Yoga Business

Goodbye Facebook

Letting go of what no longer serves you

We the people working at YogaTrail fell out of love with Facebook quite a while ago, both as company employees and as ordinary people. It’s time to break up.

This week, we removed all aspects of YogaTrail’s Facebook integration, and we also deleted the YogaTrail Facebook page. For our users, this means: no more logging in or signing up with Facebook. And no more Facebook sharing or ‘like’ buttons.

Zuckerberg unhappyMark Zuckerberg has been on the hot seat, answering a lot of questions in the US Congress this month. But the latest scandal involving the leaking of personal data from millions of people to companies like Cambridge Analytica is just the tip of an iceberg of privacy problems, and we feel that it’s no longer responsible for us to support Facebook.

However, it would be somewhat disingenuous for us to righteously claim that our only motivation was “moral outrage about privacy for our users” — because in truth, Facebook has many other shortcomings, and our actions are not purely altruistic.

The following is an honest and detailed explanation for our decision, which perhaps will also provide a little inspiration for yogis to examine their own relationship with Facebook (and social media in general).

Whether it’s for business or in our personal lives, we are big believers in the mantra: ‘let go of what no longer serves you’. Facebook no longer does.

YogaTrail on Facebook

In the beginning, Facebook was great.

When YogaTrail launched in 2013, we setup a YogaTrail Facebook page so as to have an “official” presence there (and on all the other social media channels, too, with accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, GooglePlus, LinkedIn, AngelList, Youtube… you name it).

Back then, having a Facebook page was a no-brainer for any business or organisation. Not only because everyone was on Facebook, but because it genuinely seemed to be a great way to connect with the yoga community. Since our own YogaTrail Messenger didn’t exist yet, Facebook made it easy to have conversations with lots of different yogis around the world.

And Facebook was fun for us personally, too. Team YogaTrail is a collection of human beings and, like 2 billion other people on the planet, we each had a personal Facebook account in those days, too. It was super nice to keep up with friends and family, to re-connect with people from the past, and to discover interesting events and happenings.

But then things soured.

First, the Facebook algorithm kept changing to reduce the organic reach for Facebook Pages, which meant fewer and fewer people were seeing anything we posted. Starting in 2015, if we wanted anyone to see our content on Facebook, we would have to pay money to ‘promote’ it.

Well, paying to reach people makes sense for certain kinds of brands (the ones that just need to advertise products for sale)… but YogaTrail isn’t that kind of company. So we stopped minding our Page.

When we quietly deleted the YogaTrail Facebook page last week, none of our 100,000+ ‘fans’ even noticed (as far as we can tell), which confirmed what we already knew: Facebook today is totally ineffective when it comes to communicating with clients, users, or the general public. Of course, most businesses who track the results of their marketing efforts will know this already. Sadly, we know that many yoga teachers and studios are not yet fully wise to this reality, but that’s for another post.

As a quick aside, we also shut down our presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and GooglePlus — ’cause none of these social media networks were serving us in any measurable way. Sometimes it feels great to declutter, doesn’t it?

The second thing that happened is that the Facebook experience changed for us on a personal level. More and more, it became a noisy, somewhat creepy and unhappy thing.

For full disclosure, the YogaTrail founders deactivated their personal Facebook accounts nearly two years ago, more or less at the same time. For some of us, it was just about cutting out noise and distractions; for others, Facebook had become a real irritation and even a source stress (this was around the time the US presidential election really got underway, remember what that was like?).

Anxiety, stress, and depression…Facebook’s effects on mental health are well documented by now. They’re not good! And since many people get into yoga or meditation because they hope to reduce stress and anxiety, we feel that a Facebook addiction can be an especially tragic thing for yogis.

“Addiction”, you say? Absolutely. From its inception, Facebook was designed to be addictive, and of course its business model demands that it maximizes ‘user engagement’ and the time that people spend on it — and the social network does this really, really well.

Now this may sound crazy, but nowadays the complex algorithm that decides what content is shown to individual users is controlled by Facebook’s AI (artificial intelligence) in ways that may not even be understood anymore by the engineers that built it. The program uses massive amounts of personal data (several Gigabytes per person) to (quite accurately) predict an individual’s behaviour and reactions to things. And the algorithm has apparently figured out it can grab more time and attention from Facebook users by actively promoting emotions like anger and fear. Unbelievable? See here.

