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Facebook’s Social Ads — boosting the newsfeed

August 22, 2008

Wired has an article talking about Facebook ads with the ominous headline: “Facebook’s New Social Ads Turn Your Friends Into Marketers”.

In essence, Facebook is selling what they call Social Ads. Here’s the way it works: When a brand does something on Facebook (like create a Facebook Page), it does so expecting that someone will fan that page.

When someone fans a page, that activity gets sent to the news feed of roughly 10% of that person’s friends. The 10% is based on the Facebook algorithm that sorts through the billions of activities on Facebook to deliver a well-rounded user experience.

Tim Kendall, Facebook’s director of monetization (i love that title!), offers the opportunity to turn that number into a higher number. This is what Tim said:

“Marketers will be able to pay to accelerate usage they find valuable, to dial up and down actions that people take on applications, as part of the Social Ads program. For instance, News Feed uses an algorithm to communicate a users actions to the friends who would find it most interesting. Marketers will be able to pay for increased or enhanced distribution above and beyond what News Feed already provides.”

Again, the social aspect of the new feed is that it’s like a send to friend button. If I become a fan of a Facebook page, some of my friends will be told about it. For a fee, Facebook will turn that 10% into 100%. Wired said this in response:

“What does that mean? If you get a newsfeed from someone you haven’t spoken to in years who “totally loved Dark Knight!” it’s probably because Warner Bros. paid to have it broadcast to you.”

But I think Marketers would be silly to take Facebook up on this offer. When we’ve talked to clients about this, we told them we’d we never want to go to 100%. As the wired quote points out, people have friends on in Facebook that aren’t really friends.

The brilliance of Facebook is the way it keeps people in touch with people. Facebook’s algorithm ensures that the friends are relevant and interesting because first and foremost, it’s a tool. If it continually told me what people I don’t care about are up to, it would be a crappy tool.

It’s actually good at keeping the people I don’t care about as much away from my newsfeed. For that reason alone, we marketers should be wary about taking Facebook up on their offer to have a message go to 100% of the newsfeed.

But there, there’s also this point: Is a recommendation from my grade 9 locker partner any good? Fact is, I have people on my Facebook page who are basically strangers. The only thing we have in common is history. And I think people respect a recommendation from those who are a lot like they are now a lot more.

Think about it in real life. Imagine you haven’t seen someone in a long time, and then all of a sudden you run into them and they told you to buy something from their favorite store. You would most-likely think they worked there. And if you were assured they didn’t, you really would take the recommendation with a grain of salt.

My advice? Be wary. That doesn’t mean you can’t increase the newsfeed penetration from 10% to 30%. Or 50%. But I think it’s smart to steer clear of 100%. And for the love of Pete, involve your media department.

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