It’s no secret that media companies have a complicated relationship with Facebook.
The social networking giant pulls in billions of advertising dollars at a time when more traditional news publishers are scrambling to boost their online ad revenues. Those same media players are also desperate for the web traffic that can come from placing their content in front of Facebook’s 2 billion users—though, there have also been some debate over just how much that Facebook-derived traffic is worth to publishers.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, BuzzFeed wrote about a practice in which it claims a growing number of businesses are paying Facebook to promote positive news stories from publishers as sponsored posts. As BuzzFeed points out, rather than spend marketing money on a traditional online ad campaign—which would involve paying someone to create an ad and then paying to place it on Facebook, or another social website, or even with the publishers who so desperately need the ad dollars—businesses are sending more of that money to Facebook to promote content created for free by publishers.
The BuzzFeed piece points to several recent examples of this practice, including one where a sponsored Facebook post pointed to a positive BBC article about mattress startup Casper. Another example comes from anonymous work chat app Blind, which says it paid Facebook to promote an article from Mashable. BuzzFeed’s point being that, while those media companies likely saw a slight uptick in web traffic from those sponsored posts, the advertising dollars went to Facebook.
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BuzzFeed did not report any numbers that would indicate exactly how prevalent this type of marketing is on Facebook. (An executive at Blind told the publication anecdotally that he knows of other startups who are promoting positive stories on Facebook, calling the tactic “probably the best form of awareness building, community building, and user acquisition there is.”)
Fortune reached out to Facebook for comment and will update this post as needed.
The practice is an example of just one of the ways how news publishers face an uphill battle when competing with the social networking service for online advertising dollars.
Facebook has been working to improve its relationship with publishers who may be unsure about the benefits of providing the social site with so much content. The social network launched its “Journalism Project” earlier this year, aiming to curb the amount of “fake news” articles on the platform and to figure out ways to help the news industry benefit from distributing its content via Facebook. Last week, Facebook said it is working with publishers to begin testing a paid subscription news service with a paywall, though Fortune has noted that media companies depending too heavily on Facebook for traffic and money could be placing themselves in an uncomfortable position.