Like It? How Companies Are Paying to Make Their Posts More Visible on Facebook

By Jim Naureckas · 4 Oct 2012

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Picture: GOIABA/Flickr
Picture: GOIABA/Flickr

Back in May, Facebook introduced its Promoted Posts program, giving groups and companies with pages on the social media site the option of paying to get their posts seen by more of their fans.

The way Facebook works is that you don't see every post by every friend or every page that you like–Facebook has a formula called Edgerank that tries to determine how interested you'd be in that post, based mainly on how much you've "liked," shared or commented upon similar posts in the past, and how many people are liking, sharing and commenting on that particular post.

At least, that's how it used to work. Now it's got the additional factor of whether Facebook has received a bribe to show you a post that its formula tells it you won't necessarily find to be that interesting.

Now, say your mail carrier lets it be known that they'll accept a small fee to make sure that your mail doesn't get lost–and you decline to pay the fee. What do you expect is going to happen? That's right, more of your mail is going to get lost.

And sure enough, on September 20, Facebook decided to start losing more of your mail.

As reported by the marketing blog Social@Ogilvy, Facebook changed is algorithm for what they call "brand pages" in order to "to minimize brand page posts being seen by those who have opted in to 'liking' that page." Ostensibly, the point of this was "to de-clutter the amount of posts served up to mobile and tablet users by brands." But as Social@Ogilvy pointed out:

The change comes at a time when Facebook is trying to maximize the amount of paid advertising it has on the platform, in an effort to bump its share price after a struggling stock share post-IPO.

The blog of a company that tracks Facebook hits, Edgerank Checker, did a survey of 3,000 brand pages and found that the number of users they reached in the week after September 20 dropped by 36.5 percent–from 26 percent of their fans to 19.5 percent–compared to the week before September 20.

Looking at the stats for FAIR's own Facebook page , the drop is obvious–and even more precipitous than Edgerank Checker's average. In the week of September 14-20, we reached 14,927 people through Facebook; in the week from September 21-27, it was 4,992. That's a drop of 67 percent.

The change in Edgerank illustrates the double-edged sword of social media. On the one hand, such outlets have the potential to vastly increase the ability of individuals to choose what information interests them, to influence what their friends and the general public are seeing, and to discuss and debate the media they receive in real time. On the other, when these activities are all taking place in a privatized communication network, all these choices can be manipulated to serve the profit needs (or political agenda) of the network's corporate owner.

Today it's messages from groups that are being blocked by Facebook in order to extract more money. But don't think the company is going to stop there: "We are expanding a test that started last May that enables people to pay to promote a status update so that more friends may see it in their news feed," Facebook announced in a statement. "This particular test is simply to gauge people's interest in this method of sharing with their friends."

In other words–look for Facebook to soon be losing even more of your mail.

Naureckas is the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthy magazine.

This article was originally published by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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