any given day he spends 20+ hours on Facebook! He's been married for 20 years and has 3 kiddos who are his world! Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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