You may have noticed that there are fewer posts in your Facebook feed these days. The reason? Facebook is now selling its ‘sponsored posts’ feature to individual accounts in addition to business accounts. So now, when you post an update to Facebook telling your friends that you’re going to the gym or looking forward to watching your favorite television show that post only appears in approximately 15% of your friends’ news feeds. But, if you pay a small fee (I hear around $5 to $10) Facebook will show that post to a much larger group of friends. This change has caused quite a bit of frustration for Facebook users. And rightfully so. Many businesses and individuals have spent massive resources acquiring Facebook followers and have been using Facebook as a way to engage their customers for years. You can understand the frustration among businesses and individuals that suddenly have to pay to speak to their own network.
For Facebook, though, the move makes a lot of sense. They’re a public company now, and the market wants to know how they’re going to continue to add shareholder value. And given that there are reasons to believe that their user growth is beginning to top off, there’s lots of pressure on them to monetize their user base. Offering a paid product to their entire base of users – which, by the way, equates to about one seventh of the world’s population – is arguably a step in the right direction.
Of course, what’s good for Facebook’s stock price in the short term may not be good for its users. Beyond the anecdotal frustration, Mark Cuban and others are advising their companies to pull back from using Facebook as a primary marketing channel. And some of the bands I follow on Facebook have asked their users to begin following them on Twitter instead.
Facebook has to walk the thin tightrope of providing an accessible and valuable platform to the masses while it tries to monetize more and more of their user base. In the past, shareholders could argue that Facebook may have leaned too far towards providing the free platform. With this change, they’re now leaning in the opposite direction. They'll have to adapt their product and communication strategy to figure out how they can continue to thrive using this new model – and they better hope their users stick around while they do.