Facebook Will Take Your Money to Game Their EdgeRank Algorithm

Yesterday I was amused by a post about how Facebook was testing paid post promotion in New Zealand.

I thought it was a bit crazy, but dismissed it as not all that important.  After all, the company was just testing paid post promotion, and I bet Facebook tests all sorts of things that never see the light of day outside the test market.

But I was wrong to dismiss Facebook’s paid post promotion. Today, as I was posting to the AboutUs Facebook page, I was introduced to the new “Promote” option that’s now been rolled out worldwide.

Here’s what Facebook says about this new feature:

Promoted posts are a simple way to reach more of the people who like your Page and their friends.

Your promoted posts will be seen by a larger percentage of the people who like your Page than would normally see it. It will also be seen by a larger percentage of the friends of people who interact with your post.

This raises all sorts of questions for me:

  1. How many people would be willing to pay?  I’ll admit, I’m tempted.
  2. How will people react to seeing promoted posts labeled “Sponsored” (albeit with subtle gray text) in their News Feed?  Twitter’s equivalent “Promote Tweets” don’t have too many fans, as far as I can tell.
  3. Would Facebook have gone the promoted posts route if they hadn’t been planning their IPO?
  4. Did Facebook create their EdgeRank algorithm just so they could later charge people to get more reach and circumvent that very algorithm?

EdgeRank is Facebook’s magic-black-box algorithm that allows you to see only a small fraction of the total posts created by your friends and the pages you “like” in your News Feed.  The goal of EdgeRank is to show in your News Feed only the posts it thinks would be most interesting to you.  There are many factors that make posts more likely to show up in your News Feed, including the level of engagement – likes and comments – that posts have earned.

Facebook has said that the average post from a person reaches 12% of that person’s friends. On company pages, Facebook shows admins how many people each post reached (see image at right).

The EdgeRank algorithm, and how it filters posts, makes Facebook different from other social networks. Twitter and Google+ – two of the largest social networks -  show posts from all people and companies you’ve chosen to follow. Its EdgeRank algorithm puts Facebook in a unique position to satisfy and get more engagement from users than other networks – and now it’s clear that Facebook has also discovered the frustration created by EdgeRank can drive companies to pay for preferential placement in their fans’ News Feeds.

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Google is the largest company using algorithms to serve up content that will best satisfy their users’ requests. Is paying Facebook to promote a post akin to paying Google to rank you higher in search results? Or is it like paying Google to display your ad next to search results? Perhaps Facebook post promotion is more like paying Gmail (or another email provider) to make sure your marketing emails land in your prospects’ Inboxes, and not their spam folders.

What do you think? Will you pay to promote your company’s posts? Will you unlike pages that pay to show up in your News Feed? Answer by posting a comment below!

For more info from the horse’s mouth, check out Facebook’s help page Promote Your Page Posts.

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