Facebook's tempting 'Promote' button for business

As the world debates what Facebook is really worth and how much money it can and will make, its newish "Promote" button on business pages appears to have a lot of potential and some pitfalls.

Sree Sreenivasan
Sree, who teaches digital media at Columbia, is the university's first chief digital officer.
Sree Sreenivasan
3 min read
Screenshot of Facebook's Promote feature

This is NOT another article complaining -- or gloating -- about the Facebook IPO debacle. Instead it's about the rollout of a simple feature that appears to have a lot of potential for revenue for the company.

It's the new-to-me "Promote" button that has started showing up on SreeTips, my Facebook business page (I hate the term "fan page"; Eliza Cooper -- @ElizaIn140 -- a friend and social media consultant, helps me run the page). I say "new-to-me" because, with 900 million users, features get rolled out at different times to different users.

As I went to post an item on the page, I noticed the Promote button, which you can see in the screenshot above. Turns out it's a way to make sure more of the folks who have hit like on your page see more of your content (there is no such feature for personal profiles on Facebook -- yet).

For a fee, ranging from $5 to $20, I could expose my post to thousands of more readers and that's very tempting (I presume the cost goes up exponentially for bigger audiences).  


In order to tempt page administrators to pay for more readers, Facebook displays (only to admins) how many people saw a recent piece of content, right in the feed itself. For example, for a recent post about a comprehensive guide to Twitter, you can see that about 2,100 people saw the content, from a total of 5,745 likes (the percentage is incorrect, since it should be closer to 30 percent, but you get the message: lots more people could have seen your content).

Screenshot of Facebook metrics. Organic refers to the number of people who saw a particular post on their News Feed or my page's Wall. Viral refers to the number of people who saw a particular post in a story from a friend.

As companies plan their social media budgets and how much to spend on Facebook ads specifically, I think there is a lot of potential for Facebook to make more money by promising businesses, including nonprofits, that, for a fee, more people will be exposed to their content.

Screenshot of Facebook metrics shows the potential for more people to see content on a business page.

This raises an obvious question: If I don't pay for more exposure, will Facebook show less of my content now or down the line than its algorithm already does (this is a major problem that I'll discuss in a future post)? According to Facebook's FAQs about Promote, the answer is NO: "Nothing has changed about how your posts are shared with the people who like your Page." You can find the full explanation here. Given how often Facebook's policies and algorithms change, people will remain confused and suspicious of the company's motives. 

While we're discussing Facebook's reach, it's worth looking at the screenshots below that show its true power -- not just the raw number of people who have signed up for your content, but the number of friends they have themselves. As you can see, my 5,000+ likes have more than 2.7 million friends themselves.

Screenshot of Facebook page metrics shows the power of Facebook -- it's not just the raw number of people who have signed up for your content; it's number of friends they have themselves.

All of this applies only to business pages and not personal profiles. For some guidance on how to get more of your friends to see your personal posts on FB, this 2010 article by Tom Weber (@tweber, then at The Daily Beast, now at Time) is worth reading for the secrets it reveals. Things may have changed somewhat, but you'll find plenty of useful tips there.

What are your thoughts? If you had a business page, would you be tempted? Or might you object to this feature on principle?

Note to readers: If you've been reading my posts here, you know that one of the things I am trying to do is learn what works and what doesn't on social media. It's such a fast-evolving, confusing world that I believe we can all learn together. Please post your thoughts in the comments below or e-mail me or tweet me at @sree or #sreetips on Twitter. Thanks for reading.