NEW YORK (MainStreet) – As Facebook prepares for its initial public offering, it’s pulling out all the stops to beef up its primary source of revenue, advertising. To this end, it announced this week a number of changes to how companies and brands advertise on the social network. Most significantly, it looks like users will start seeing more advertisements show up in their news feed, and it appears you’ll start seeing content from brands your friends like as well.
While at first this might seem like a negative for Facebook’s approximately 850 million users, most of whom would prefer that ads stay nestled in the margins while their friends’ content takes center stage, it might actually benefit users in the following ways.
It turns static ads into conversations.
When a company posts an ad on the right-hand side of your Facebook feed, all you can really do is look at it and decide whether you want to click. When it’s on your newsfeed, though, suddenly you have the ability to have a conversation. We already see this at work with existing brand pages – a company will post a coupon or deal, for instance, and it isn’t long before you have customers complaining that their local retail location refused to honor the deal. The good companies will have no choice but to respond, turning an advertisement into a dialogue. The ability to talk back to advertisers doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
There’s more opportunity to mock companies.
Facebook isn’t inventing the concept of inserting ads and sponsored posts into the news feed. Twitter has been using sponsored stories and hashtags for years, and the experience of brands there shows another way users could turn the tables in the new Facebook advertising regime. Consider, for instance, the recent fiasco when McDonald’s tried to promote the #McDStories hashtag on Twitter: Users hijacked the promotion to share negative anecdotes about the fast-food giant, including tales of bad food and dirty restaurants. If brands want to become part of the conversation, they’ll have to be prepared to hear the unvarnished truth from users who may not be their biggest fans.
It helps expand your horizons.
One of the more notable aspects of the announcement is that you’re more likely to see ads and sponsored posts from brands that your friends like. While we can see that as a negative in some cases – just because your friend likes a company doesn’t mean you do – we can also see it working to the benefit of users. People often speak of the “filter bubble,” a term coined by activist Eli Pariser to describe how personalization by such Web sites as Google have the unintended effect of shielding you from opinions and interests you might not hold. By exposing you more to your friends’ interests, this has the potential to expand your horizons beyond your own selected interests.
Now, we have no illusions about the sort of content you’re going to see here – it’s not as if you’re being exposed to compelling political viewpoints and works of art. It’s still, at the end of the day, advertising. But by channeling ads to you in this way, it functions as much as a recommendation from a friend as a paid advertisement. And if you don’t like what the company has to say, now you can tell them as much.