Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Perils of ‘Social Ads’

Wired has an interesting article on Facebook’s display advertisements that are known as “Social Ads”:

“These ads, bought by participating businesses, insert your name and profile picture directly into their pitches. Based on anecdotal evidence, the ads started to roll out right before the holidays.

According to Facebook, a user has to take a “social action” in order to trigger the appearance of their name and picture in an advertisement. According to Facebook spokesperson Brandee Barker, that could be almost any activity that the user does on Facebook, “such as the download of an application and the acceptance of a friend request.” It could also include becoming a “fan” of a business by clicking a link on that company’s Facebook page.

But are Facebook users aware of the results of their so-called social actions? “When you become a fan of Blockbuster, nothing tells the [Facebook member] what that means,” says Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst at Forrester Research. Indeed, when you add Blockbuster’s Movie Clique application, there is no notification that you are allowing Blockbuster to use your name and profile picture in a display ad. Owyang suggests that Facebook ought to inform users up front and make it very clear what “becoming a fan” entails, or change the system to an opt-in model. Currently, there is not even any way to opt-out of participation in Social Ads, other than by avoiding associating yourself with any corporate brands on Facebook.”


Despite believing that Facebook’s ‘social ad’ strategy — of allowing individual site members to become ‘fans’ of their favourite brands and businesses — has the potential to become an immensely powerful marketing tool, the plan seems to have backfired.

Users are not choosing to participate in this form of advertising and are feeling increasingly co-opted and used by Facebook.

For social ads to work, users must participate voluntarily, they need to know exactly what they are participating in, and they need to provide their permission for their data to be used.

So far, this hasn’t happened on Facebook. Will they be able to salvage this sinking ship?