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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 “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 Promoted Posts,” 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 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?

25 comments to Facebook: Will You Pay To Play?

  • Kristan

    I think paying for personal profile stuff is RIDICULOUS. It's a social network, a cyber-park, if you will. If a real life park started charging people admission to come walk around and picnic and chat, we'd all just find a free one. I think the same is true online.

    For professional pages and businesses, I think it makes more sense, and while I don't love it, I understand and accept it. I would probably consider paying to promote posts in the future, especially because as Dane Golden said, the entry fee is pretty low. But at this point in time, I don't think I need it.

    (Btw, I know this isn't really the point of your post, but I think FB needs to be careful that they don't monetize themselves out of the game. The internet is pretty good at sniffing out greedy shenanigans.)

    • meghancward

      I agree with you about Facebook needing to be careful, Kristan. I would never pay to promote a post that advertises a blog post, and I'm not happy that my friends don't see all my posts, but given that so many people are on Facebook and that so many are NOT seeing my posts, I would definitely pay to let people know my book was out. I would send an email, too, but I don't have the email addresses of everyone I'm friends with on Facebook (like grade school and high school friends) or the people who follow my professional page.

  • annerallen

    Thanks much for the tip about "sorting" posts for "most recent". As for the rest, I think FB is already "monetizing themselves out of the game" as Kristan says. Kristan, I love the park analogy!

    The author who got 100 likes on her page after a paid post didn't say if those "likes" translated into sales. In my experience, likes have little to do with sales, and FB ads have a notoriously low ROI. FB is already annoying and full of those scammy "apps" that steal your data and your friends' data. I think it's irrelevant for marketing books now. It will probably continue to be a nice place to post photos of the grandkids and form family groups and such, but its glory days are over.

    • meghancward

      Ruth, if Facebook is irrelevant for marketing books – what IS relevant for marketing books? Blogs? Twitter? Google+? I'm curious to hear what works for you.

      I emailed my friend's friend to try to get details about what he got out of promoting his posts, but he didn't seem eager to share info. So maybe it didn't help book sales in his case. I wrote a post about whether social media sells books a while back, and the consensus seemed to be "Yes, some, but not a ton." I imagine results vary widely, however.

      • annerallen

        I'm definitely going to be paying more attention to Google+. I think I've been wasting too much time on FB. Twitter has had the most concrete benefits for me. It's got me sales and reviews. But I think all social media is about getting your name out there, not directly selling books. Anywhere you can make real human connections will work better than places you use for billboard-type advertising.

  • Ruth Harris

    Meghan, Thanks for this. Just confirms my feeling that FB is a bit scummy/scammy. That's why I never signed up. Just call me a FB drop out—except that I never dropped in. lol

    • meghancward

      Ruth, do you use Google+? I wonder if that's going to gain in popularity now that FB is charging to promote posts.

      • Ruth Harris

        Meghan, I don't use Google+ either. They keep bugging me to join but I keep resisting. Do you/will you move to G+? I have my doubts about selling/marketing via sites with zillions of users. Am I wrong? It wouldn't be the first time. What do you think?

        • meghancward

          Ruth, I'm on Google+ (and I know Anne is, too), but I don't spend much time there. I mostly just repost what I put on FB there for people who aren't on FB and for the people on FB who will never see my posts! Also, Google+ posts show up in Google searches, so that's an added benefit. I just don't have time to spend time developing a community on every social network!

    • m++

      It's funny, MySpace was huge, and got there by being scummy/scammy. Eventually it was done in by a clean and people-centric Facebook… Monetizing such sites has got to be hard, so they are going to experiment until something clicks. I have a feeling the $7 personal promote is not going to be the final answer…

  • daviskho

    I would NEVER pay to promote anything personal of mine, but I have definitely considered a $5 to promote a post on my MM fan page to garner more views (and hopefully more fans.) Haven't pulled the trigger yet but I'm sure it's just a matter of time – I'll consider it a test and report back…

    • meghancward

      What seems worthwhile, Nancy, is that you can promote not only to your own friends but to THEIR friends. That must be how the author my friend mentions in the quote above got 100 more likes.

  • I've thought of testing the promotion option from my business page, but really can't see the sense in it. I have other means of social networking. As for personal. NO. I don't think I'd ever promote a personal status. That's just ridiculous!

    People should see your posts if they have chosen to stay in touch with you. That's it. If they don't like what you're posting, they can unfriend, unsubscribe or block you.

    • meghancward

      Ryan, but unless you switch your news feed from "Top Stories" (the default) to "Most Recent," you DON'T see most of your friends' posts. I had a friend mention his wedding, and I said, "WHAT WEDDING?" And he said, "Oh, you didn't see that I got engaged? I posted it on Facebook." Uh, no. Don't rely on Facebook to spread important news like that to your friends because most people will NOT see it. And that doesn't mean they don't care about you. It just means it didn't show up in their feed, or they didn't check Facebook for a couple of days.

  • lexacain

    Pay-to-play sounds like a great idea … for Facebook. I've never understood the whole FB phenomenon (or Twitter for that matter), and I guess I never will. People are just over-promoting themselves and starting to sound whiny and desperate.

    • meghancward

      Well, Facebook does need to make money somehow, and their ads don't seem to be working. But yes, pay-to-play is a huge turn-off for many people. I imagine Google+ can keep its service free because Google makes so much money through ads. One great advantage about posting on Google+, by the way, is that its posts show up in Google searches, unlike Facebook posts and tweets.

  • Facebook likes should ideally turn into conversations, and that's what the great thing about Facebook is: it's a way of encouraging discourse. Unfortunately, it seems that paying to talk is yet another of those icky ways companies are trying to measure the effect of social media. I disagree that you can truly measure things like that because it's all such a case-by-case situation.

    So, for businesses, I think paying is pretty worthless. If you have to pay to get people to talk to you, then you've defeated the whole point of social media for your business.

    • meghancward

      Well, but it's difficult to talk to each other if your message isn't getting sent. I's like you're picking up a dead phone and talking and no one can hear you. Or you're writing letters and they're not getting sent because you didn't pay the postage. Facebook is saying, "Time to pay your phone bill. Time to buy some stamps." I'm not saying I agree with it, but the only other option is to use a different social network (like Google+ or Twitter). Otherwise you don't have much choice but to pay to get your message out there – whatever that may be.

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  • I just read Facebook: Will You Pay To Play? Writerland, but I’m not sure where to go next.

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