Published on October 19th, 2012 | by Jayson Phillips0
Facebook’s new ‘promote’ feature: an investigation of its advantages and consequences
Last week, Facebook rolled out a new advertising-based ‘promote’ feature. Anyone, or any Facebook page that has more than 400 ‘likes’, can have a status update (which could include a picture or video) be seen by more people than usual by paying a small amount of money. Individuals can pay $3.50 US to have their statuses promoted. Organization and group pages can choose the cost based on how many people they want to see the post. At first glance it’s easy see this as yet another money grab for a company whose shares have dropped more than 30% since its IPO: but there’s much more to this new feature.
As an advertising tool, this new Facebook feature could mean a great deal to small businesses. Given the relatively high costs of TV, radio, newspaper, and other online advertising, Facebook’s new promote feature is a cheap solution for advertising for small business, if it works. The Social Media Club DC tried out the feature, spending $5 USD on a post and comparing the unique views the post got to a similar post from the month before. In their unpromoted post they had 806 ‘organic’ (real people seeing the post or a share of the post) views, and 33 ‘viral’ views (unconfirmed people, likely bots or other programs, visiting the post). On their promoted post they had 835 ‘organic’ views, 655 ‘viral’ views, and 484 ‘paid’ views. 484 views for $5 USD seems like a steal compared to other advertising costs.
The Heterarch also has some experience using this new feature and so far it seems successful. Last week, an article was advertised using the new promote feature and the results are pretty significant. Comparing the promoted post to older posts, the promoted post received roughly 1500 more views than the older posts. This is especially interesting because using traditional Facebook advertising, The Heterarch receives roughly 10-15 new likes per day for $2. For the lost cost of $5, the promoted page received so many views as to create a possibility wherein more likes per dollar are achieved depending of course on the viewers’ inclination.
However, the old adage that you get what you pay for may be true in this case:
Earlier this year in July, a software company called Limited Run noticed something something was askew with its traditional pay-per-click Facebook advertisements. They found that of all the clicks their ad received, only 20% of those clicks resulted in a unique visitor on their website. They wrote some analytic software and discovered that 80% of the clicks they were paying for were from bots; created or automated “users” run by some grand organizing algorithm. They also noted that their analysis of the page views was no ‘weekend project’ and that they spent a month researching the matter. Facebook has had no comment regarding this issue to this day. Although Facebook tracks ‘viral’ views on their promote feature it’s not possible to discern how they label these ‘viral views’ (which could include false profiles) due to the opacity of Facebook’s programming. An unconfirmed report also claims that the results of the promote feature are inconsistent, stating that they received 5000 views and ~14 page clicks after paying $5 and only 2000 views and ~38 clicks after payign $10. Facebook’s site about the promote feature does state they will make refunds in the event that the number of views falls short of the expected number. At this point, it’s unclear how Facebook will be accountable for accurate reporting on the new feature.
Another way this new feature could negatively affect a user would be to have his or her news feed overrun by advertisements. With over 16 million fan pages and more than 30 billion pieces of content shared each month, there is a plethora of information that could be promoted. Personally, I have ‘liked’ 160 pages. After looking at what pages I like, and making a conservative estimate, it seems that 75% of them are product, service or business related pages. If only half of those pages promote content once a month I can expect that I’ll have at least 60 posts with an unknown distribution at the top of my news feed over the course of a month. This isn’t even counting promoted statuses for businesses I haven’t ‘liked’. So far, in the first week since this feature was released, I’ve seen two of these statuses. This number is surely to rise. I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before users’ news feeds are overrun with these promoted statuses they have to wade through to see their friends’ legitimate status updates. This could negatively affect small businesses, too. If so many companies promote their statuses to the point where people are ignoring the promoted statuses, small businesses are going to lose out on the impact of this new feature.
Discounting these possibilities, Facebook’s new promote feature seems like a viable tool for small businesses at least for the present. However, the availability of being able to promote a single individual’s status seems like a great idea for revenue for Facebook but it’s not a great idea for individual users. Without a doubt, there are going to be people who will pay to promote the statuses they think are funny, clever or witty. There are going to be people who pay to promote their statuses that they think are politically important. There are going to be people who pay to promote their statuses they think have information that is important to share. I don’t particularly mind these ideas considering we can always just click ignore on these people, but I think there are applications of the status promote feature that I find somewhat disturbing.
For instance, what happens when a disheartened husband discovers his wife having an affair and pays to promote his status that his wife is an adulterer? Sooner or later, this issue will land in court as somebody sues their former spouse for defamation. Or what about if two friends have a falling out and one of them uses the promote feature to share some deep secret that their former friend had shared with them during their friendship? It’s not hard at all to come up with a myriad of statuses that defame an individual, based in truth or not. Sure, it’s already possible to do all this and communicate to all of your friends (and possibly the friends of your enemies’ friends that you both share) any of these things, but being able to promote your status so that more people in your city see what you’re saying is tantamount to printing fliers with somebody’s face, name, and a charge, and posting them throughout your city. Even if what the person posts isn’t true, and a court case is won in the victim’s favour, their reputation has been sullied by the post.
I don’t want to focus on this negative aspect of the new Facebook promote feature, but I find it hard to believe that one or more of these negative possibilities that can arise from the feature will not manifest. It will be interesting to see how the misuse of this feature will affect the promote feature, and whether or not it will affect the content that users can post with their statuses that aren’t promoted. However, the use of the promote feature for small businesses seems like a positive step for small businesses and entrepreneurs. In an age where small businesses are quickly being overrun by big box companies even in rural areas, this feature gives small businesses a capability to advertise and have their advertisements be further shared by word of mouth.
Sources and further reading: A TechCrunch article about the Facebook bot-user controversy | An EmpowerNetwork article about the new Facebook Promote Post feature | Facebook’s Promote Post brochure website | Some interesting Facebook facts and figures
Image courtesy of West McGowan.