Would Facebook Users Pay To Highlight Their Posts? Should They?

By David Cohen 

Facebook is testing a feature that would allow its users — users, not brands — to pay in order to ensure that their posts are more visible to more of their friends.

New Zealand’s Stuff was the first to report on the feature, as it was tipped off by a Facebook user in Whangarei, who discovered an option to pay $2 to highlight status updates and pictures with a yellow background (the part about the yellow background turned out to be false).

A Facebook spokesperson responded to Stuff with the following statement:

We’re constantly testing new features across the site. This particular test is simply to gauge people’s interest in this method of sharing with their friends.

The spokesperson also told Stuff Facebook was testing the potential new feature at different price points, including no price at all.

TechCrunch also reported that a “tiny percentage” of Facebook’s user base was given access to the trial of the highlight feature.

According to TechCrunch, users that are part of the test group will see a highlight option along with the usual like and comment buttons, and clicking it will bring up a payment box, in which users can pay $1 or $2 via credit card or PayPal (but not Facebook Credits). Or, as the Facebook spokesperson told Stuff, some users will be given the option of highlighting their posts free of charge.

The highlight feature is an interesting idea, but this test is more likely to suffer the same fate as New Coke.

The one potential positive for Facebook is the chance to add a revenue source in order to counteract segments of its business that are lagging behind in revenue, such as mobile. But can the highlight feature really catch on enough to make a sizable dent? Not likely.

The biggest red flag about the highlight feature is that it goes directly against repeated statements by the social network that it will never charge its users. While the highlight option wouldn’t be forced on users, the perception that posts from paying users were being placed more prominently in news feeds might anger a substantial portion of the social network’s user base.

Here’s another potential issue: What types of posts would users be more likely to pay to highlight? “I went three-for-three and we won our softball game,” or, “I had a great dinner catching up with old friends,” probably wouldn’t be worth $1 or $2 to most users to promote to all of their friends. However, if they were paying $1 or $2 to promote a post with the potential of earning themselves some money, while that might represent a sound financial decision for the user promoting the post, does Facebook really want to run the risk of dissatisfied users complaining that their news feeds are full of spam-like posts and advertisements?

Ultimately, we think Facebook has far more to lose with the highlight feature it is testing than it does to gain. Readers: How would you feel about this feature if Facebook made it available?

Screen grabs courtesy of TechCrunch.