Experts Discuss Facebook Advertising

    January 3, 2008

A firestorm of explosive debate erupted on this blog recently as a record number of comments were posted to a discussion on new abuses from Facebook relating to its Social Ads and Beacon advertising offerings.

Facebook_endorsement_1There are over 70 comments, and they all add color to the conversation. Today I’ve invited a number of people who’ve taken part in this discussion on my blog, their blog, or both to answer a few questions in this roundtable. Others like CK have posted their general thoughts on their own sites and have answered many of these questions in the comments on the original post.

  Some of the questions and answers below refer to the comments there, so if you have a moment, I’d recommend at least skimming them.

Our panelists today include:

I’ll save my own answers for discussion in the comments or elsewhere. As for my general perspective on this, I have to be on Facebook as part of my job. Beyond that though, I love a lot of the various aspects of the site, such as applications like Scrabulous, tagging people in photos and sharing them, engaging in certain discussion groups, and other activities. Still, Facebook crossed the line here, and the outcry is not just merited – it’s not loud enough.

The first question and answer are below; there are six more in the extended entry (if you’re reading this on the blog homepage).

1) Because of how Facebook includes members in ad campaigns, are you changing your behavior with regard to becoming a fan of marketers’ pages or adding applications?

Jeremiah: No, I assume all information I publish online is public, except my emails. (to some degree)  What I publish, I assume it will be read in my next interview, by my enemy, or by my mother.

Adam: Yes, my behavior has certainly changed. The main reason I ever became a fan of any of the brand pages, or added their apps was research. In the beginning of the Facebook ads program I would add any app or become a fan of any page but all that has changed. I am not willing to be a poster boy for Coke in the name of research (it is pretty silly and meaningless for a guy who does not even drink Coke).

Seni: I have steered clear 100% from entering any fan groups or brand based ‘normal’ groups after being spammed by Apple’s iTunes Student Music Group.  However, from anecdotal evidence high school and college students are far more accepting of spam, or simply to do not care they are being spammed.  If polled I’d bet they would say otherwise, but a number of people feel ‘more popular’ when they receive incoming messages on Facebook regardless of origin.  Finally, I believe that broadcasting brand loyalty to friends will be embraced by students, and extra face time through the insertion of profile images will actually make the system more attractive.  As a crude example girls that are members of 12+ "Hottest girls on Facebook" groups would love to have their image associated with an Agent Provocateur ad.

Howard: Yes, I’m quite concerned with becoming a fan now, even of brands or groups that I like. I’m not even sure where to look to see what the policy is regarding how my ‘fan endorsement’ may be used.

2) What would ultimately cause you to leave Facebook, if you haven’t already?

Jeremiah: Blatant misuse of my personal information without first getting agreement from me, or at least warning me.

Adam: At this point, I am so ingrained in Facebook, and get so much value from it; it would take a severe invasion of privacy for me to leave. I cannot say what it would take exactly, but I hope we don’t get there.

Seni: This is a tough one.  At this point, 6 months out of college, my usage has decreased to about 10 min per week.  However, I doubt I will ever cancel my account.  I still get invitations to events, friend requests, and messages through facebook, however, they are all forwarded to my mail account so the site itself has become almost obsolete.

Howard: I think once I start getting spam or abuse from applications or people on Facebook, it’s going to be less useful. Right now, even with the overload of applications and invitations, I can still get a good set of information about my friends, what they’re doing, and what they care about. That’s important to me in this world where ‘grazing’ for items of interest is about the depth I’m at.

3) Much of the debate was sparked when commenter Alana said we should all just "get over it" and use Facebook on Facebook’s terms, with CK noting that’s a typical attitude for marketers. Is there any truth to the "get over it" approach? Could we be overreacting?

Jeremiah: I see this from two sides: 1) companies need to be responsible citizens in the ecosystem, and be respective of users rights.  On the other hand, members forget that they are the ones who put the information on these websites; didn’t they read the terms of service?

Adam: You can never overreact when it comes to matters of privacy. We need the extreme individuals to regulate the market and keep lawmakers honest.

Seni: I 100% agree with CK’s perspective that a precedent must be made; however, I also believe that memes of this nature get a little overblown within these online circles.  Again, the majority of students don’t care, and they are still by far the most active users, even though non-student total users has increased significantly.

