Like promoted tweets on Twitter and sponsored messages on Google and YouTube, paid Facebook posts may soon linger in your Newsfeed if users are able to pony up a fee to make sure their latest status updates get the proper attention.
The world's largest social network is testing a system in New Zealand allowing users to pay a range of nominal fees, in the area of $2, for those "sticky" promotions, which ostensibly would allow the update to stay in friends' Newsfeeds without being pushed down by incoming posts.
BBC News reported the trial program last week. Facebook told the network, "This particular test is simply to gauge people's interest in this method of sharing with their friends."
It's one of the potential revenue streams Facebook seems forced to explore as it offers its stock to the public and needs to convince investors that it is not a long-running fad.
Facebook has long rebuffed rumors that it would eventually start charging users a membership fee, or roll out some kind of premium service, declaring on its log-in page that it's "free and always will be."
As far back as 2009, hoaxes about a paywall prompted Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to tell BusinessWeek: "We are not planning on charging a basic fee for our basic services. That question stems from people thinking we're growing so quickly, we're running out of money. We're growing really quickly, but we can finance that growth."
But as the IPO looms, as pop singer Gucci Mane might say, Facebook these days is "all about the money, money, money." The company is also planning a paid app store and reportedly partnering with restaurant chains for sponsored coupon offerings.
Return on Investment?
Relying on ad sales no longer seems enough now that General Motors this week opened a conversation about whether those ads are worthwhile by canceling its $10 million-per-year ad buy this week.
"Ford [Motors] did come out and say they were seeing value but that might have just been a cover-your-butt move for Ford because of GM's announcement," said technology consultant Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.
For promoted posts to work, he said, "they'll have to show solid metrics that promoted posts can be converted into customers who are actually buying stuff. There is a growing feeling that posts aren't converting well at all, and that impression will have to be overcome, and the best way to do that is with solid metrics. "
Humorist Andy Borowitz this week circulated a mock letter from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to investors to assure them that his business wasn't the world's greatest dot-com fail waiting to happen.
"For one thing," reads the fake letter, "those bad dot-com stocks were all speculation and hype, and weren't based on real businesses. Facebook, on the other hand, is based on a solid foundation of angry birds and imaginary sheep."