Facebook launched its promoted-posts service in 2012, but it’s only over the past few months that I’ve noticed a growing number of colleagues opting to pay to “boost” their posts on the world’s largest social media platform.
Team Zuckerberg describes boosting as “an effective and inexpensive way to get more exposure for your content.” Boosting basically goes like this: a page, say Contently, will post a piece of content. That page can then decide to “boost” the post, putting money behind it in order to make it appear in a targeted audience’s News Feed. It’s basically advertising for your content.
Facebook has made it both tempting and easy to test-drive the feature by embedding a Boost Post button on every post made by a page, while also keeping the barrier to entry low. Users can invest as little or as much money as they want, toggling factors such as duration of the boost and projected visibility based on the amount they earmark.
Image via Facebook
“I kind of felt like I was dumping money into a slot machine,” said freelancer Sharon Van Epps, who tried the service for the first time in March. “We all know [that’s] pretty much a guaranteed loss. At the same time, I was hoping for a jackpot: my essay would take off and I’d earn some [traffic] bonuses and maybe go viral.”
It turns out the slot machine simile wasn’t off the mark. Van Epps, who writes for a website that pays writers bonuses based on pageviews, spent $20 to boost her post. While she said that the essay received “far more pageviews” than other essays she had written for the same site, Van Epps noted that performance still “fell far short of revenue-generating traffic.”
So was her $20 investment nothing more than money thrown into a slot? Van Epps doesn’t think so.
“A few people left nice comments about the essay on my Facebook page, so I reached new readers,” she said, adding that the essay was syndicated by Yahoo, too. “It didn’t earn me any extra cash, but it did make me wonder if my traffic boost helped make that happen.”
I was curious whether her experience was the norm or an outlier, so I spoke to three other writers who have tried the boost feature multiple times. While they all acknowledge that it’s hard to pin down any precise correlations between having boosted a post and subsequent outcomes—namely, the performance of a piece in terms of sharing and pageviews—each has chosen to incorporate post-boosting into her business plan.
1. Jody Allard
“I first looked into boosting because I was frustrated by how few people saw my [Facebook] author page posts,” said freelancer Jody Allard. “I wanted a way to increase visibility for my articles and spending a few dollars seemed worth a try.”
Now that she has used the boosting function on Facebook 10 to 15 times, spending $3 per boost, Allard’s cumulative experiences seem similar to those of Van Epps.
“I have been disappointed by the number of views for my boosts because they almost always fall in the very low end of Facebook’s projected distribution,” Allard said. But like Van Epps, she views the post boosting as an experiment. “I have about a ten to twenty percent engagement rate on my boosted posts, and I get between three and five new followers on my author page” each time, so she believes her overall visibility is improving, albeit slowly.
Perhaps the best benefit Allard’s experienced so far, however, is one Facebook didn’t predict.
“One post I boosted ended up in front of an editor who reached out to me and offered me [an assignment] that has turned into a regular gig,” she said. “The very first blog post I wrote for her paid for all of my [boosts] and probably the next few months’ worth of them as well.”
She now considers this form of marketing as one of her business expenses. “So much of our value as online writers is our visibility and brand, and this has helped me cultivate that in a small way. Sometimes it might be true that you have to spend money to make money.”
2. Heather Boerner
Heather Boerner occupies a pretty specific niche within the wide world of journalism, though her potential audience is large: She covers HIV. Because that audience is often stigmatized, reaching them can be tough. Enter Facebook.
“The topic I write about, HIV—and specifically HIV risk and acquisition in women—is so veiled in stigma,” she said. “There are 460,000 American women at high risk for HIV, according to the CDC, and they’re my audience. But 460,000 women is still less than half a percent of the female population in the U.S., so finding them and engaging them is difficult. [But] by targeting ads to women who care about reproductive rights and reproductive justice, I’ve started to find my audience.”
She first experimented with boosted posts last November, when the actor Charlie Sheen made a public announcement about his HIV status. “I posted about it on my Facebook page,” Boerner recalled, “and as a result, I was interviewed by PBS NewsHour.”
Boerner then boosted a post about the PBS interview, and she “was hooked.” While she isn’t sure if the boosted post could be credited with an increase in sales of her book, Positively Negative, she does think that boosting is responsible for growing her page and helping her reach potential readers—all for a total of about $60.
Like Allard, Boerner has found that the most interesting outcomes of the boosted post function are those she never could have anticipated.
“It’s been interesting to watch who responds to my posts when I boost them and who cares enough to engage.” She said that female readers in South Africa started meaningful conversations on Boerner’s Facebook page after she tweaked the boosted post to reach that specific demographic. Those conversations, she said, are “guiding my reporting. That’s what’s valuable to me. That’s worth $10 here and there.”
3. Kiratiana Freelon
For Kiratiana Freelon, an independent journalist based in Brazil, boosted posts are now an integral part of her business plan. “I view myself as my own publishing company,” she said. “Every company pays money for their best posts to be seen.”
Freelon, who has boosted posts 31 times, spending a total of $320, said the boosted post scheme is “pretty straightforward: The more you pay, the more people see your work.”
She thinks there is likely to be a correlation between the boosts and overall engagement, but she notes the lack of more specific data on the part of Facebook makes it difficult to truly know just how valuable the service is.
Freelon warns that boosted posts won’t work for everyone, however. Having an audience already in place is key.
“It’s not something that is easy to capitalize on if you don’t have a Facebook page with some good amount of likes,” Freelon noted. “My page has almost 2,000 likes—not a lot, but enough to push traffic to posts that just need a nudge to be seen more. Without likes on your page, you have to build an ad set that is very targeted. It can be done, but takes more work. You have to find the audience for your work.”