Facebook seems determined to impress investors, as today it begins testing an aggressive web and mobile news feed ad unit that lets Pages pay to show their posts to people who didn’t subscribe to them. Previously, Pages could only reach those people who weren’t fans through ads in the web sidebar or Sponsored Stories noting their friends had interacted with the Page.
These new non-fan news feed ads will let Pages push their best content all across the social network, but could lead businesses who’ve spent years earning and buying Likes to ask “What was the point?”
Facebook tells me the new ad unit is currently part of a very small test, presumably only available to handful of businesses and shown to just a small percentage of the service’s users.
Thankfully, it’s made a commitment not to overload the news feed with ads, telling me “We want to be thoughtful about how we introduce ads in news feed, so we have limits in place to ensure that people’s news feeds are not filled with advertising, but we don’t have specific numbers to share.” It’ll be watching reactions to assess whether to roll out the ad unit
Facebook says “We think this will make it easier for businesses to reach more people” and it sure will. But some brands have spent hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars amassing fan bases because that was the only way to push their marketing messages out at scale.
Now a Page with no fans could buy their way into millions of news feeds. That could shake advertiser faith in the importance of the earned media available through Pages, and lead them to be more conservative about buying fans in the future.
Beyond Facebook’s bottom line, the question is how people will react to posts from Pages that haven’t subscribed to being mixed in with family photos and thoughts from friends. Some people have purposefully abstained from Liking Pages to keep their feed and billboard-free as possible. They could get quite miffed at these new non-fan ads.
Honestly, this seems a little desperate on Facebook’s part. Until today, the Facebook news feed only displayed stories about friends, public figures you subscribed to, or Pages you Liked and therefore opted into receiving marketing messages from.