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Facebook ‘Highlight’ – what’s the point and will anybody actually use it?

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
14 May 2012

Back in February at their FMC conference, Facebook announced a slew of new features aimed at brands – most of which would (presumably) become common-place once the roll-out to “Timeline” was finally complete. Amongst the many concepts touted was a feature called ‘Reach Generator’ – a paid-for option which would allow brands to “super-charge” their brand page status updates to be visible to more people.

When explaining the appeal of the ‘Reach Generator, Facebook bandied around a number of figures claiming to highlight how poor the visbility of your content currently was – with 12% (or there abouts) being quoted as the percentage of people who COULD see your brand page status update who actually WOULD see it. All very well and good, and a classic example of the “Freemium” model. In other words, give them the basic service for free and then charge them for extra add-ons at a premium.

Fast-forward to the start of May and the Reach Generator feature hasn’t yet been fully released – but Facebook are already testing a non-brand version, for all of us “regular” users. “That’s a bit odd”, I found myself saying – why would people want to do that?

The feature is currently being referred to as ‘Highlight‘, and appears to be being tested by a small selection of users – possibly most of whom are in New Zealand. Two different versions are currently being tested, one of which you can pay for, and one which alllows you to highlight your stories for free – presumably with the aim of actually testing whether anyone is prepared to pay for this functionality.

The fact that the same small percentage claim is being used to ‘sell’ this feature struck me as more than a little odd, and I can’t be the only one? I’ve got about 600 friends on Facebook and I’m PRETTY confident my statuses are seen by more than 12% of them – though I understand enough about Edgerank to also appreciate that there are obviously people who won’t see my statuses, based on their proximity to me, a lack of interaction or even just the fact that we’re not very well connected.

My own test - the results of which are not yet conclusive!

All of which begs the question: If Edgerank is supposedly clever enough to assess my friendships with people, surely allowing me to pay to over-ride this will just result in me pissing off my friends? Does the presence of an “over-ride” option not call the usefulness of EdgeRank in to question?

As you’d expect, the (test) launch of this ‘Highlight’ feature has attracted a lot of debate in the comments sections, with a lot of people claiming the feature will be mis-used by people who want to spam your feeds, or promote statuses which pester people in to doing something. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with that point (if you’re friends with people who might spam you, that’s your own fault and you can easily fix it!) I DO question why anybody would actually pay to do this?

Worse still, the concept of highlighting your content to make it more visible will make this mythical 12% debate a lot more prevalent – and presumably lead people to question how effective Facebook actually IS a ‘free’ marketing tool? Discussions about EdgeRank have long suggested there are a lot of ways you can ‘optimise’ your content to make it more visible – does this 12% figure contradict that, is it a cap imposed by Facebook, or simply an ‘on average’ figure we shouldn’t worry too much about?

One thing’s for sure – it’s clearly another effort by Facebook to open up another revenue stream with their IPO looming. Whether it ends up being a successful one or not remains to be seen…

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