Facebook announced their social advertising tools this week, unveiling a new set of channels for advertising on the site:
- Facebook Pages: businesses can now be have faces on Facebook
- Social Ads: advertisements based on actions your friends have taken on the site
- Facebook Beacon: advertisements based on actions you have taken on other sites (e.g., online viewing, buying or selling)
Businesses are now be first-class citizens in the world of Facebook, and allocated Pages (with a capital "P"). People can add links to business pages, but they are listed as "fans" rather than "friends", prompting Jeremiah Owyang to coin the term fan-sumers (fan + consumers, a la prosumers (producer + consumer) ... though I wonder if fancons would be a more appropriate mashup, especially in view of some of the other dimensions of social advertising ... but I'm getting ahead of myself). With tens of millions of people, and 100,000 of [potential?] businesses, the Facebook Pages of "landmark partners" listed in the announcement appear to be off to a somewhat lackluster start, based on a little browsing around on Facebook this morning: Blockbuster (51 fans), CBS (no page), Chase (25) The Coca-Cola
Company (the landmark leader, with 304 fans, as I suppose befits the world's most popular brand), Microsoft (35 fans on one Page, 2 more on another, leading me to wonder which, if either, is the "official" Facebook Page for the company), Sony Pictures Television (no page) and Verizon Wireless (83). Of course, we're only 48 hours into this brave - or should I say "brand" - new world, but I suspect that most people acquire friends on Facebook faster than most businesses are acquiring fans.
Social Ads allow people to have targeted advertisements displayed on their Facebook pages (er, which are not to be confused with Facebook Pages, or maybe they will be ... but again, I digress). To be honest, I can't tell from the announcement - or other reports - whether the targeting is based on the profile and actions of the Facebook user on whose page the ad appears, or on the profiles and actions of the friends of the person on whose page the ad appears ... perhaps it's both (especially given the boundaries that are being broken by other dimensions of the announced changes). In any case, businesses can purchase advertising space - banner ads - on pages of people who have fanned them, and fanned business endorsements can show up in people's minifeeds, leading to a new form of brand-centered sociality (a special case of object-centered sociality)
Facebook Beacon is an outreach service that enables Facebook user actions taken on other sites to be incorporated into that Facebook user's news feeds or Mini-Feeds, e.g., a buying or selling an item on eBay, purchasing a movie ticket on Fandango, booking travel on Travelocity or posting a restaurant review on Yelp (notably absent from the list of Facebook Beacon partners is Amazon, which, of course, has been adding more and more social networking service features to its own web site, another dimension of the convergence of ecommerce and social networking). The service is opt-in, and it will be very interesting to see the social ramifications of this new portal of revelation (I can imagine cases of "Who did you go to that movie with?" or "Why didn't you call while you were in town last weekend?").
This is, of course, all very exciting from the point of view of marketers ... and, of course, on some level we're all marketers (Citizen Marketers or Brand You's) ... especially the growing proportion of people with Facebook pages. Self-promotion is a natural human inclination, and one of the ways we promote or express our selves is through our associations with other people, places, things and activities. Many of us choose to promote brands in the physical world implicitly - through the clothes we wear, the posters we hang on our walls and the stickers we place on our laptops (or even the laptops we choose) - or explicitly - through conversations about our favorite products and services (TiVo fanatics come to mind ... or should I say TiVumers?). And it seems increasingly natural - or at least prevalent - for physical world social and economic practices to migrate into the digital world, so these new social advertising tools on Facebook do not come as much of a surprise ... but they may come at a cost.
I remember a trip to Mexico, where I was struck by the mixture of social and economic networking that pervades commerce there. Everyone seems to be an agent for someone else. My son and I wanted to go on a fishing trip, and as soon as we'd parked the car, the parking lot attendant introduced us to a security guard who introduced us to a guy who then set us up with a boat and later a restaurant that would cook whatever we caught. I had the strong impression was that everything was based on commissions, and a network of social and economic relationships among different parking lot attendants, security guards, boat captains and restaurant owners. Everything was fine, but as a relentless optimizer, I kept wondering whether we could be getting better deals. I developed a measured distrust for the rest of our stay about many of the people we encountered, as everyone seemed to have a financial incentive to steer us toward certain people, places and activities. They weren't trying to help us find the best boat or restaurant, they were just trying to get some of the money we would spend there. Perhaps this pervasive commission backend exists in the U.S.A., and I just don't recognize it, but the experience was somewhat unsettling.
I suspect that more suspicion and measured distrust will creep into online social networking as more economic incentives enter the networks. Trust is an important component in any social network, although it may be less so in online networks that promote promiscuous linking (friending (and now fanning)). I do wonder, though, how the flow of trust in these networks will be affected by the flow of money. This basically comes down to the conflict (or tension) between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations: are you raving about something because you truly enjoy it and/or truly believe I would enjoy it, or because you be financially compensated for the influence you exert?
Jackie Hubba, co-author of the Church of the Customer blog (and the book Citizen Marketers), recently wrote about how fakers are bad for business, noting a study by Burson-Marsteller regarding e-fluentials - people who are more likely to share their opinions and experiences with
others, and thus influence purchase decisions - that show people are increasingly distrustful of reviews by people with an economic incentive to write those reviews:
People hate fakers when it comes to buying stuff. In fact, more than
half of the people asked for a recent survey said they avoid buying
from a company if they even suspect a paid professional is secretly behind the review of a typical, everyday person.
So what will happen when everyone is, potentially, a paid reviewer?
The Wall Street Journal had an article about a month ago on The Price of a Four Star Rating, in which they note some similar trends that are occuring in the blogosphere:
As online food sites become increasingly influential in the restaurant
business, chefs and owners are plying bloggers with free meals to get
good write-ups. Some are also posting favorable reviews about
themselves on popular Web sites or becoming Internet scribes.
I wonder if Facebook Page owners will be plying potential fans with digital or physical freebies to entice them into explicit fandom.
I'll close with some provocative issues raised in a recent article by Chrstine Rosen in The New Atlantis on Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism:
Although social networking sites are in their infancy, we are seeing their impact culturally: in language (where to friend is now a verb), in politics (where it is de rigueur for presidential aspirants to catalogue their virtues on MySpace), and on college campuses (where not
using Facebook can be a social handicap). But we are only beginning to
come to grips with the consequences of our use of these sites: for
friendship, and for our notions of privacy, authenticity, community,
and identity. As with any new technological advance, we must consider
what type of behavior online social networking encourages. Does this
technology, with its constant demands to collect (friends and status),
and perform (by marketing ourselves), in some ways undermine our
ability to attain what it promises—a surer sense of who we are and
where we belong? The Delphic oracle’s guidance was know thyself. Today, in the world of online social networks, the oracle’s advice might be show thyself.
With the recent Facebook announcement - and MySpace's earlier announcement of a "SelfServe" hyper-targeted affinity-based advertising network (which I won't even get into, given that I'm not a MySpace user, except to note that Jeremiah Owyang has posted a nice summary and analysis of the MySpace and Facebook advertising announcements) - I wonder if, in this week's newly expanded world of online socioeconomic networks, the oracle's advice might be sell thyself.