At any rate, for us, quitting Facebook didn’t produce any withdrawal symptoms, it only brought increased serenity, clarity and an improved ability to focus and be productive. Along with dramatically higher levels of general happiness.

Facebook on YogaTrail

Again, in the beginning, Facebook was great.

When we started building YogaTrail, we thought about lots of different ways to grow. That not only meant directly reaching out to people (i.e. marketing), but also engineering things to be smooth and easy for users to sign up, and making it as simple as possible for our members to spread the word and invite others to join.

At the time, virtually every website had ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons everywhere and on every page, buttons which were conveniently and freely available from Facebook. Facebook also provided tools and plugins for websites to make login and signup ridiculously easy — so you could just click “connect with Facebook”, without having to type in an email address, and with no password to remember.

It seemed like a great idea to incorporate all these things on YogaTrail. Social signup? “Totally! Soon all users will be demanding it!”, we thought. Buttons for sharing and liking? “Of course, why not? Everybody else is doing it. We can show off some ‘social proof’ with like-counters, and we might be sending mysterious signals to search engines that will help us to rank higher”. Back in 2013, Facebook would even inform your ‘friends’ when you liked something somewhere, in their Facebook Newsfeed. So Facebook could be an amazing engine for driving viral growth of the YogaTrail network.

We even went so far as to build some Facebook Applications. Yoga Poses started out as one of those, and we also created apps that allowed yoga professionals to display their class schedules on their Facebook pages in “tabs”.

But here too things soured.

Believe it or not, the number of people sharing anything on Facebook today is roughly a third of what it was in 2015 (this isn’t just for YogaTrail, but for all content on the internet). And of course, every share gets seen by fewer and fewer people in their Facebook feed because there simply an overload of posts and ‘friend connections’… which all means that Facebook is bringing fewer and fewer visitors to websites.

Fact: Facebook has been drastically declining as a source of traffic for websites worldwide since July 2016.

This is happening even though more companies are spending more and more money to drive people to their website via Facebook ads and promotions (over $40 billion last year, nearly double from the year before). If you don’t count visits coming from paid ads, Facebook traffic can be unimpressive.

Want some stats? In 2017, only 12% of news publishers’ traffic came from Facebook, drastically down from previous years. But wouldn’t you think that news publishers have some of the most shareable content? As for YogaTrail: the visits coming from social media at the time of this writing amount to less than 2.5% of our total traffic. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a trickle — despite the fact that thousands of yoga teachers and studios are actively sharing their YogaTrail class schedules and events!

As for our apps & widgets: unfortunately, just as we had made them, Facebook apps died back in 2014 when “tabs” were effectively hidden on Pages. And on mobile phones, where over 90% of Facebook usage happens, such tabs are not even supported, which is kind of a show-stopper. The reality is that today nobody ever visits tabs on Facebook pages. When was the last time you did?

To the many thousands of teachers on YogaTrail who have installed YogaTrail apps on their Facebook Pages: it breaks our heart to have encouraged you to do that… we’re really sorry.

Facebook SignupAnd what about the gains we presumably enjoyed using Facebook login/signup tools? Well, we actually removed the “fresh signup” version many weeks ago (so existing users could still log in with Facebook, but fresh users didn’t see that option). The result: we haven’t seen any negative effect on the signup conversion rates with the Facebook option missing. Maybe there’s even been a slight increase.

In summary, Facebook’s contribution to our growth was not very important, and what was left of it was dying.

What’s also interesting is that our ‘engagement metrics’ show that yogis who’ve connected their account with Facebook are 30% less likely to have used YogaTrail in the last 30 days when compared with users who came in via the traditional email signup form. That’s a huge difference. Maybe it’s because people who log in to places using Facebook are just a little more lazy… or it could be something worse… like: we may not be able to reach these people.

A theory: because Facebook has been around for several years, many people signed up to Facebook with email addresses that are actually no longer working. That in turn means that YogaTrail notifications are not reaching these users, and a lot of them have probably forgotten that YogaTrail exists. Maybe that’s no big deal for yoga practitioners, surely they’ll survive. But for a yoga teacher, it’s a small tragedy when they miss an inquiry from a potential new client about private lessons or an upcoming retreat, because the notification is never delivered.

