Facebook’s Popularity Contest: Buying Visibility

Facebook testing 'highlight' featureThey say money can’t buy you everything—but in this case buying visibility (or popularity) on Facebook might just be a reality. The company is currently testing a ‘highlight’ feature that would let Facebook users pay $2 to promote their status updates. Well, that’s craptastical.

The ‘highlight’ feature is geared toward individual Facebook users, not pages or businesses, and is now being tested by a small number of people in New Zealand. Currently, the visibility of Facebook posts is determined by the site’s EdgeRank algorithm that takes into account factors like affinity, weight and time to determine who sees that particular post—which, by the way, is typically seen by only 12 percent of your friends.

When new sites or features are released, we tend to sit back and see how things play out before making a decision. And although we’re interested to see if the ‘highlight’ feature becomes more widespread, our gut feeling is that this is not a direction in which Facebook should go. In fact, unless there’s something I’m totally missing, this downright stinks.

Sure, Facebook wants to make money—we all do, right? But are they really hurting for revenue? There’s such a huge risk involved in creating a social site in which visibility can be bought rather than earned by producing relevant, quality content that sparks organic engagement. Creating ways to game the system—as with Klout or Empire Avenue, for example, or Facebook’s new ‘highlight’—seem, to us anyway, an utter contradiction of the inherent purpose and benefit of social sites.

Not only could this tactic get annoying—it could become downright spammy, too. Can’t you already kind of make a list of the people you know that you can see starting to do this? I know I can. If this is going to happen universally, to our way of thinking the value of the News Feed will be diminished, because it will be populated by the annoying folks who are paying for visibility.

Hopefully Facebook will be smart and limit the use of paid highlights—to something like once a month. That way, if Facebook advertising doesn’t make sense as a possible outreach solution, users could have the option to more widely promote information that they find truly important without abusing the feature at a low price and making everyone who knows them hate them.

What’s your take on Facebook’s latest move?

Image by billaday via Creative Commons

  • http://twitter.com/lauraBseymour Laura S.

    UGH. What an utterly TERRIBLE idea. No. 

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

    Totally agree, @ShellyKramer:disqus  .

    If it were actually limited to once a month, or even less, I could see a value in it – enabling anyone a financially viable way to promote something that is truly important to them. A post they worked especially hard on. A cause they feel strongly about. Assistance for a friend.

    But I would be shocked if FB actually limited it. Sigh.

  • http://mizzinformation.blogspot.com Maggie McGary

    So depressing that this is what “social” networking with friends has come to–or, in Facebook’s eyes has come to anyway–having to pay money to make sure your friends see your news? Really? As if self-promoters need a new way to be even more annoying and self-promotional. I’ll be interested to see this roll out….and I suspect it won’t last long because it will drive people away from using Facebook.

  • Anonymous

    I think it will be interesting to see what transpires, Mags. Can’t you just see some of the somed blowhards that we know loving this? Sigh.

  • Anonymous

    I could see value, too, for the same reasons, Amy. And it will be interesting to see what happens. So many good possibilities, but chances are slim that the good will be what the focus is. If, as you mention, this even happens.

  • Anonymous

    Mostly yes.

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  • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com/ Jason Konopinski

    I mentioned this “highlight feature” over at @spinsucks:twitter – it plays to vanity pretty hard, but I suspect it won’t make much of a splash here at all. One potential use that came to mind – individual fundraising.  My wife and I are active in Relay for Life, and if I can throw $10/week to promote my status updates that link to an individual event/fundraising page to meet goal, I’ll do it. 

  • http://twitter.com/iconic88 iconic88

    Great post Shelly! 

    Like you, Im struggling to think how they could monetise this element of their business without inherently harming the utility of their service at the same time. Even if people were to pay $2 to ‘highlight’ their posts, the price is so negligible how would they prevent ones entire feed looking like a classifieds? even if they took the adwords route in architecture, an online auction would likely turn people off eg. one ad $2, the next person bids $3 and so on. The bidding war begins.

    …but if the ad is ‘sponsored’ per se by individuals, would that mean FB would need to make that transparent? 

    Now let’s add $2 in the FB kitty then to pump up the volume so we can be heard. Being loud does not equal quality communications.

    Bottom line: it looks like a road that leads to MySpaceville in my view.

    ;)

  • Katherine Stone

    Craptastical indeed. That’s just so gross, and the kind of thing that makes me happy Facebook’s stock price is dropping.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed :))

  • Anonymous

    I think it would be just horrible, Mahei. And all the blowhards who already bombard us in the social media space could potentially do it more – and more annoyingly. Hopefully it won’t come to pass.

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