Facebook rolls out pay-for-post policy for individuals

October 11, 2012

$ Facebook LogoI wrote about Facebook’s new policy for the posts of businesses, non-profits, and other organizations back in June.

That new policy required those organizations to pay a cash incentive to Facebook if they wanted their posts to reach more than a handful of their Facebook followers.

I brazenly asserted that Facebook wouldn’t do the same thing to individual users.  Now I have to eat those words.

As many of you may have heard last week, Facebook announced that it was going to start “letting” its users pay a fee to increase the visibility of their posts.

Admittedly, this isn’t the same exact policy change that organization pages saw.  But this change likely brings individual users a lot closer to having the version of Facebook that organizations see.

How?

This graphic from Facebook’s own blog says it all:

Facebook Sponsored posts

Kind of looks like this, doesn’t it?

Facebook Reach

As those of you that read my earlier post know, I wasn’t too thrilled when Facebook made its changes to the organization Pages back in May because it will lead to an increase in ads on Facebook (companies will typically not want to spend money on a post unless it’s directly tied to increasing sales).

This change for individual users will have the same general effect.

Individual users are typically only going to pay to post things on which there is some kind of immediate return.

Examples (provided by Facebook itself): “wedding photos, a garage sale, or big news.”

And these “promoted” posts will show up at the top of my newsfeed and stay there longer.

Those of you that use Facebook can probably think of a few of your Friends that will use this new feature a lot more than others.

So basically, in addition to seeing more ads from businesses and organizations on Facebook, you’ll now be inundated with the same few of your Friends asking you to buy their old stuff, come to their Tupperware parties, or Like the photos of their newborn child.

Beyond simply making Facebook more annoying, I can foresee a few other unintended consequences.

Newsfeed settings

First, what happens if someone pays to get more exposure for a post, but all of his or her Friends have selected the “Most Recent” sort option for their newsfeeds?

The most likely scenario is that Facebook will still pin the post at the top of all of the newsfeeds; considering that Facebook is under no obligation to “identify paid services and communications as such,” we may not even know a post is funded (unless the timestamp doesn’t sync with the surrounding posts).

But what if, on the off chance, Facebook decides to leave the “Most Recent” option intact, and paying for exposure for your posts just doesn’t work if most or all of your Friends have their newsfeeds on this setting?

You would be essentially paying for nothing, which, last I checked, would be an illusory contract.

Would Facebook even tell you if this were the case?

I doubt it, but then again, this situation rests on so many what-if variables that it may never come to pass.

The other unintended consequence is a bit less unlikely: what if, in order to have your posts get any kind of exposure among your Friends, you have to pay?

No, I’m not saying that Facebook will institute a pay-for-post policy; I’m saying that enough people will use this new feature – or enough people will use it repeatedly – that it will take some effort to get to the posts that didn’t cost money.

So then what’s the point of posting anything on Facebook if no one is going to see it?

And if everyone uses this pay-for-exposure feature, is there actually going to be any exposure for your money?

If not, that would, again, be an unenforceable illusory contract.

Facebook’s assumption in rolling out this new feature is that only a limited number of members will actually use it – and with a limited frequency.

If this assumption turns out to be false, the consequences may very well be more severe than irritated users – something instead more akin to the class action “Sponsored Stories” lawsuit that the social networking site is desperately trying to settle.