Your Facebook status updates in 2013 are less visible than ever thanks to a News Feed cluttered by ads and driven by algorithms. But Facebook offered a solution in October: personal promoted posts.
The only problem is, no one uses them.
"Promoted posts are an easy way to get more people to see your posts," Facebook said on its blog. "Promoted posts appear higher in News Feed, so there's a better chance your audience will see them."
For a fee, your status update, link, or photo can get an extra boost and be seen by more of your friends. A Facebook spokesperson sent a list of "most common use cases" for personal promoted posts that included things like congratulating someone, expressing appreciation, or making a milestone announcement — none of which seem like actual things actual people would actually do. The suggestions that seem more likely are uses that involve money, like asking for charity donations, launching a new business, or selling something.
In the eight months since Facebook opened up sponsored posts for personal accounts, I've noticed only one. It was last week, and it was from a former Facebook employee.
Fahad Al Saud, co-founder and COO of Appiphany and a Saudi prince, was the victim of mistaken identity when AFP reported a Saudi prince with his same name spent $20 million at Disneyland Paris. Soon, other publications were running the story, some even linking to Al Saud's social media accounts without considering the possibility that there might be other people with his name. (There are.)
The stories generated a flood of internet harassment — everything from "you suck" to death threats.
"After that, it was like, how do we put out this fire?" Al Saud said. "I decided to utilize the platform of social media."
Al Saud posted corrections online as soon as they came, and when Yahoo published a story about how he was the victim of mistaken identity, he paid to make it a suggested post.
I don't follow Al Saud on Facebook, but because I have a friend who does, the promoted post showed up in my feed.
"I paid the most amount of money to promote a post to make sure it reached the largest possible audience," Al Saud said. "It was an investment."
BuzzFeed Senior Editor Katie Notopoulos sponsored a post to try it out. It cost her $6.99 and offered no other options for payment levels. Her post received a "sponsored" tag and was supposedly seen by more of her friends and followers than would have seen it otherwise. There were no tools to measure this, however, despite that being a feature Facebook indicated was available when they originally launched the service.
Facebook promotes the personal promoted post as a way to break through the static. Make sure your latest status updates and photos are actually seen by the people you joined Facebook to connect with: your friends! But the thought that people will use the feature for anything other than the same reason brands use it — to make money (or, in the case of Al Saud, to combat rumors in the same environment that they went viral in) — seems unlikely.
Al Saud said as soon as he posted the promoted Yahoo story, the harassment stopped. "I knew what was happening, and I wanted to be smart and fast about it. I think if I had waited longer, it would have been worse."