Facebook continues to gauge interest in an option for users to pay to promote personal posts at the top of friends’ News Feeds, expanding on a test first discovered in May.
New reports of the feature appeared on Hacker News today, and The Next Web confirmed with Facebook that the social network is testing the feature among more users. Originally called “highlight,” Facebook now seems to be calling this option “promote,” which is what it also calls an advertising feature for business and fan pages.
Users who are part of the test will see a promote button next to Like and comment on a user’s Facebook posts. After clicking “promote,” users will be taken through a payment flow. Initially, prices ranged from free to US$2, though a user today says he was prompted to pay $6.30. Users can pay with PayPal, a credit card or money they have saved from paying for virtual goods. The promoted post will appear at the top of friends’ News Feeds with an indication that the user paid to place it there.
People who have chosen to enable subscribers might be interested in the feature since they have a wider audience than most users. There may be other cases when a user would be willing to pay a few dollars to make sure that friends see a post, for example, a birth announcement, a post about looking for a roommate or a link for fundraising.
Still, we’re surprised to see the company expand this test because it seems to go against the idea that Facebook is free for users. The social network has previously struggled with rumors that it would charge for its service, despite a note on its homepage that says, “It’s free and always will be.” Asking users to pay for friends to see their posts seems likely to fuel further speculation and hostility from some people. It also might lead users to question what happens to their posts they don’t pay to promote. It does not reflect well on Facebook’ algorithms if users have to pay to get their most important posts seen by friends. It’s understandable to have businesses pay to reach consumers, but seems distasteful to do to users who want to share things with people they know.