Maybe you’ve noticed, the Ghosts of North Dakota Facebook page is missing. What happened, and when will it be back? Your guess is as good as mine, but if you’re interested in the story of what happened, please read on.
We started our Facebook page in 2009, and it was an immediate hit. People just like you flocked to it, and in the first year we had over 30,000 followers. By 2014, the count was more than 100,000, and just before the page disappeared, the tally of followers was nearly 120,000.
If you’ve followed Ghosts of North Dakota on Facebook for any length of time, you know we frequently liked to use that page to post updates while we drove the back roads of North Dakota in search of another cool place to photograph. You got to follow along. We sometimes encountered problems, however, when we would post a photo of an abandoned place, and for some reason, the post would go on one of our personal Facebook profiles instead of our Ghosts of North Dakota Facebook page. So, I appointed a third admin for our page, my wife, Rebecca. While we were on the road, Rebecca could fix any screw-ups for us, and she could respond to questions and comments, too. It worked great.
This past Monday, however, on the same day as the 2017 solar eclipse, we woke up to a surprise. We (the three admins, myself, Terry, and Rebecca) woke up to emails in our inbox informing us that we had been removed as admins of our own Facebook pages. Rebecca is a British royal history buff, and she discovered that her Facebook pages had been taken over and either deleted or unpublished, and our Ghosts of North Dakota page, too. Somehow, hackers had accessed her account, and using her admin privileges, had removed all of us as admins, and took over our pages.
It has now been three days, and despite more than a dozen messages to Facebook, a message to Mark Zuckerberg, and several hack reports, we have yet to get a single response from Facebook. I suppose it’s understandable since Facebook has two billion users and a woefully inadequate customer support workforce, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. As of now, we do not have a Facebook page, and our 119,000-plus followers are gone.
When will we get it back? Will we get it back at all? I wish I could say, but there’s been no response from Facebook, so I don’t know. The question that’s on my mind tonight is, do we really want/need it back?
Our Facebook page is what made Ghosts of North Dakota one of the most-visited North Dakota-oriented destinations on the web. The Facebook page is what made our first book possible, due to our ability to reach people just like you, who were passionate about North Dakota, and generously gave your hard-earned dollars to our Kickstarter campaign to fund the first book. And the profits from that first book turned into three more books. Facebook made it possible.
However, in 2014, things changed. Facebook implemented a new algorithm which made it nearly impossible for our updates to reach you unless we agreed to pay to promote our posts. People started to come around, asking “Why don’t I see your updates in my Facebook feed anymore?” And the answer was, “Because they want us to pay to reach you.” We spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads to make sure that, when we came home with hundreds of photos, we could post them on our website and then make you aware of it by posting an update on Facebook. Despite all the dollars spent on ads and promotion, our reach kept dropping and dropping. At one time, I was able to employ myself as part of the Ghosts of North Dakota project, designing new books, researching new destinations, and planning new trips, but that all ended when Facebook laid their new algorithm on us. Our website traffic dropped by more than half, and the book sales revenue that we counted on to fund our trips and fund new books dropped by 75%. It’s something I wrote about previously (you can read it here) but never shared with the Ghosts of North Dakota audience because frankly, it’s embarrassing to admit that your business that was once on a rocket ride is failing because of something as silly as a social media algorithm. I had to stop paying myself and go back to work.
So, as of now, I am again working in my former field, and Terry and I have returned to treating the Ghosts of North Dakota project as a hobby instead of a job, which means fewer updates, fewer photos, and fewer books.
I tell you all this because I want you to understand where Ghosts of North Dakota is right now… at a crossroads. Without our Facebook page, there will surely not be a new Ghosts of North Dakota book any time soon, but even with the page, there was no guarantee, either. So, I guess we’re asking for your patience while we figure this out, and also your feedback on what you think we should do. Do we continue to wait for a response from Facebook that might never come? (We have read accounts by other Facebook page operators who never got their page back). Do we start a new Facebook page and try to rebuild a following that, taking into account Facebook’s algorithm and our lack of funds for ads, will take 10 years to rebuild? Do we say “to hell with it,” and just forget about Facebook altogether? Would you still follow Ghosts of North Dakota if we chose to use Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and our email updates to keep you updated?
Please let us know your thoughts in the comments. And it goes without saying, now more than ever, if you haven’t subscribed to email notifications, please do. We’ll only email you when we have new content to share.
UPDATE: The hackers recently put the Facebook page back online, changed the phone number, and listed themselves as a “Public Figure” from Amman, Jordan. A copyright infringement report has been filed with Facebook. We would recommend you refrain from interacting with the page until it is back in our control.
Update 2: Ghosts of North Dakota’s Facebook page is once again under our control. There will be a post coming in the future which details how we got it back.