When it began, Facebook was the world's greatest free high school yearbook.
Now, for some, it's gone pay-to-play.
A Facebook policy announced in late April called Promoted Posts invites owners of some Facebook pages (those with more than 400 "likes," expressions of interest from other users) to pay for expanded "reach" to their audience.
Hobbyists, enthusiasts, musicians, and other individuals run these pages, as do sports teams, political campaigns, nonprofits, and businesses (including The Inquirer). Some would be fine with paying. Some wouldn't.
The thing is, you didn't have to pay before. With Promoted Posts, when the person or group who runs a page posts new content, it reaches on average 16 percent of the page's followers, according to Facebook. That's free.
Want more reach? You can press a button and get a pay schedule, starting from $5 per post. More gets you more reach. Facebook will tell you how many more people you'll reach per price. It's not a one-scale-fits-all system; Facebook uses a complicated system to figure variations among pages. But imagine a page with 6,200 followers, of which 16 percent would be about 992. It might be offered 400 more for $5, or 700 more for $10, or 1,100 more for $15, and so on.
A promoted post is marked as such when it appears.
"Facebook is clearly looking to try to raise more revenue, especially as questions about their ad model keep getting raised," says Dan Petty, social media editor for the Denver Post.
Since its celebrated (and troubled) first day of trading May 18, Facebook has fended off allegations that its ads don't work, and it is searching for ways to make its features deliver for itself and its new investors. Promoted Posts may be one such way. Some worry that a "Promoted Posts" policy may descend on all Facebook users before long.
Facebook officials declined to comment on the record. But they said Promoted Posts were not new and did not apply to all pages. It's naive, they add, to expect all posts to reach all followers. They never did. And those that did reach their targets often were not looked at. (That's the all-important distinction: between just seeing something and engaging it. Everyone wants engaged eyeballs.)
They say Facebook is not withholding or taking back anything but, rather, is offering a service to help you beat that 16 percent average. And it doesn't cost much. Its reach is much better than other much-used promotional tools. Think of direct mail, which doesn't even reach 1 percent of target audiences.
When you log on to Facebook, you can't see absolutely everything. So how to determine what to show you?
Enter EdgeRank, a Facebook algorithm that decides. It weighs three factors: affinity (the interest you've shown before in this topic, person, or page), weight (the amount of time you've spent with said target -- in other words, the engagement you've shown); and time (the freshness of the post). In effect, EdgeRank filters posts (interesting to you or not) and followers of those posts (folks who engage or don't).
Social media consultant Thomas Baekdal calls the policy a "conflict of interest": People who run pages are "paying Facebook to reach the people who have already decided to follow you, who Facebook in turn has decided to filter
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