“Promoted status updates! That’s the lowest Facebook have stooped.”

If you haven’t already met someone online (I am assuming you no longer meet people offline), shrugging their virtual shoulders and typing those words on their social networking walls, doors and windows – you soon would. Because ever since Facebook introduced ‘Promoted Posts’ for individual users, every self-respecting social media user is talking about how disgusting it is to pay to promote your status updates:

“Pay to connect to my friends? I would never!”

“Pay to get a few more likes and shares. How low!”

These are just some of the obvious reactions you are likely to get. Before I go any further on this topic, I must declare, I paid.

I paid just this morning to ‘promote‘ one of my status updates. Does that make me a lesser person? No! I think we have to understand Facebook a little deeper than that. When a young guy makes a lot of money, its easy to jump the band wagon to call him ‘low’ and ‘evil.’

Facebook was long dead as the place to merely keep in touch with friends and moved on to be the place to promote brand ‘me’. And rightly so. Question really is, how awful  is this act of promoting ‘brand me’? Very awful is it? Don’t we do it anyway, in our lives with the people around us? So why is it a problem when we do it on Facebook in large scale and now with the involvement of money.

What does it mean by ‘pay to promote’?

Facebook long back had introduced something called an Edgerank. The higher your edgerank the better is the visibility of your updates. That’s right, your updates do not by default have a 100% visibility in your network. Read the rest of this article even more closely in case you didn’t already know that.

There are different ways to decide Edgerank for Facebook pages and users. It all boil down to the fact that not everybody you have on your Facebook network receive all your status updates. If you are an individual with 500 friends barely 50 of them get 50% of the status updates you make delivered on their news feed when they login to their Facebook accounts. And If you have a Facebook page for your business or NGO or community or campaigns with say 5000 fans, only 1-3% of those fans receive the page updates.

There are various ways to improve the edgerank and ensure better visibility. As an individual you see those people’s updates with whom you interact more. That means if after accepting a friend request from me out of politeness you never bothered to Like /Commnet/Share any of my updates, Facebook would assume, I am not important to you and would eventually remove me from your news feed. If however you suddenly remembered whatever happened to Sanjukta and so visited my profile, I would come up in the list again.

Facebook does this using some kind of secret algorithm that nobody understands. Facebook itself doesn’t talk about this thing much, except for the couple of lines of information that shows up on the Facebook Help Center if searched for the words ‘Edgerank.’

Few basic rules to ensure higher visibility are:

(1) Updates with photos and videos rather than texts

(2) Frequent updates, because the more recent is the update, better visibility

(3) Updates that have more interactivity, as in more people like / share / comment on an update more people see it and so on.

Increasing this edgerank is a constant challenge at times even frustrating. For commercial entities there are social media agencies like Samyukta Media which can be hired to do it. For individuals, well they mostly struggle and wonder, “why do I keep hearing from the same people, why hasn’t the horizon expanded?” And all our believes of being a Global citizen, of reaching the world with our work, to open our windows to worlds we didn’t know exist, remain a myth. Here’s how I had once put my frustration in words:

“As I just went through my friend list, I realized that Facebook doesn’t show me updates from even 10% of the total number of Friends I’ve got. By that same algorithm that same 90% don’t see my updates. That explains why all conversations keeps echoing against the same walls. This is the evil of Facebook and of mankind recently, we float in the same damn bubbles even with 5000 friends”

Now, Facebook  has a solution. You can pay Facebook to make sure your updates, the ones you think are imporant and should be read by all of your friends, are safely reaching everybody’s news feed without falling through the crack because of stupid algorithms.

Your status update about that new documentary film that nobody agreed to produce which is now available on YouTube; Your update about that new book, which tells the story of a woman so controversial that nobody dared to publish it and so you decided to self publish; Your invitation to the latest fund raising event in your NGO; Your latest blog post your insignificant yet interesting life – You want these updates to be promoted. Facebook seeks a small price for it. Do you mind? Why?

As for me, why would I want to see a status update that you are no longer ‘sharing’ but ‘selling’? Am a consumer of your life? Am I not? Why else am I friend with you on Facebook in the first place?