Unintended Consequences of Sponsored Posts on Facebook

This post relates to my work, but I am not speaking on behalf of my employer.

Trust (Kinda Broken)I just read Dave Fleet’s post: Four Theories on the Declining Trust in Canadian Social Media. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer seems to show that people’s trust in social media has gone down. Dave wrote about why he thinks this might be happening.

In the section called “more media, less social,” he talks about Facebook’s efforts to make more money, and how it leads to more advertising on people’s screens…

While the personalized 1:1 experience is there, the ability to stay in touch with communities of interest is much diminished, and there’s a saturation of brands pushing content “at” people, with a focus on sales vs helpful, interesting information.

Example Facebook InsightsI manage a Facebook page at work. We don’t buy Facebook ads, but we do pay money to sponsor our posts. We started doing it more this year, because we noticed a drop in the number of times Facebook showed our posts in people’s timelines. It’s not very expensive to boost a post, and it can make a big difference.

But I’ve been thinking about two (probably) unintended consequences of sponsored posts that support Dave’s theory.

Getting Your Money’s Worth

When you spend money to get a post into people’s timelines, you want to see results. Depending on the post, you might want to get:

  • More likes, shares, or comments.
  • More traffic to your website.
  • More registrations for an event or sales of a product.

It’s easier to justify spending money on posts which lead to more tangible results. The return on investment of a boosted post that leads to sales is clearer than the ROI of a helpful post that doesn’t have a call to action. (Don’t get me wrong though. I’m a big fan of being helpful.)

This means more money will get spent on posts that are more promotional. And that means people will see more promotional posts in their timelines.

Reaching Beyond Your Fanbase

Example Boost SettingsWhen you boost a post on Facebook, you can choose who you want your audience to be. You can ask Facebook to show your post to:

  • Fans of your page.
  • Fans of your page and their friends.
  • People who have specific interests or live in certain places.

When you’re paying for exposure, you’re probably more likely to reach beyond your fanbase. Once in a while I’ll choose “fans of your page,” but more often I’ll choose the second option.

To me, this means the push to use sponsored posts to reach more of your fanbase also inadvertently leads to more promoted posts appearing in non-fans’ timelines.

Unintentional Consequences

I’m not trying to call Facebook out for ruining people’s trust by offering sponsored posts. Ultimately that responsibility lies with the brands and people using the platform.

But platforms can have biases, and changes can have unintended consequences. What do you think?

Hat tip to Michelle from my #BSMRCCE class for tweeting about Dave’s post.

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