Lastly, we also considered the cost of all the extra work that’s required to keep every Facebook plugin, app and tool up-to-date and running. It was just slowing us down.

So you see, Facebook wasn’t giving us (and our users) very much. But what was it taking?

Your Privacy

Facebook PrivacyTo start off his section, we want to state very clearly that YogaTrail is not in the business of ‘data’. It’s not an ad network, and it doesn’t work with other ad networks. We don’t collect information about our users and visitors other than what we need to deliver a good experience and a functioning platform. Having said that:

  • We do observe how people move around YogaTrail to better understand what people really want, so we can hopefully deliver whatever that is. For example, when someone visits a yoga teachers’ profile and decides to follow them, we track where the person came from and how they found that teacher. This might help us to make changes to YogaTrail to make it easier for people to find yoga teachers.
  • We also use ‘cookies’ (little bits of code stored in your browser) that keep you logged in after you signup or log in to YogaTrail. These enable you to go to different pages like your dashboard or Class Guru without having to log in again and again, on every page you visit. Such cookies are required for YogaTrail to function.

That’s the extent of our data collection and tracking.

We don’t care about people’s browsing habits, search habits, shopping habits… we also don’t care who their friends are, what income they earn, what their non-yoga related interests are, etc. YogaTrail doesn’t follow people around the internet or collect data about them in other places or in other ways.

And we never, ever share any user data with any other companies or 3rd parties… or so we thought.

Well, you might have heard that on May 25th, new European data protection regulations go into effect for all websites and applications that cater to Europeans (i.e. pretty much all websites). Known as the GDPR, these rules will set a new standard for consumer rights and data protection, and they give control back to the people over their personal data. We actually think these regulations are great and should apply to US and other non-EU citizens, too!

Anyway, in the process of getting ready and making sure we comply with all the new rules, we’ve been deep-diving into our code, auditing our data collection and storage practices, and doing some research on the various plugins and 3rd party tools we use on YogaTrail.

Turns out that through some of these tools, we unwittingly could be making it easy for people to compromise their privacy. And it’s not OK; YogaTrail is no longer willing to help various mega-corporations to get your data, especially when they’re not even careful with it or transparent about it. So we’re taking steps.

Yes, we’re well aware that Facebook is not the only company that greedily gobbles up personal data wherever it can (Google goes far beyond Facebook and has ~10 times more info on everyone, on average). However, on YogaTrail, our Facebook integration played the most prominent role in the overall problem.

So what is the problem?

For one thing, we just don’t feel right. We don’t want to supply Facebook with information about your love of yoga or your yoga style preferences. We also hate to imagine that people could think that we did something naughty to their computer when, shortly after visiting YogaTrail, they see an ad for a yoga mat on their Facebook feed. Why should we help Facebook collect more information about YogaTrail members who happen to be Facebook users?

Ah. But it’s not just about YogaTrail members. And it’s not just about Facebook users. It’s about everyone.

You’re not the customer, you’re the product ~ Andrew Lewis

Did you know that any web page with a Facebook ‘like’ or ‘share’ button calls code from Facebook that tracks all visitors to the page — even if they don’t click the Facebook buttons, and even if they’re logged out of Facebook, and even if they don’t even have a Facebook account? With their innocuous and ubiquitous ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons, Facebook has been following you all around the internet since 2010.

Well at least YogaTrail is a blind spot for Facebook now.

Similarly, as you may have guessed, Facebook collects data on you via buttons for their signup/login plugins. But these are worse, because when you use them, you authorize a ton of your personal data to be sucked out in the process (such as name, email address, age, gender, location and profile picture — and with a few extra permissions, a lot more than that. Like a list of all your friends).

In theory, this info only gets collected by the website where the plugins are installed (in this case, YogaTrail), and you presumably trust the site. But in practice, it’s possible for other 3rd party plugins to run scripts on the particular site to gain access to this Facebook data. While we’re pretty sure that no such code was ever running on YogaTrail, this kind of thing is happening all the time (and right now) on a lot of “trusted” and well-known websites. Scary, eh?

No Hard Feelings, Facebook

Now you know many of the reasons why we’ve broken off the relationship. Here are some non-reasons:

It’s not about ‘punishing’ Facebook for anything bad that they’ve done, nor is it about ‘sending them a message’ of some sort. YogaTrail is roughly 10,000 times smaller than Facebook, and they will probably survive our divorce (if they even notice it).

