Friday, January 10, 2014

Facebook Sponsored Stories On The Chopping Block. Good Riddance.

The time has finally come for Facebook where the headaches/payouts outweigh the profits for their "Sponsored Stories" version of advertising on the site. According to Marketing Land, the social network will cease offering this option to marketers and phase it out completely by this April.  

For those unfamiliar, in a nutshell Sponsored Stories are ads that incorporate user activity into the existing Facebook ad to leverage organic interaction from fans discussing your business. They display in the main news feed (meaning they are also visible on mobile devices), as well as the sidebar on desktops.

image credit: pcworld
The advantage for businesses is that this extra bit of ad content, which you can see in the image to the right - "so-and-so likes..." - leverages a fan's "like" or other interaction with them (i.e. comments, check-ins) to lend credibility to the post and business thereby increasing the chance that ad will be clicked on by that fan's friends.

While the CTR (Click Through Rate) was no doubt much higher on average for Sponsored Stories versus non-sponsored ads, the very thing that made them "work" also made them problematic. It turns out that many Facebook users saw these as an invasion, not appreciating that their names and profiles were being used without explicit permission to act as endorsements for branded content.

I have used Sponsored Stories in the past. And, while most Facebook users either don't have a problem with it, or simply don't notice that they are "sponsoring" ad content, I occasionally received unkind messages on my pages from angry people who said something along the lines of "I don't 'like' this post. Please remove my name".  I would if I could. But, Facebook doesn't give marketers that much control over the feature. Sponsored Stories are either on or they're off.

image credit: techcrunch
So, while your Facebook page may be getting more clicks, you also may be turning off valuable customers when trying to gain new ones. This, of course wasn't Facebook's intention. But, the problem lies in their willingness to monetize their social network through advertising at nearly all costs. Little thought seems to be put into whether or not an action is good for Facebook's customers or its users. The question is whether or not they can make money offering it.

image credit: bitsocialmedia
Now that multiple lawsuits have cut into profits from Sponsored Stories the feature is going away. I say good riddance. I use social media to build audiences and engage with them, not too piss them off. And, it's time Facebook and other social networks took more responsibility up front to make sure privacy is respected and users don't have to sign away all of their rights just to have some fun online. In the meantime, it's up to marketers to think long and hard about each tactic they employ to reach potential customers, and what the long-term effects will be before checking that extra box.

top image credit: qwaya