September 18, 2011


The Facebook Subscribe Button: What Is It and How Do You Use It?

by Elizabeth on September 18, 2011

by Elizabeth Kricfalusi, Tech for Luddites

Last week, Facebook added a new "feature" that lets you subscribe to another Facebook user. It has a similar function to following people on Twitter or Google+ but, not surprisingly, it's a lot more confusing. Because Facebook already has a model for connecting people—it's called being friends with them.

So let's take a look at what this Subscribing stuff is all about...

What does it mean to "subscribe" to someone?

Subscribing to someone means that you will see his or her updates in your News Feed. Of course, you already see your friends' updates in your News Feed. But you can also use the Subscribe feature to determine how many of each friends' updates show up in your feed. And, in typical Facebook fashion, the explanation of the different settings is crystal clear:

  • All updates: Everything your friend posts
  • Most updates: The amount you'd normally see
  • Important updates only: Just highlights, like a new job or move

Silly me, I thought "the amount I'd normally see" WAS all updates...

This is purely conjecture, but I'm guessing that Most Updates eliminates some of the things like games and other app-related updates, but includes things the person actually posts like statuses, photos, and links. If I find anything more definitive, I'll definitely update this post.

The other purpose of the Subscribe button is to let you follow updates by people you are NOT currently friends with. These people have to have explicitly chosen to permit people to subscribe to them, and the only updates you will see are those that they have designated as Public (one of the recent privacy setting changes). This is where you're getting more of the Twitter/Google+ functionality and I suspect it will primarily be used by public figures who will use it as one more marketing channel (leading some to suggest it may replace the use of Facebook Pages).

Subscribing to a Profile

To subscribe to a non-friend's profile, first you'll have to search for his/her profile on Facebook to see if he allows subscribers. If he does, he'll have a Subscribe button at the top of his profile page.

Once you've subscribed, click the button again to select which updates you want to get in your News Feed. (Note there are a few more specific options beyond the three general categories.)

Changing the Settings for Your Friends

As I mentioned earlier, you already get your friends' updates in your News Feed. So now if you go to any of their profile pages, you will automatically be subscribed to them. But you can still customize what posts you see. Note that for friends you also have the option to turn on/off notices for Comments and Likes and the highly explanatory category, Other Activity. You can also Unsubscribe from their updates, which is the same as the old Hide feature.

Now here's where I think Facebook made another mistake: they've set everybody's friends to Most Updates. I would have been inclined to set them to All Updates (assuming if they're friends, you're interested in them) and leave it up to you to reduce the number of updates if you want fewer.

It wouldn't be so bad except there doesn't appear to be anywhere where you can change the settings for all your friends at once. However, if you do want to do that, the semi-good news is that you don't have to go to each person's profile page individually. Instead, you can:

  • Go to your own Profile page.
  • In the left-hand column, click the Subscriptions link.
  • On the Subscriptions page, click Friend Subscriptions.
  • Click the Subscribed button beside each person's name to change the settings.

Letting Others Subscribe to Your Profile

If you want to let people who aren't Facebook friends subscribe to your posts, click the Allow Subscribers button from the Subscriptions page.

Note: You'll have to publish updates as Public for your subscribers to see them. AND REMEMBER, once you've changed the setting for an update, that becomes the default until you change it again. So make sure you check your privacy settings for anything you don't want to make public.

What Do I Think About Facebook Subscriptions?

Well, the first thing I think is that, for a man who has made billions of dollars building a product that has over 750 million users, Mark Zuckerberg seems to be a pretty insecure guy... How else to explain the major changes that Facebook seems to make in a poorly thought out panic every time another product like Twitter or Google+ comes up with different ways of connecting people?

Of course, I'll be interested in seeing how well this catches on. At the moment, the only people I'm discovering using this are those who spend their whole lives immersed in social media (see the screenshot from Mashable's Pete Cashmore's profile, above). I've looked up a number of big names (celebrities, politicians, bloggers) who have not yet added this to their profile. In fact, many of them don't even have a personal profile—they use Facebook Pages to connect with the public.

Mostly, though, I think it's just one more way to confuse regular Facebook users. I still think of Facebook as a very different animal than Twitter or Google+ so, for me, I don't see myself taking advantage of this feature any time soon.

But What Do YOU Think?

Do you subscribe to non-friends' posts or allow others to subscribe to yours? Have you used it to change the number of updates you're seeing from certain friends? Share your experiences in the comment section below!

Last Updated: September 18, 2011



{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Alessandro February 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Is it just me or this option has been changed? I mean you can just subscribe or unsubscribe from a friend but you can no longer choose what type of updates you get from a friend – you can still choose that for a list but not for single friends


Elizabeth February 16, 2014 at 1:04 am

Yes, I just discovered that recently as well. I’ve been meaning to update this post, but I guess I really better get on it now!


Naomi December 29, 2013 at 1:52 am

Hi, so I need help with this whole subscription thing, as it seems that my Facebook profile automatically subscribes me to all of my friends! (I have just recently noticed that I am subscribing everyone by accident) How do I change this?


Elizabeth December 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Hi Naomi.

That is the expected behavior. Any time you become a friend with someone on Facebook, you become subscribed to their feeds. It makes sense because most people who become friends want to see what their friends are posting. You can unsubscribe from friends but they have recently changed how that works. I need to look into exactly how it works now and I will be writing a blog post shortly about it.


Clint March 23, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Is there a limit to the number of Facebook people a user can follow? I know there is the 5,000-friend limit for FB, but I am not sure about the subscription limit.


David March 20, 2013 at 7:55 am

I find it irritating that someone who is not my friend, could possibly subscribe to my updates and photos. As well, stalkers and fb predators can subscribe toanyone who is not familiarwith how to keep it from happening. It’s really an odd feeling, to find you have people who are “interested in women” who are not on your wife’s friend list, subscribing to her updates. Time to start blocking people, lol


SZarsenal January 6, 2013 at 2:04 am

There is this really cute girl on Facebook and i am not friends with her on Facebook. I don’t want to seem like a creep and add her because she doesn’t really know me so my question is; if i subscribe to her will she get notified that I (with my name) subscribed to her? Or will she only get notified someone subscribe to her


frankebe December 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm

So what DOES mean the category “Other Activity”?


Anita December 20, 2012 at 2:15 am

Hey, I have a specific problem. One of my real-life friends has reached his FB-friend limit, so I can only subscribe to his posts (which I have). But I want to share my posts, photos and info with him, how can I do that? I have quite strict privacy settings for my info because I don’t want it to be public, but I do want to share it with this person. The FB help centre doesn’t say anything about this. Help, please?


Elizabeth December 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Hi Anita.

Great question! When you’re posting something on Facebook, you can click the privacy icon and choose Custom. It lets you select specific people to share your posts with. Just remember that once you change that setting for a post, it becomes the new default for all future posts. The alternative is to post it with your normal privacy settings, then click the privacy icon and change it to Custom at that point. That will change it for that particular post, but not future ones.



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