Facebook Sponsored Stories: A Brilliant Idea or Consumer Abuse?

BlogHer Original Post

Anyone working in marketing and advertising today knows how powerful recommendations from people we know can be, and it was only a matter of time before a social network began to seriously capitalize on that. And why not? For most of us, this kind of content is already on our social media profiles.

That's the logic behind Facebook’s new advertising offering "Sponsored Stories," anyway. It taps into your network of friends and uses their "like," check-ins and page posts as part of their advertisements running on the sidebar.

“It’s about taking the word of mouth recommendations and endorsements that are happening across Facebook every day and increasing the distribution of those,” Jim Squires, a product marketing lead at Facebook, told AdWeek.

The ad goes from, say, "Flowers are whatever, knickers are forever. Shop sexy lingerie at Agent Provocateur" to "AV Flox just bought the sexiest little garter belt at Agent Provocateur."

All right, all right. It's unnecessarily alarmist to use my lingerie shopping as an example. After all, this isn't Beacon, the advertising product Facebook launched in 2007 that published purchase information from other sites on a user's Facebook news feed without their permission. No, this is stuff you're already saying.

"Anything that one of your friends is seeing as a sponsored story which features some of your content is actually something they would have already seen in their news feed," a Facebook product manager says in a video released by Facebook about the new offering. "A sponsored story never goes to somebody who is not one of your friends."

Sponsored Stories


So what's the problem?

"Privacy is the issue here," says Marsha Collier, author of the new book The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide.

"If a brand wants to use my words as a testimonial, they should ask permission. Using my words out of context is an unfair monetization of a user's content. Compliments given to brands should be lauded with respect. Customers should not be used."

It's very typical of Facebook, a company that time and time again has proven that they don’t have the slightest respect for their user-base.

In an op-ed for Mashable, senior director of emerging media and innovation for 360i, David Berkowitz illustrates the problem at the core of the product:

There's a perfect example of this in the video Facebook posted to announce Sponsored Stories. At 1 minute and 8 seconds into the video, the camera closes in on Kent, a goateed product manager who, perhaps in his late 30s, looks like Facebook's oldest employee by a good five or 10 years. Kent looks you in the eye and says, "Anything that one of your friends is seeing as a Sponsored Story which features some of your content is actually something they would have already seen in their News Feed."

It's a classic Facebook moment that left me yelling at my laptop. Kent probably couldn't hear me, but I was trying to tell him, "No! You don't get it!" When my friends first saw my check-ins, updates, and application interactions, it was organic. It was because at that precise moment, I wanted them to see it. I felt like sharing it. It came from my heart.

Yet when it later appears as a Sponsored Story, it has nothing to do with me. It's a brand paying to promote something I said or did, outside of the moment and context in which I did it. It doesn't matter if my friends already saw it or could have seen it. What matters is when and why and how I originally shared it. Kent, please tell me Aaron Sorkin was wrong about your company. Please, please tell me you can understand my concern.

According to an eMarketer estimate, Facebook is positioned to double revenue this year to some $4 billion after diversifying ad revenue with their virtual currency Facebook Credit, which gives the social network 30 percent of all transactions made using it.

What do you think of all of this? Do you feel your privacy is being invaded, that your posts are going to be robbed of context and soul? Or does it not matter?


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