We saw Facebook introduce Sponsored Stories in January 2011 as a way to use “social context” – actions taken by Facebook friends – to drive advertising. When someone engaged with a business, advertisers were able to create an ad using that person’s name and photo and advertise to their networks to create a recommendation. For example, clicking “Like” on a business’ page might result in your name and photo stamped into an ad later, with “(Your name) likes (business name)” and displayed to your Facebook friends. Word-of-mouth advertising has proven to be a driving force in social marketing. Not every Facebook user was happy with their photos popping up as product endorsements, however. Three years and one multi-million dollar lawsuit later, Facebook is dropping the Sponsored Story as of April ‘14. User data will instead continue to be used in Facebook advertising, with a greater focus on targeted ads, using features such as Custom Audiences, Lookalike Audiences, and Partner Categories. While the data collected by Facebook is an unbelievably rich source for advertising revenue, Facebook clearly understands the importance of keeping users informed. Their new, transparent user guidelines illustrate how advertisers target ads, and include instructions to opt-out of social context endorsements. In a field where we promote “transparency” and “authenticity” as the keys to our marketing success, it makes sense that we’ve reached a point where we need to involve the user in understanding ad paths. An informed social platform user, I believe, can make the difference between a general resentment of “targeted advertising”, and an appreciation for “relevant content”.
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