[NETWORKING FOR INTROVERTS] Facebook: Will You Pay To Play?

If you have a professional Facebook page, you’re probably familiar with Promoted Posts, which Facebook launched in May of this year. For $5 $10, or $15, Facebook will make your post more visible within your followers’ news feeds. If you don’t promote your post, only a fraction of your followers will ever see it. On average, 16 percent of all your Facebook activity on your professional page shows up in your followers’ news feeds, which means a slightly higher number of your status updates get viewed. For example, one post of mine that generated a lot of discussion garnered a 45 percent view rate, while another was seen by just 6 percent of my followers. The average for my last 10 posts? 19 percent.

If you don’t have a professional page, you may not think this applies to you. But last month, Facebook rolled out promoted posts for personal profiles as well. Users with fewer than 5000 friends and subscribers were offered a chance to promote engagement announcements and viral cat videos at $7 a pop. Surprisingly, profiles have an even lower viewing rate than professional pages—at just 12 percent. And now people with more than 5000 friends and subscribers may promote their posts as well—for a hefty fee. Forbes staff writer Kashmir Hill has a whopping 158,000 subscribers in addition to her 1200 friends. The price for her to promote a single post? $49. “Sorry, Facebook. Not going to happen,” writes Hill on Forbes.com. “In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything I’d post to Facebook that I’d pay a nice dinner’s worth to promote.”

Some people are up in arms about Facebook’s new pay-to-play business model. In fact, many articles have circulated suggesting that Facebook specifically changed its news feed algorithm to make posts less visible in order to encourage users to promote posts. After all, its stock IPO’d in May at $38 a share and plummeted to below $18 by September. It needs to turn a profit. But a Nov. 7 TechCrunch article by Josh Constine titled “No, Facebook Didn’t Decrease Page News Feed Reach To Sell More Prom...,” denies Facebook’s mercenary motives. And so does Facebook. In more than one interview, the social media giant has claimed that it changed its algorithm in order to reduce the number of spammy posts in users’ news feeds—not to make money.

“Facebook did make spammy Pages less visible in the feed, but that was to make the news feed better, not to earn more money,” says Constine. “The moral of the story is don’t spam your fans, and everything will be fine.”

But how does Facebook decide whether your posts are spammy? If a user never clicks, likes, shares, or comments on a page’s posts, that page will stop showing up in that person’s newsfeed. And, as of September of this year, Facebook made the “hide/report spam” button next to each post more prominent. So far it’s working; spam reports are down by more than 50 percent.

If you find if frustrating that you’re only seeing 12 percent of your friends’ status updates and only the most popular ones at that, there is a solution. Each time you log in, click the small gray “SORT” button at the top right of your news feed and choose “Most Recent” instead of “Top Stories.” You still won’t see EVERY post, but you’ll see most of them, and in chronological order.

And maybe promoted posts aren’t all that bad. In an informal survey of my Facebook friends, I asked what people thought of promoted posts.

“My friend used it to promote his memoir. It brought about 100 new likes to his page. I think it would be fun to try,” said Alison Singh Gee, author of the forthcoming “Where The Peacocks Sing.”

“I tried promoting a post. It basically gets more visibility to your friends and followers—about 30-50% more, based on the mini report they give you. But they don't say what the actual number was so the real question is "more of what?" It cost me $7 to try it out. Interesting.” said Hey.com founder Dane Golden.

Others aren't so keen: "I sent an email to Facebook earlier today complaining about how you now have to pay to make sure that people WHO HAVE CHOSEN TO KEEP IN TOUCH see your posts. Death to Facebook if they continue this!" says Sin and Syntax author Constance Hale.

What do you think of Facebook's promoted posts? Have you ever promoted a post yourself? Under what circumstances would you?


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Comment by Meghan Ward on November 29, 2012 at 4:34pm

Danyelle - You're right, Google+ does everything FB does for free and you get to see ALL of your friends' posts. But that may be because fewer people user Google+, so the average user has fewer friends and can view every status update without feeling overwhelmed. I'm not against promoted posts, but I would only use them for something really important - like a book release. Like Sarah said below, $7 on the day of your book release maxes out the usefulness of the product. And yet, it's difficult not to pine for the days when we could do that for free. On Facebook.

Comment by Danyelle C. Overbo on November 29, 2012 at 3:55pm

My main question when hearing about these changes is, what value is facebook brining to me if this new system stays in place?  Afterall, the entire point of facebook is to log on and see the news feed.  Without getting posts in my newsfeed or having my friends and families getting my posts, what is the point of facebook?  It feels to me like they are charging money for their basic functionality and I don't see this lasting for them long term when other services off this functionality for free.

Comment by Janine Kovac on November 29, 2012 at 3:17pm

I have to agree with Constance Hale on this one. We're not "users"; we're friends. My posts are not advertisements. My posts are parts of dialogue intended to cultivate and strengthen my ties to my friends. Even when I'm talking about my writing. Maybe even especially when I'm talking about my writing. 

Comment by Sarah Pinneo on November 29, 2012 at 11:53am

The only benefit I can see here is educating consumers on the fact that they're not the customers of Facebook--they're the product. That's a healthy revelation.

For an author, a one-time $7 promoted post on the day her book goes on sale just about maxes out the usefulness of this product. And that may be fine.

Comment by Julie Luek on November 29, 2012 at 9:10am

It's interesting, isn't it?  On one hand, they are a for-profit company looking to increase revenues. If their service is being used as a business/marketing tool, maybe it makes sense that it costs. That's the model in business. Social media crosses an interesting line where profits are traditionally harvested from the advertisers, not users. But when a user is an advertiser as well, I can see where the rules might change a bit. Unfortunately for most small-load users, like authors, charging may take them out of the game. 

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