Would You Pay Facebook For Sponsored Posts To Dramatically Up Your "Like" Rate? (Updated)

After the "Likes" on New York Times writer Nick Bilton's subscription page dropped radically, he paid for the social network's sponsored advertising tool. The results were astonishing. Would you do the same?

An experiment by a tech writer has brought into focus a feature on Facebook that may have its users leaving the site in protest. After the New York Times's Nick Bilton noticed the Likes on his Facebook subscription page were dropping, despite an increase in followers, he tried a little experiment, paying $7 for sponsored advertising of his posts. The result? A 1,000% increase in Likes and Shares.

Bilton says he feels duped, and wonders whether this policy—he received a message that "5.2 times as many people had seen my post because I had paid the company to show it to them"—is part of Facebook's drive to monetize its services. In recent months, it has introduced, as well as sponsored posts, a Gifts service, and a strange pay-to-message system that may or may not be a way of filtering spam, just as much as it may or may not be a new stream of revenue.

Facebook says that it is still working on the algorithm that controls what people see in their news feeds. "We don't have an incentive to reduce the distribution that you send to your followers so that we can show you more ads," Will Cathcart, the firm's news feed product manager, told Bilton. While feedback on posts from accounts with 10,000-plus subscribers is up 34%, there has been a 2% drop in interaction on the news feed, it said in a statement.

Hunter Walk, however, the YouTube head of product who last month left to start up a VC firm alongside Satya Patel, wonders whether the phenomenon is down to something else. It could be, he writes, either Facebook's improved spam control, or just a secondary effect of advertising models. Maybe, he continues, it's to do with there being more content for people to have to deal with in their news posts while still the same amount of time to devote to social media. Or, he says, it is just the impact of mobile on social media.

What do you think the fluctuation is down to? Is it a cynical ploy by Facebook to bring in more revenue, or can it simply be explained away as people losing interest in Likes and Shares because of, say, a lack of time? And would you pay to have your posts sponsored? Should a company that relies on its users' data to exist really then charge additionally for that data?

Update: In a post on its blog titled "Fact Check," Facebook denies that it suppresses organic distribution of posts in favor of paid posts. "News Feed shows the most relevant stories from your friends, people you follow and Pages you are connected to. In fact, the News Feed algorithm is separate from the advertising algorithm in that we don't replace the most engaging posts in News Feed with sponsored ones," the company claims. You can read the whole explanation here.

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  • $27180517

    I actually just paid to promote a post for the release of my comic today...I'll come back in a couple days and share progress.  First time I've ever given FB a dime, we will see if it's the last.

  • $27180517

    sorry, I don't peruse my Discus posts as frequently as I should...I've run several campaigns with mixed results...overall there's been a boost in Likes and People talking about my comic.  For the money, its a fairly cheap marketing tool versus running an advertisement on FB which I also have done in the past month.  For a marketer or business, your budget needs to be flexible and depending on what you're trying to achieve it works in your interest to promote stories as frequently as possible.  Will I buy more sponsored stories and promoted posts in the future, likely.  Will I buy advertising, probably not.  Considering I give my comic away for free, the return on investment for advertising is just not there, while promoting stories is a fairly small investment ($7 each) which I use every time I release a page.

  • Eri

    I would prefer to see everything, and have it optimized by removing things I choose to remove. I like companies because I want to see all their posts, not to have to go to their profile constantly.

  • Propel Businessworks

    It's interesting to see the trend of social media platforms (not just Facebook) turning away from being about information sharing to a popularity contest. 

  • MyLoudSpeakerDotCa

    As a Facebook user and explorer, I'm more concerned that i'm missing out on "less popular" posts from my network because of this. I find it frustrating that Facebook relies on "likes" to determine whether or not it'd be a post i'd like to explore or not.

  • robkischuk

    We're seeing Facebook stay fairly true to their claims that they reward content that proves to be engaging. They drip a new post out to a portion of your audience, and if that audience clicks/watches/likes/comments, they expand the audience.

    What seems to have decreased is the window of time given for content to catch traction, which makes sense, since the volume of content on Facebook has grown dramatically. Time is the cruelest master of EdgeRank. Once a post gets more than a few hours old, the chances of it finding an audience crater.

    One thing that has absolutely fallen off is the "viral" effect - when friends like/comment/share, Facebook is being VERY stingy with how many of their friends see the post.

    Engage and win. One page we know can reach over 1/3 of their nearly 7-figure fan base just by posting a video that audience REALLY wants.

  • Chris Kelly

    I guess you have to question the use you have for lots of 'likes'. In the same way as having massive CTR's in banner ads is only useful if its driving some other goal, like selling more products. I would rather use posts in FB to drive users to my own site or to an email subscription. That would be powerful and doesn't mean you have to give everything over to Facebook. Because when (yes 'when'), Facebook disappears your business and all those likes you paid for disappear too. 

  • Phil Simon

    "We don't have an incentive to reduce the distribution that you send to your followers so that we can show you more ads."

    Really? I seriously doubt that. 

  • Christopher Searles

    I'm a big fan of FastCompany but this article might be one of the worst I've read. He "wonders whether this policy ... is part of Facebook's drive to monetize its services"? Of course it is! I'm not a big fan of Facebook but this is the first time I've thought they might have a legitimate business model. They're not taking anything away, but when you pay for placement are you really surprised that your message is getting out to more people? "Timeline" means that your posts will only last for so long before they drop too far behind for someone to scroll down to see them. If you pay to keep that post up at the top of someone's screen it's going to be seen more. It's not rocket science folks...