Facebook to charge users to ‘promote’ posts to friends

Facebook wants you to advertise … to your friends.

The world’s largest social network, which announced Thursday that it has crossed the billion-user mark, has struggled to make money from its enormous pool of users. The solution: Turning individual users into advertisers.

“I thought it was a joke at first, to be honest,” explained Cameron Yuill, founder of digital media technology company AdGent. “Now they’re going to charge me $7 to tell my friends something?”

Facebook announced Wednesday that Joe Sixpack will soon be able to ensure that you're reading his messages, thanks to an expansion of the Promoted Posts program, which lets businesses pay anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand to ensure that hundreds of thousands of Facebookers see your posts.

“As part of a test starting today, people in the U.S. can promote personal posts to their friends on Facebook,” explained Abhishek Doshi, a software engineer, on Facebook’s website. “When you promote a post -- whether it’s wedding photos, a garage sale, or big news -- you bump it higher in news feed so your friends and subscribers are more likely to notice it.”

'[It's] a new low in the network’s accelerating user experience implosion.'

— Mashable writer Matt Silverman

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Some tech experts expressed dismay at the idea, fearing an explosion of unwanted content “pinned” to the top of your Facebook page. Others accused Facebook of taking advantage of a situation that it created.

“[This is] a new low in the network’s accelerating user experience implosion,” wrote Matt Silverman on Mashable. He argued that the algorithm that determines which posts show up at the top of your page also determines which posts rarely make it up there -- and the social networking giant is now abusing the algorithm it created, something economists term “artificial scarcity.”

“Essentially, the network is ‘hiding’ your updates from friends, and then turning around to say, ‘Hey, if you want friends to see your updates, you could pay us!’”

“Facebook is rigging the game,” he added.

Other experts said the “big change” was anything but new. Social media sites have been putting your friends to work for years, explained Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“The idea of companies deriving revenue by capitalizing on consumers marketing to other friends is nothing new,” Rubin told FoxNews.com. “There's certainly some risk of members finding promoted posts annoying, but it merely ups the ante for people to think more about how they share,” he said.

Promoted Posts might be the company’s best bet to change the trajectory of its stock, said Yuill. The price of FB sank from an IPO high of $38 to as little as $19; it was trading on Thursday for just under $22.

“This is a simple idea that’s going to be wildly successful,” he told FoxNews.com. “Someone has to pay for the free stuff out there, and if the advertisers aren’t it’s going to be users.”

Facebook said initial testing for the service occurred in New Zealand. Yuill, who is himself from Australia, noted that the choice of venue was an interesting one.

“New Zealand is notoriously tight fisted. If you can get the Kiwis to pay for it, the rest of the world will too!”

What you get for your money remains to be seen, however. Chris Dessi, a social media expert and CEO of Silverback Social, said one recent experiment with promoted posts was far from successful. Sure, it resulted in tremendous traffic -- from Indonesia.

“Why would Facebook promote my post to people in Indonesia?,” he wrote on Social Media Today.

“Looking at my demographics today I can see that Indonesia is in fact, the second most popular country to have liked my page after the USA -- but did they like the page organically or while I was paying Facebook for advertising to grow my Facebook page likes?”

A Facebook spokeswoman told FoxNews.com Dessi's experience was with Promoted Posts for businesses -- a different software product from the company with a different goal: Likes, rather than eyeballs. For an individual promoting a post on a room for rent or other matter, the goal is to ensure a wider audience.

But how much will these customers be willing to spend to promote that fun run or charity ball? The company did not say how much Promoted Posts for induviduals will cost, but the $7 figure being tossed around may cross the line for some, Yuill noted.

“That’s a lot of money to pay to tell your friends something.”