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Facebook lets U.S. users pay to boost visibility of postings

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc is letting users in the United States pay a fee to boost the visibility of their postings on the social network, the company's latest effort to look beyond advertisers for revenue.

The promoted-posts-for-users feature, which Facebook began offering as a test on Wednesday to a limited number of its U.S. users, ensures that a comment or photo shared by a Facebook member gets prominent billing in their friends' newsfeeds.

"When you promote a post - whether it's wedding photos, a garage sale, or big news - you bump it higher in news feed so your friends and subscribers are more likely to notice it," Facebook said in an announcement on its official blog on Wednesday.

Facebook is considering a variety of prices. The current test price in the United States is $7, according to a Facebook spokesman.

The move marks Facebook's latest effort to experiment with new ways to make money beyond advertising, which accounted for roughly 84 percent of the company's revenue in the second quarter. Facebook also takes a 30 percent cut of purchases of virtual goods by users playing Zynga's Farmville and other social games on its website.

With Facebook's revenue growth rate showing a sharp slowdown in recent quarters, many analysts and investors believe the company needs to find new ways to make money.

Last week, Facebook unveiled a feature that lets U.S. users buy and send real gifts, such as eyeglasses, pastries and gift cards to their friends. Initially available to a limited number of users in the United States, Facebook Gifts could signal the company's intent to play a bigger role in e-commerce.

Facebook's main social networking service, which has 955 million users, will remain free, said Facebook spokesman Jonathan Thaw.

"Facebook has offered paid products - virtual gifts, virtual goods in games, sponsored stories, ads - for years, and still remains free. This doesn't change that," said Thaw.

The paid postings will be visible on the desktop and mobile versions of the social network. Facebook will place the paid-for postings towards the top of people's newsfeeds for a limited period of time. Facebook's newsfeed typically displays content by freshness and relevance.

The promoted-posts-for-users feature was first tested in New Zealand in May, and Facebook said it has tested the service in 20 other countries since then.

Shares of Facebook, which made its public market debut at $38 a share in May, were down 1.7 percent at $21.89 in afternoon trading on Wednesday.

(Reporting By Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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