Fan-sumers, or MyFace? Facebook’s Social Ads

Jeremiah Owyang, through twitter, drew my attention to Facebook’s announcement today of its latest advertising product – social ads.

Essentially, brands can now get their own profiles just like individuals. Users can sign up as ‘fans’ of those brands (update: hence Jeremiah’s coining of the term “Fan-sumer”), and can then share information about those brands in their newsfeed.

This is an interesting way for marketers to leverage the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Studies consistently show that word-of-mouth is the most influential tool available to marketers. By getting users to distribute information for them, brands can now tap into the trust established between Facebook friends. This adds a whole new layer of potential.

As Mark Zuckerberg put in today’s (traditional) press release:

“For the last hundred years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation. And they’re going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do.”

Of course, it’s not all roses for the companies – they will have to deal with the same challenges that face any company working in the social media space. On Facebook, that means wall postings, photos or anything else that a company wants to enable.

For companies that aren’t already genuinely engaged, these features could backfire (ask Wal-mart – their last Facebook experiment was met with hostility, and doesn’t seem to be there any more).

Still, for those who go about it the right way, there’s significant potential from a marketing perspective.

Here’s the problem: as was pointed out on a recent episode of For Immediate Release (before this announcement), Facebook is falling into the same trap that MySpace did.

People migrated from MySpace to Facebook to get away from the bombardment of advertising and clutter on that site. These new ads will add even more content to pages already cluttered with Facebook apps.

Of course, there is an element of user choice in this. If people don’t want to befriend become fans of a brand profiles, they don’t have to. If they don’t want to share information on those brands, no-one will force them to.

The same can be said, though, for Facebook’s recent ‘searchable profiles’ kerfuffle. People could opt to not have their profile indexed by search engines, but the default was to share them. My bet is that most people didn’t know they needed to un-share. The same goes here.

I worry that Facebook is moving away from what made it successful, and forgetting its core users. They need to remember that there’s user choice in which social network to use, too.

If Facebook continues down this path, just wait and watch as users choose to look for a more friendly, open, uncluttered experience once again.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.