What if you could get paid to post stuff on Facebook? And not branded content or marketing messages - what if there was a way for you to build a fan base simply by posting things you like, and that your Facebook audience is interested in? That idea could be the seed of a new project by Facebook, or, at least, Facebook’s conducting some initial research on a plan which could see The Social Network introduce new ways to give individual users the ability to make money from their Facebook presence.
The Verge got access to a Facebook survey which had been sent out to verified users posing a range of questions around how they use Facebook and what options they might like to see introduced.
“Consider the following options for promoting your cause or earning money using your personal presence on Facebook. Which of these would you be interested in? (select all that apply)
Tip jar (place where fans can tip you money)
Branded content (earn money when posting with brand you have a sponsorship arrangement with)
Donate option (allow fans to donate to a charity you choose)
Call to action button (e.g. button saying “Buy Tickets” or “Sign up for more” on your posts)
Revenue sharing (receive a share of revenue generated by ads in your post)”
Now, there’s a couple of things to consider here. One, this was only sent out to verified users – i.e. celebrities or those with a significant enough presence or following to have actual fans, not just the everyday person. And two, this is only a questionnaire, this doesn’t mean Facebook’s on the brink of bringing out a new monetization option for personal profiles, they may be just testing the waters and seeing what response they get, particularly from high-profile users – though the fact that the query has made it so far as to be released to anyone does suggest there’s something to it.
Writing on The Verge, Casey Newton speculates that the option is likely being considered in the context of Facebook’s wider push on boosting real-time sharing – Facebook recently made a big change to the mobile app to put more emphasis on Facebook Live content and they’ve added other real-time discovery tools like Sports Stadium to boost engagement around live events. Real-time, of course, has long been Twitter’s domain, and no doubt Facebook’s push into their territory has the micro-blog giant concerned, but given Facebook’s privacy restrictions and closed in network, it’s not likely to be able to match Twitter’s real-time, fast-paced stream of in-the-moment interaction just yet.
Interesting to note, too, that Facebook’s been working to get more celebrities to use Facebook Live, with reports that Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was meeting with talent agencies in Los Angeles last month to promote the value of the option, and even explore the potential of monetary reimbursement for them doing so. The strategy here seems pretty straight-forward – live-streaming is an interesting option, but it has a noise-to-signal problem that turns many viewers away. If Facebook can get more high profile users posting content, content with significant appeal to a wide audience, then that’ll boost the value of Live in the eyes of both viewers and other creators, as the latter would be able to get their content featured alongside those highly viewed posts, exposing them to a larger audience. Done right, Facebook could make Live into a genuine TV rival, a whole new entertainment option - but in order to do that, they need more people to be watching more live content to entice creators and advertisers to get more interested in the option.
In this context, the idea that Facebook may be looking to provide more avenues for celebrities to make money from their Facebook activity makes sense – if those high-profile users can make money by being active on Facebook, they’re more likely to post more content, thus bringing more users to Facebook to consume it.
And another consideration in this, recent reports have suggested that people are sharing fewer personal posts on Facebook, with The Information reporting that overall sharing on the network fell 5.5% between mid-2014 and mid-2015, with sharing of personal posts – people’s own thoughts and photos – falling a massive 21% during that period. The report suggests that Facebook’s put together a team to address this decline, which they’ve labeled “context collapse”, underlining how seriously they’re taking it. Such a decline is particularly significant for Facebook, considering the data that users enter is what fuels their ever-powerful advertising and targeting machine. If sharing decreases, Facebook’s value decreases with it. While the idea of incentivizing people to post, as implied by this survey, only points to verified users at this stage, you could imagine, if those declines in personal sharing continue, that Facebook could also consider introducing the same tools for regular users, giving people more reason to maintain an active Facebook presence.
That said, the idea of a “tip jar” system raises a heap of concerns and complexities, and it’d be difficult for Facebook to actually launch and police such a system on a broad scale. It’d boost activity on the platform, for sure, but I’d imagine giving people a way to make money by posting things to Facebook would also come with a range of content concerns and subsequent reports. Given this, I doubt Facebook has conceived such a plan beyond verified users – but then again, maybe they have. Maybe they’re working on a new system to handle these very problems.
As noted by Newton, there are other platforms, of course, that already offer ways for users to generate income from their on-platform activity. YouTube’s had a revenue-sharing program in place since 2007, while gaming network Twitch also has a revenue sharing system in place. Such agreements have lead to the rise of social media superstars like PewDiePie, who reportedly earned more than $12 million last year alone, and such a process could definitely work on Facebook, particularly around video content. But then again, if you’re going to apply such a system to video, why not do the same with posts and updates? Why not provide a means for users to benefit beyond simple Likes and comments?
As noted, the complexities are many, but the fact that Facebook is even asking the question is interesting. Could this be the ace Facebook’s holding to address the decline in personal updates?
Either way, it does raise some interesting considerations.