Howard: No, “Get over it” is not a response to a customer, even if the customer is a ‘free’ customer. Free customers have value in an ad supported business model. They also have potential to be paying customers of your other customers/interested parties. Yes, occasionally customers who abuse the system should be fired. But this is not such a circumstance.

4) What’s a greater offense, Facebook enlisting its members in advertisers’ campaigns without members being able to opt in (or even opt out), or Google forcing you to have a Google Account to leave a comment on Blogger blogs?

Jeremiah: Misleading question, no answer…   ðŸ˜‰

Adam: Both are pretty stupid (to say the least). That question is almost like asking, “would you rather me stab you in the ankle are the arm?”. It is a tough call.

Seni: Harkens back to the walled garden debate.  Usage, demographic info, and behavioral data = $$$.  I’d say both are on equal footing.

Howard: Facebook, of course. It’s annoying to not be able to comment, but you’re making an active choice if you comment on Google/Blogger blogs. The Facebook situation was totally an unknown option.

5) A recurring theme in general here is about the idea of giving consumers control over their marketing, privacy settings, and ways people can interact online (with each other, with brands, with publishers, etc). Over the past year or so, do you think the Web has become more open or more closed? Are trends pointing in favor of the consumer or those who have historically wielded control (eg marketers and publishers)? What do you expect for 2008?

Jeremiah: Expect to see more marketing done by looking by both using the preference behavior (gestures) of users, as well as their implied relationships in social networks. This is just the start.

Adam: I actually think that we may have taken a step back in 2007 in regards to control over marketing and privacy issues, but this is one area that Facebook has had a major impact on. Many people in the mainstream still do not know what behavioral targeting is, but Facebook, and all the concerns surrounding privacy that it has unearthed, has shed light on all tactics employed by interactive marketers (including traditional behavioral targeting). Due to increased awareness of such tactics, the mainstream will be more demanding in regards to transparency and control in 2008.

Seni: The question is if too much control is handed over, will people just turn advertising off?

Sure people argue that if it is relevant I won’t mind ads, or that if the creative is brilliant I will be awed and consider advertising entertainment.  You’ve got to be crazy.  If people can turn off ads they will, period.  I know I would.

Advertising is necessary to subsidize media production, but consumers are fighting back and their voice must be heard.  I don’t think it is as much a matter of control as it is respect.  Make it a two-way conversation.  Listen to the consumers and don’t betray their trust, because they will find out.

To hit the other points, I would say that a core principal of social media, new media, web 2.0, etc. is openness to facilitate community development and contribution.  Thus, in my opinion the overall net has become more open with a few large bastions that need to be cracked… and they will, it is only a matter of time.

Howard: I think the efforts in the VRM working group towards giving end customers the ability to control their data, and to shift the dynamic toward the customer as central and in control, are important. Even if that effort only partially succeeds, it is a leading edge indicator of what a subset of customers wants – but they’re a vocal and leading edge subset. Marketers will do well to pay attention to these efforts to put customers in charge, and see how the systems and projects they’re developing in 2008 and beyond will react to such a challenge.

6) Who’s doing the best job of giving control to consumers? It can be a brand, website, anyone/anything.

Jeremiah: Open source initiatives and websites that believe in the open web. Mozilla for one.

Adam: That is a tough one. Nothing jumps out at me!

Seni: Again, all the social media properties are tools for consumers, thus consumers wield a incredible level of control.

Howard: I think Staples is a good example. They recently called my wife’s company to remind the company they had outstanding rewards points that were going to expire. They actually reminded them to use up an expiring rebate. Amazing. Plus, even without paying for overnight shipping, a huge percentage of stuff arrives the next day. They underpromise and overdeliver. Bravo.

7) In the interest of giving up control to you, what questions should I be asking everyone?

Jeremiah: Generation Y is notorious for telling us what they did, how much alcohol they consumed, and sometimes who they’ve ‘hooked up with’ (actual Facebook lexicon) how will this impact the future of communication?  Will they integrate this behavior into the workplace, or will it disperse as they mature?

Seni: Does X new media execution really make sense for your message and your brand?  Let’s try to fight off shiny new object syndrome and really synchronize media selection with what makes sense for the brand instead of jumping at shadows.  This is the only way to increase credibility in the space.  Then we can really have fun.

Howard: I think it bears study as to when you’re advertising for a brand, even if you don’t know it. I have a whole post on this – stay tuned.

Thanks to all our panelists; for convenience, the links to their blogs are repeated below. Answer any or all of the questions and respond to them in the comments.