Say you want to announce something--like an engagement or a promotion or a new home. You can update your Facebook status, and your friends will see it in their news feed. Maybe. As Facebook notes on its Help pages, "A lot of activity happens on Facebook and most people only see some of it in their news feeds. They may miss things when they're not on Facebook, or they may have a lot of friends and Pages, which results in too much activity to show all of it in their news feed."
So what is a proud fiance or employee or new home owner to do? Now, you can ensure that your Facebook friends will see your post by promoting them. Facebook notes that by promoting a post you are increasing its potential to reach more people and for more people to interact with it (to like it, share it, comment on it, and so on). So, in essence, you are paying to advertise yourself, just as companies now pay Facebook to advertise their products and services, both with sidebar ads and the newer "sponsored stories" from their brand pages. Facebook has cited these sponsored stories for brands as a new revenue source and a way of reaching mobile users.
That's a separate product from this offering for consumers.
"As part of a test starting today, people in the U.S. can promote personal posts to their friends on Facebook," said Abhishek Doshi in an Oct. 3 Facebook blog post. "The test started first in New Zealand in May and gradually rolled out to people in more than 20 countries. It will now appear to people in the U.S."
Once Facebook rolls out the promoted posts feature to you, you can promote a page post using the sharing tool. Any post created after June 21, 2012, can be promoted. According to Facebook, users set a lifetime budget for promoted posts, based on how many people they want to reach. It also appears that you have some choice of audience: "people who like your page" or "people who like your page and their friends." Promoted posts appear in the news feed and are labeled "sponsored." Users are billed "to the primary funding source you've designated in your Ads Manager," according to Facebook.
So, what to make of all this ...
I have noted that my Facebook experience has changed dramatically in the last year. The feedback I get on posts has decreased dramatically, and I see the same people's posts again and again. Don't I have more Facebook friends than that? Did I do or say something to make people angry? Are my posts so boring that they are not worth commenting on?
[ Meanwhile, in court ... Judge Denies $20 Million Facebook Sponsored Stories Settlement. ]
All of the above could be true, but I--and you--are more likely experiencing the effects of EdgeRank, Facebook's algorithm for controlling visibility on the site. Just as companies have learned to optimize their Web content for Google visibility, so too are many optimizing their Facebook news feeds to increase their EdgeRank.
Companies can't afford not to spend time and energy figuring out how to increase their EdgeRank, but the average user likely doesn't even know that such a thing exists. Most users probably also don't know that Facebook defaults to showing "top stories" in their news feeds, and not posts as they appear chronologically. (You can see posts in order of how they were posted by clicking on "Most Recent" from the Sort drop-down menu at the upper right of your news feed.)
The idea of promoted posts might be appealing to users who want to make sure that all of their Facebook friends see a certain update but are worried that for some reason--they're not quite sure why--that doesn't always happen when they update their status. And, $7 or so (the figure being bandied about most widely as the ultimate cost for promoted posts) probably seems reasonable. You'd pay at least that much in postage if you decided to mail engagement announcements instead of posting the news on Facebook.
Likewise, promoted posts will give small businesses (heck, any businesses) another way to get themselves and their services noticed. The can certainly buy Facebook ads now, but promoted posts seem like a different, less in-your-face animal: They appear in users' news feeds, rather than in the right-hand column of the page (home to all of those ads most users probably ignore.)
But, with all of this said, promoted posts seem to go against the spirit of social networking. If I were a paranoid person, I might also think that Facebook had purposely made it difficult for people to get their updates seen so that they might pay for the ability to do so--or, at the very least, that Facebook was making hay out existing user frustration.
The "feature" also seems like a cheap, and not very thoughtfully designed or planned, way for Facebook to make a few bucks. As a public company, it has to come up with new ways to increase revenue, but this particular venture seems bad for Facebook and bad for Facebook users.
Would you ever pay to promote a Facebook update? Is there something of value here I am not seeing? We welcome your comments below.
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.
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