Combing through today’s headlines, I noticed something alarming: Syria and Turkey appear to be poised on the brink of war. Horrified by the prospect, I did what any privileged idiot American would do: I posted my thoughts on Facebook. Then a strange thing happened: Facebook offered to “promote” my status update for $7.00. What's going on here?
Facebook announced today that it is testing promoted posts for people in the United States. Apparently paying to promote personal (not business-branded Pages) status updates is not an entirely new thing. The social giant first started testing individual promoted posts in New Zealand in May and gradually rolled out the test in 20 countries. This is its first appearance in the United States.
If you click through and pay the $7.00, it will appear higher in Facebook’s news feed and appear as a “sponsored” story.
“Every day, news feed delivers your posts to your friends. Sometimes a particular friend might not notice your post, especially if a lot of their friends have been posting recently and your story isn’t near the top of their feed,” wrote Facebook’s Abhishek Doshi, announcing the test. “When you promote a post – whether it’s wedding photos, a garage sale, or big news – you bump it higher in news feed so your friends and subscribers are more likely to notice it.”
Facebook has crossed a line here. Never before has Facebook directly solicited money from me. As a publisher with a couple of Facebook brand pages, I don't mind when the company asks if I would like to advertise throughout the site, but asking me to pay to promote an individual post comes off as dirty. It also raises a number of questions.
Foremost, Facebook's new practice has a whiff of extortion: “Pay to promote your post or nobody will ever see it.” Will Facebook users who do not pay to promote posts be adversely affected? The U.S. test is being rolled out to users with less than 5,000 friends and subscribers, which seems a little backward. Wouldn’t Facebook want to push this feature to power users who have a higher number of followers?
The second primary question is, why $7.00? The number seems absurdly high to promote a single post.
"We are not confirming a price for promoted posts as this is a test and Facebook is considering a variety of prices," Facebook spokesperson Jessie Baker said in an email.
ReadWriteWeb’s Jon Mitchell made an interesting point on the $7.00 figure.
“If it was too low, the value of the news feed would be completely destroyed,” Mitchell told me.
This is true. If the fee to promote a post was, say, $1.00, people would promote anything and everything. The $7.00 figure helps ensure that people mean it when they pay to have their status update become a sponsored post. Yet $7.00 is likely higher than Facebook's average annual revenue per individual user.
There are a couple factors at play with the promote-your-post initiative. Essentially what Facebook is doing here is making users pay to improve their EdgeRank score for individual status updates, the system that Facebook uses to determine how high individual stories appear in the news feed. It is really not all that different from how Google has structured its own business, where companies or individuals can pay for keywords to appear as advertisements in search results. The difference is that Google’s search engine is a much more impersonal mechanisms than is the Facebook news feed.
Where Facebook is making a mistake is in crossing the bridge between paid sponsored posts for businesses and applying it to individuals. It is one thing to ask a business to pay to increase its visibility, that is the type of thing that businesses budget for. It is another to ask users on their personal pages directly for money. Google has never asked me to spend money to improve the search results for my own name, for instance.
What do you think of the “promote your post” test from Facebook? Is this a reasonable program from the social giant or a nifty way to extort revenue from its users?