Facebook Sponsored Stories: Turning Your Life into Ads

Facebook thinks that when you like something, check-in, or post something to a page that you really, really want people to see it. Like in neon lights, see it. They were so afraid your friends might have missed it that they created “Sponsored Stories.”

OK, so obviously I say that tongue-in-cheek because Facebook really doesn’t care if your friends saw that you went to Starbucks or that you love spray cheese. But Facebook cares that they have all your data and they can turn it into money.

And so comes “Sponsored Stories.” Or, as the rest of the world likes to call them: Sponsored Ads.

Facebook Sponsored Story

New Facebook Ads — Oops, I Mean “Sponsored Stories”

“Sponsored Stories” aren’t new. These Facebook advertisements are pretty similar in definition to an older form of advertising known as “advertorials” — a mix of editorial and advertisement.

While, your like, page post, or check-in isn’t technically an editorial, it has a similar function to one. It’s based on your opinion of the brand.

Sadly we have no way to express our dislike of it. Hmmm is that why there is no dislike button? (Total random conjecture, folks!)

How Does This Work?

Facebook states that:

“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.”

However, I suspect once people see it in action there will be many that don’t like them. Why? Because it is one thing to have gone to the Whooped It Up Bar last night or to like Hot Girls of Go Daddy (OK, made that up), but do you want that sitting on people’s pages, in the right column for days, weeks, or who knows how long with your picture and a big Facebook thumbs up?

Now, instead of a quick hop, skip, and a jump through your stream, it can sit on the pages of everyone you allow access to your feed for however long the advertiser wants.

And what if you accidentally liked something you didn’t mean for everyone to see before it would have tripped by unnoticed? Not anymore. Now it has the opportunity to become advertising, food for brand ad fodder.

There Is No Opt-Out!

Because there is no opt-out, it means that anything Facebook determines to be fair game for this advertising method is, well, fair game. Today it’s likes, check-ins, and certain statuses in your news feed. What is it tomorrow?

You can decide not to like anything and you can turn off big brand feeds in your privacy options, but your only real option is to not participate in those parts of Facebook that the social network uses for advertising. So the option is to not like a site, post to a page, let your applications post, or use Facebook check-In.

Is This What You Wanted When You Joined Facebook?

Starting yesterday, four specific types of user actions were turned into “Sponsored Stories”: likes, check-ins, actions within custom applications, and page posts (pages, for example, are your favorite band page or a company page, not your wall).

So is this what you wanted when you joined Facebook? For your personal data to become a big advertising machine for corporations who paid top dollar to Facebook to use your likes, statuses, and check-ins?

And just to be clear: “sponsored ads” means the person or corporation sponsoring receives some type of reimbursement. You get nothing.

What Are Your Options?

If you don’t like this but don’t want to give up your Facebook account, here are a few suggestions:

  • Check-in Alternatives: For check-ins, Facebook has never really been a good idea. With their lax attitude toward your privacy, especially with check-in data and tagging, it has never really been a good thing. To those who want out of the Facebook data engine, go to go to Foursquare. Gowalla is also an option, but I think Foursquare will be the frontrunner in the check-in space (though people’s opinions on this will differ).
  • Think Before You Like: Companies pay for these sponsored ads, so block brand feeds in your privacy options and don’t interact with the like buttons of companies (on and off Facebook) who are likely to advertise on Facebook. There’s no way to be sure who these companies are, so just be sure when you like something that you’re OK with your image and your name coming up with a thumbs up on the pages of everyone you know and staying there indefinitely. If you aren’t comfortable with that, then don’t do it.
  • Friends Don’t Let Friends Post Drunk: Don’t post to your favorite band page after you just got home from the concert about how you just drank two-fifths of Jose Cuervo, a 12-pack of Budweiser, and downed that bit of Boone’s Farm because you never know (not yet anyhow) just how those ads might appear. Even the heartiest partier wouldn’t want mom and dad to see that they just were loving the liquor store.

    Yes, this is an extreme example. But anything you post on a page will be food for the advertisers. Again, think before you post — especially before you use brand names of items if you’d rather not have your face and name appear alongside of a big Facebook thumbs up!

  • Applications: There really aren’t any alternatives to this. If you play games on Facebook and you allow it to post messages to your feed or it auto-posts messages to your feed, it’s fair game. However, you should be able to turn off the applications ability to post to your feed in your privacy options.
  • AdBlock Software: These will block you from seeing the ads, but won’t block you being used in the ads.

Recommendations: Friends vs. An Algorithm

Why would Facebook do this, other than for the obvious money purposes? To see it from Facebook’s perspective, here are the slides from their own presentation:

Facebook Brand Lift

Facebook Ad Recall

When your friend “recommends” something, you’re more likely to remember it and more likely to recommend it. Usually that’s the case.

Except there’s one flaw in Facebook’s theory here. My friend didn’t recommend it to me. A computer algorithm did.

Given the time for the novelty of the “friend” recommendation (i.e. seeing my friend’s face) to wear off, the advertisements will go back to their original levels (or close to) because intuitively I know my friend only hit a like button or checked-in to the establishment.

They didn’t rate it or write a review. They didn’t take time to share it with me. They didn’t take time to do anything at all really. Facebook did.

Banner Blindness

Time will tell if the new “Sponsored Stories” are just another gimmick, like changing colors behind the ads in Google. It will draw attention for a time, then fade into the banner blindness black hole shared by most Internet advertising.

In the meantime, another bit of my trust with Facebook has been chipped away. I’m eagerly awaiting the investor who will take a chance on a new Facebook. But maybe that’s just me.

Finally, to all those who think this is the best thing since sliced bread, feel free to leave comments, too. I’m interested in how seeing ads on a page as opposed to just seeing the items already in your feed would be of more benefit to you because I don’t see it. It feels much more invasive than persuasive.

Join us for SES London 2011, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place February 21-25! The conference offers sessions on topics including search engine optimization (SEO), keyword analysis, link building, local, mobile, video, analytics, social media, and more. Register now.

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