Guest post by Christopher Wallace.
Believing that your posts to Twitter or Facebook are more important than those of your friends may be a sign of egotistical delusion (or perhaps your friends just put up lousy, boring posts).
Regardless, Facebook may soon give its users the opportunity to leapfrog their status updates to the top of the pile.
The social media giant recently launched a pilot program in New Zealand that allows users to pay to ‘highlight’ a post, meaning that it will appear near the top of friends’ News Feeds and remain their longer, even if it doesn’t receive the clicks, comments, and ‘Likes’ that usually push a popular post to the top.
In the Kiwi-based trial run, the costs of a highlight range from 40 cents to $2 (New Zealand dollars). Various iterations of the ‘highlighted post’ are being tested as well, including some that indicate a post as highlighted (read: paid).
Let’s look for a minute at the pros and cons for Facebook of a paid post program launching for all users:
- It’s Not Unprecedented
- In February, blog platform Tumblr launched an option for all users to pay $1 to highlight a post. The company has been vehemently anti-ads from the get-go, but had to find a new revenue source to remain in business (custom template themes are still their primary cash generator).”Every now and then, a post comes along that’s meant for big things,” read the official announcement, urging users to utilize the feature to promote shows, causes, and new projects.
- Tumblr’s decision wasn’t met with the sort of animosity from users that a similar move by Facebook likely would be. People recognize the need to monetize online platforms, but it’s hard to look at Facebook and see them as needing more money when all the talk is of founder Mark Zuckerberg’s billions of dollars in net worth and a massive initial public offering (IPO) on Wall Street.Still, it helps to have Tumblr as a good example leading the way.
- Paid Posts (Kind of) Already Exist
Since January 2011, business pages on Facebook have been able to promote their status updates with “Sponsored Stories.” These posts reach the eyes of users who ‘Like’ the business, without cluttering up their News Feed. Considering that the average status updates reaches only about 12 percent of a user’s friends, the feature has proved an effective tool for businesses that already have ‘fans’ on Facebook (meaning that the posts don’t spam unsolicited users).
- Investors Will be Happy
Facebook desperately wants to avoid being the next Groupon, whose IPO last year was followed by a collapse of stock value, dropping to a third of their peak value within four months. By demonstrating initiative to increase cash flow, Facebook will build confidence in investors and maintain share value.
- User Backlash Could Be Brutal
Any changes to the user experience on Facebook have to be conducted extremely carefully, and a shift in how posts are prioritized on News Feeds will have far bigger ramifications than just updating every user to a new aesthetic like they did with Timeline.
Currently, Facebook ads are fairly unobtrusive. That may contribute to their dismal 0.5 percent click-through rate (and General Motors’ high profile pullout of their $10 million advertising campaign).
Still, dropping what essentially amounts to ads prominently into News Feeds could drive users away to smaller, less-commercialized social networking options.
- Spammers Will Figure Out How to Take Advantage
If Facebook launches paid posts, they will immediately be forced to devote heavy attention to combating spammers. Companies will likely ‘hire’ users with high friend counts and traffic, using personal profiles to market their products and services. This could lead to users cutting back on their friend list to ‘trim the fat’ and reduce the number of spam-like posts on their News Feeds.
Fewer friends could mean fewer users, leaving a corporate-ad laden wasteland in its wake when users migrate to the next platform. (MySpace, anyone?)
- Paid Posts Will Be Divisive
Some users will pay to highlight their post, even if they’ve got nothing to sell. Still, the majority of paid posts will have a marketing motive behind them, and many users will simply not agree to start spending money on their personal social networking. Their posts will become less sticky and less important, and they’ll eventually decrease their use of the site as a source of information, relying on Facebook more for picture sharing and e-vites.
Grasping the implications of paid posts on Facebook is difficult, which is why the company is carefully launching beta trial runs. Whatever they decide could spell major changes for the company’s forecast.
Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of custom pens and other promotional products such as imprinted apparel, mugs and customized calendars. He regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.