Facebook now claims 1 billion members. It’s a nice milestone, but it doesn’t do anything about the enduring problem facing Facebook: how to make money off all those folks.
This week Facebook is rolling out a new feature in America that will allow users to pay money to give their posts extra visibility among their friends. For a fee, Facebook will provide an extra large megaphone.
It’s rolling out gradually, and my Facebook account doesn’t have the promote feature yet. So I hit up Marketplace’s Twitter followers to find people who can pay $7 to turbocharge their posts. We got some great responses, like this one from Jen Johnson in Columbus, Ohio.
— jen johnson (@firecrackers) October 4, 2012
Ryan Hassett in Long Beach, N.Y., was kind enough to let us try promoting a post using his Facebook account to see how his friends reacted. (We’re picking up the $6.70 tab for Hassett. Most users told us the rate they were offered was $7. A Facebook spokesperson told me they’re still testing prices, which vary by country.)
Greencrest Capital senior analyst Max Wolff points out that promoted posts could bring revenue at minimal cost, but he worries about how users will react to friends promoting their posts.
“If you pull people in the direction of seeing their Facebook interaction as surveilled and a revenue game,” he says “They’ll feel less cool and comfortable about spending their online social life in that place.”
And as a Facebook user, Wolff really dislikes the idea.
“I would have nothing but utter disdain and respond with ridicule if I had a friend trying to hop, skip and jump above the rest of our conversation,” Wolff emphasizes.
An early comment from one of Hassett’s friends was blunt, saying the paid message “makes me feel violated.” Hassett told me he felt rude himself.
The question of etiquette is one for Daniel Post Senning. He’s the great-great-grandson of Emily Post and co-author of the 18th edition of Emily Post's Etiquette. Billed as “manners for a new world,” the book looks closely at modern dilemmas related to social media and digital technology.
He says he doesn’t consider the new Facebook feature rude or polite. The question is how it’s used. Senning advises people to use caution in how often they promote their posts, thinking carefully about how their other friends use it.
He thinks it is possible to promote a Facebook post without being rude. Whether enough users are comfortable with the service will determine whether it makes Facebook any significant money.