For a fee, Facebook will promote your posts

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.

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.

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.

Mark Garrison: 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. A Facebook spokesperson told me they’re still testing prices, which will vary by country. Ryan Hassett in Long Beach, N.Y., got offered a cut rate for some reason.

Ryan Hassett: $6.70.
Garrison: OK, so I’ll make sure that Marketplace pays you back. Why don’t you just say “I paid $6.70 to put this at the top of your newsfeed. How does that make you feel?”
Hassett: OK, so I’m posting it and let’s hit promote and see what it says.

We’ll see how Hassett’s friends feel in a bit. Here’s what Greencrest Capital senior analyst Max Wolff thinks.

Max Wolff: I would have nothing but utter disdain and respond with ridicule if I had a friend who looked like he was trying to hop, skip and jump above the rest of our conversation.

That’s his personal take. As an analyst, he’s worried the move will unsettle Facebook users.

Wolff: If you pull people in the direction of seeing their Facebook interaction as surveilled and a revenue game, they’ll feel less cool and comfortable about spending their online social life in that place.

In fact, one of Hassett’s friends said as much in her comment.

Hassett: Just four words: makes me feel violated.

And Hassett felt rude. So I sought some expert etiquette opinion.

Daniel Post Senning: It’s not rude. It’s not polite. It’s how I use it that really matters.

That’s Daniel Post Senning, pondering a question that his great-great-grandmother Emily Post never had to consider. He says if the promo feature is used very carefully and rarely, your friends might not think you’re a jerk. And Facebook can make more money.

In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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