‘Pay to Play’ comes to Facebook as it starts charging users

Now that I have your attention, the headline above is true. Paying to be popular has come to Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform.

With over 900 million members worldwide, the social networking giant has begun offering users a chance to be better noticed by their friends by testing a “pay-to-be-popular” option.

While “signing up will always be free,” has always been the Facebook motto, spotlighting your status now comes at a price in New Zealand as some users are being prompted with “Highlight” feature costing up to $2 when entering their status update.

The key phrase here: “Signing up” will always be free. Being “highlighted” to your friends comes at a price.

Recent studies show that only 12 percent of a Facebook user’s friends see the average status update. The Highlight feature promises to make a user’s post more prominent by allowing it to appear higher in the news feeds of friends as well as appearing in the news feeds of more friends.

The trial run is being quietly carried out on Facebook’s 1.4 million New Zealand users as a test to determine whether or not they are interested in the feature and whether they would be willing to spotlight themselves among friends for a price.

Originally reported in New Zealand’s Stuff magazine, the new feature was initially suspected to be a scam. However, it has been confirmed as a genuine feature by Facebook.

“We’re constantly testing new features across Facebook,” said Mia Garlick, a spokesperson at Facebook. “This particular test is simply to gauge people’s interest in this method of sharing among their friends.”

The test includes several different methods of spotlighting a Facebook user. While some highlighted posts are very inexpensive, others cost up to $2 each. Payment can be made instantly via PayPal or credit card.

In the latest of a sequence of money-making efforts by Facebook, test participants will have the option to “highlight” a post after submitting it. Friends will then see the word “highlighted” under the post.

Based upon the need for attention and a user’s budget, the decision whether to “highlight” a specific Facebook post and to what extent is left to them.

A free option of Highlight is also available to limited test users.

Highlight comes as Facebook is gearing up for an initial public offering, something expected to value the social media giant at close to $100 billion.

The company’s recent slowdown of growth has prompted Facebook to experiment and concentrate its efforts on making money. The company’s imminent stock market flotation has also added more pressure. Currently, most of Facebook’s money comes from advertising across the site.

Over the weekend, Facebook also unveiled an application store, where for the first time users must pay for some of the available apps.

With 5,000 friends and 35,922 fans on Facebook, I always wondered whether my “message” was being heard. Now I know the answer.

Highlight and “pay to be popular” is not yet available in the United States.

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