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Does Facebook Favor Paid Posts?

Does Facebook favor paid postings over unpaid postings? According to New York Times blogger Nick Bilton, that’s exactly what’s happening, whether the social giant planned it that way or not.

In a recent blog posting, Bilton laid out his experiences promoting paid and unpaid postings and the results were very interesting. Here’s what he found and how affiliates can make the most of their social media investment.

Paid vs Free Facebook Posts

Bilton’s Facebook page got off to to fast start attracting 25,000 subscribers and racking up hundreds of likes and re-shares every time he posted up links to his New York Times column.

He’s now sitting at 400,000 subscribers, but the shares and likes have dwindled down to a fraction of his early successes.  In the month of January he posted four columns and averaged only 30 likes each time.

All that changed, however, when he ponied up for a paid promotion on his friends’ newsfeeds. Suddenly, his likes were back in triple digits. (Something Facebook happily reminded him of in promotional e-mails.)

March of the Algorithm

So what gives? Is Facebook flipping the social media script by suffocating unpaid content with paid content?

A Facebook official Bilton interviewed said that Facebook didn’t have anything to gain by favoring paid over unpaid content and suggested that engagement and ad frequency were unrelated. (Though most Facebook users looking at their increasingly cluttered news feeds might disagree.)

He also said that algorithm changes can also impact content and interactions.

Is That Illegal?

If the story of an Internet giant favoring paid over unpaid content sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what the Federal Trade Commission accused Google of doing last year. Google settled with the FTC and has eased up on the practice.

If that is in fact what Facebook is doing, an antitrust complaint isn’t likely stop the practice. Despite its size, Facebook doesn’t dominate social media that way Google dominates search. That means an FTC action isn’t in the works.

What it Means for Affiliates

Bilton’s story should serve as a warning to affiliates not to put too much faith in any one social platform. (In fact, it’s not the first time Facebook has been accused of unusual business practices.)

If you’ve got the budget for them, sponsored Facebook posts are clearly an effective, but they shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Facebook posts should be used in conjunction with Tweets, guest blogs, forum posting and any other medium you can find.

Do Bilton’s experiences on Facebook sound familiar? Share your experiences in the comments section below.