Facebook testing promoted posts in the U.S.

October 3, 2012

Would you pay to give your latest wedding photos, say, or garage sale announcement a better chance of appearing on your friends Facebook page? That’s the question the social network is testing.

On Wednesday, the company introduced a feature that allows U.S. users with fewer than 5,000 friends to promote their updates — for a fee. The users’ posts would gain prime placement on their friends news feeds.

“Sometimes a particular friend might not notice your post, especially if a lot of their friends have been posting recently and your story isn’t near the top of their feed,” Facebook software engineer Abhishek Doshi wrote in a company blog post.

Those currently testing the feature are paying $7 for the service. But a Facebook spokesman said the company hasn’t made a final decision on the price.

Facebook has been allowing companies to pay to promote their posts to U.S. users since May. In other countries, including New Zealand, users have been able to pay to promote their individual musings to friends for months and now the concept is being tested in the United States.

It’s unclear if everyday users will warm to the idea of paying Facebook for such a core part of the site, said Arvind Bhatia, a technology analyst for Sterne Agee.

“I know it’s just a test, but it doesn’t send the right message,” Bhatia said. “Charging for something so generic doesn’t make sense.”

Since going public in May, the social network has been searching for ways to increase its advertising revenue to please investors clamoring for a more sustainable business model. Last month, the company launched a new advertising system that allows marketers to closely target Facebook users, even when they’re not on the social network. Last week, Facebook announced that users could buy gifts for their friends through the site.

“Facebook has to manage the balance between the users experience and the ability to mon­etize,” Bhatia said. “If there are no users, there’s no monetization.”

The Washington Post Co.’s chairman and chief executive, Donald E. Graham, is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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