It’s also not about adding our weight to any public pressure that might be building to get Facebook to change as a company. Because it can’t. Facebook needs to do what it does because of its chosen business model.  It’s not “evil”, and Mark Zuckerberg along with all the other Facebook executives have a duty to their shareholders to be as successful as possible.

It’s elementary, my dear Watson: Facebook makes money when you click on ads. Since they can serve you better targeted ads by learning more about you, and since they can serve you more ads by getting you to spend more time on Facebook… it follows that it can only achieve the greatest success by collecting as much information about you as possible and by getting you addicted to Facebook. It really has no choice, and it’s not their fault.

We’re grateful

Early on in YogaTrail’s life, we chose not to pursue an ad-supported business model. We now feel very lucky about having made that decision, as Facebook has shown us where this can lead in the extremes. We’re very grateful that we’re not tasked with figuring out how to consume the maximum amount of people’s time while collecting all their personal information. That definitely would make it much harder to get up in the morning!

In fact, while social media platforms like Facebook try to get their users to spend as much time as possible in their product, YogaTrail kind of has the opposite challenge: how to get people to spend as little time on YogaTrail as possible. Both yoga providers and yoga students are better served that way:

  • yoga professionals: if you can manage your schedule, communicate with your people, and get some marketing done without having spent hours in front of a computer, we’ve done our job well. And you can focus more on the yoga teaching.
  • yoga practitioners: get a quick, easy and complete overview of what’s coming up in your personal yoga world… and then get on with your life (back to Facebook to see if you missed something? Just kidding!). The quicker we can get you on your way, the more value we’ve delivered.

Facebook also deserves credit for providing a lot of inspiration behind YogaTrail. As avid yogis ourselves, we saw that most yoga teachers out there were using social media (mainly Facebook, but also Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest) to post their class schedules and to communicate with their tribe. Even today, for many them, it’s their only internet presence!

But the noisy, superficial and unreliable nature of social media makes it ill-suited for communicating critical updates (like when class is cancelled), nor does it work for yogis to figure out when and where their next yoga class is happening. This state of affairs is basically why we created YogaTrail.

YogaTrail is not social media. It’s a single purpose platform to serve the yoga community by helping yoga providers to manage their business and by keeping yogis in the loop with their teachers and studios. It’s about planning your practice and upcoming yoga events, rather than endless scrolling through listicles, inspirational quotes, random “news” and never-ending selfies.

Now what about you?

Maybe we’re lucky to be old enough to remember a world before Facebook (heck, even a world before mobile phones and the internet). Paradoxically, even though we’re founders at an internet startup company, our lives are not driven by technology. We value the health of our minds, and our privacy — and we value yours too.

If you use Facebook on a personal level, you’ve surely thought about what is being done with the information you share, and about how the excessive use of social media could be changing your own thought patterns and influencing the ways you interact with the world. That’s all your decision, and we neither condone nor judge!

But if you haven’t given it too much thought and you’ve got 15 minutes to spare, here’s an excellent TED talk:

How about doing a small experiment where you abstain from social media for a little while — maybe just a day, or even a week? But be careful… it might change your life! Here’s what could happen to you:

Now if you use Facebook on a professional level, as a yoga teacher or studio owner, you probably think that social media is something you have to do for your business. Perhaps you’ve read various articles about why it’s so important, and how to do it properly, and what the optimal post frequency is or what time of day works best…

Well, we encourage you to pause and examine why and how you’re using Facebook for your business. Is it really working for you? Or do you hang on to it mainly because you spent so much time and energy building up your page, collecting likes and followers, and you now have a strong emotional attachment to what you’ve created?

Does the thought of a Facebook divorce produce anxiety and raise some FOMO (fear of missing out)? If so, we totally understand, having been there ourselves.

You could try the following: don’t post on your Facebook page for two weeks, just to see what happens. Does anyone notice or comment on it? Does your business decrease in any way? Do fewer people come to class? We’d love to hear from you, let us know here.

Some think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it’s letting go.  ~ Herman Hesse

 

 

 

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Alex Klein

Co-founder & CEO at @YogaTrail. Entrepreneur, physicist, gymnast.
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