Facebook Sponsored Stories, a Tame Version of Beacon

AD60 Dev

Whenever a new advertising platform launches, it is always interesting to see how consumers react. With Facebook’s latest ad platform, Sponsored Stories, we now have a strong indication that our culture has matured or grown comfortable in the way our information is shared – a big change from just 3 years ago.

While 2007 may feel like a decade ago, for Facebook, it represented a defining moment as they introduced the world to the future of social advertising. In 2007, Facebook was a hot start up with 50 million users, instead of the 600 million they boast today. At that time they introduced what was to be the short lived Beacon program. The Beacon ad platform allowed advertisers to turn users online activities into ads within Facebook. For example purchasing tickets on Fandango or holiday gifts on Amazon would be posted on your profile wall and shared in your friend’s news feed. This caused a massive uproar, followed by an apology from Mark Zuckerberg and finally led to the program being killed.

Cue present day and Facebook has once again released an ad unit that is powered by social actions and yet we see no hands thrown in the air screaming privacy issues. Did Facebook get it right this time or are users less concerned with sharing their actions?

As we compare the Beacon program and Sponsored Stories we noticed a number of similarities, but also a few differences that could attribute to a smoother acceptance. The first and probably the biggest is the actions in which advertisers can sponsor are those that you have already taken and shared with the Facebook audience. An action like checking-in or liking a brand is nothing new. With Sponsored Stories, the ad platform simply replicates this action, attaching a brand message and placing it in the right column – where the rest of Facebook’s ads can be found.

While brands, such as Starbucks pay nothing to have their brand or location mentioned by means of a check-in through Facebook Places or when a user uses the “Like” action to let their friends know that think something is cool. Facebook recognizes that these messages are lost very quickly as other friends pump-in new dialogue, causing the branded message to become lost. And so, Facebook with Sponsored Stories gives brands the ability to now take those actions and keeps them fresh.

If we factor that the user has already shared a connection to the brand through free advertising, is it so violating for brands to want that message to be kept present to other users for a longer period of time.

This factor alone is why Sponsored Storied will work. When Beacon was announced, Facebook had yet created the ability to check-in or like specific content and so the Facebook universe was not yet comfortable with sharing their actions. Zuckerberg was right when he introduced Beacon, he just did it in the wrong order. It also helps that Sponsor Stories was announced over the newswire and not during a huge press event.

While the new ad unit is mostly a replica of what users can do on the site, as more publishers switch exclusively to the Facebook Connect log-in option, we may see more actions begin to show within Facebook, equaling to new stories to sponsor.

As of January 25, Sponsored Story slots (by a per-impression and/or a per-click basis) became available to the public. A number of brands have already signed up, including Coke, Levi’s, Anheuser Busch and Playfish. A number of nonprofits have also gotten, including Donors Choose, Girl Up!, Malaria No More, Amnesty International, Women for Women, Autism Speaks, (RED), Alzheimer’s Association and UNICEF.

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