Facebook Lets Users Buy Their Way Onto News Feeds

    May 18, 2012

As much as Facebook would love to still portray itself as a collection of care-free hackers working for its social network users, the company now has investors to answer to. Now that the company has gone public, it will have to report its quarterly earnings to shareholders, who will expect nothing but growth. Facebook is keenly aware of this, and has begun experimenting with several new ways to rake in revenue.

Some of those new revenue streams have already been implemented. Facebook’s Offers program, which allows businesses to create coupons in News Feed posts and Facebook ads, is nearly out of beta. The new Facebook App Center will give Facebook a cut of paid-for Facebook apps, much like Apple’s App Store. Also, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself has promised that mobile will be Facebook’s new priority, meaning new and better mobile Facebook ads are on the way.

But now, according to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is allowing users in New Zealand to purchase their way onto the top of their friends’ News Feeds. From the report:

The latest revenue spaghetti test came last week, when Facebook began charging users in New Zealand as much as two New Zealand dollars (US$1.53) a post to ensure that their own friends see what they write.

The feature is currently called “Highlights,” and is, understandably, confusing and angering some New Zealanders. Though brands on Facebook are already able to purchase a service similar to “Highlights,” users must first “like” the brand’s Facebook page before the paid-for posts will hit their News Feed. The Wall Street Journal has quoted a Facebook spokesperson as stating the feature is only a test “to guage people’s interest in this method of sharing with their friends.”

If this feature becomes more widespread, it could risk upsetting Facebook users en masse. The News Feed, for now, is very much a meritocracy, where much-“liked” posts and posts of great significance, such as marriages and new jobs, rise to the top. A pay-for-placement would upset this balance, making users suspicious of their News Feeds.

Aside from a backlash from the Facebook community, the “Highlights” revenue scheme could backfire in a different way. Users who pay to flood their friends’ News Feeds with posts could find themselves without too many Facebook friends.

(via The Wall Street Journal)