Note: this is cross-posted on the Threshold Interactive blog.
Facebook today launched a new feature for advertisers that repackages certain social actions on the network – say, a check-in at your favorite retail outlet – into a “Sponsored Stories” ad unit that will run in the right hand column on the site. Facebook has attempted to sidestep privacy criticisms by building a users’ privacy settings to the ad distribution – that is, only those friends within your network who would have already seen your check-in or other social action will be eligible to see the ad bearing your name and likeness.
This is a big step for advertisers as they will be willingly absolving themselves of the creative unit – context and content will be determined by the user who penned the status update in the first place. That is a fairly significant mindset shift for a lot of advertisers.
The bigger question here is the potential impact of this announcement on users. Facebook has a track record of challenging privacy issues including its now infamous Beacon program that was shuttered in 2009. Sponsored Stories is bound to draw criticisms stemming from the inability to opt out of being featured in an ad, and questions about whether Facebook can sell and profit from the written word of its members in this manner.
Of particular note to that last point – Facebook expressly prohibits users themselves from leveraging their personal profiles for commercial gain. This is a clause from its current Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:
So Facebook can sell status updates (or the sponsoring of said updates) to an advertiser, but users themselves are not allowed. There is a delicious irony there that is bound to be the target of attention in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for the ensuing debate.
Here is the full Facebook video with additional details.
2010 wrapped up with the usual suspects putting forth predictions for this year, some of which I already wrote about (particularly where measurement and accountability are involved). An additional possibility for this year that I came across in John Battelle’s latest roundup struck a nerve – that is, the changing nature of the “Web” itself. He frames it as a meme lovingly entitled “the Web Reborn,” which essentially implies that the Web we have all been talking has undergone a tectonic shift driven by mobile.
It’s worth considering John’s point, and I actually fully agree with him. The Web has always been this amorphous thing that brands and agencies try to get their heads around and harness when, in truth, the fundamental principles of innovation are driven by forces that no brand will ever be able to get in front of. These broader driving forces, things like Moore’s Law, promise that innovation will always outstrip our ability to fully leverage the expansive nature of the Web. It’s a bit like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.
How is a brand supposed to feel good about getting in front of trends and memes when they know that the moment they pull a plan together, the ideas may already be outdated?
Maybe it is not so much “The Web Reborn” as it is “The Web, Circa 2011.” That will continue to be the monkey on the backs of brands and agencies in 2011, as it has been in previous years.
Think about it this way. Your investments in commercial innovations will continue to be best utilized when integrated with broader strategic goals for your business. That is, don’t partition social and emerging media into its own budget silo, team and agency. This will help you prevent the groan-inducing “we need to find the next big thing” conversations by focusing on longer term platform investments, ones that you can continue to leverage and build upon. Mobile is a great place to start for 2011, and it’s an obvious area of weakness for a lot of organizations. Just yesterday I discovered that my bank of choice, Citibank, actually has an Android app that’s pretty useful. I have searched for such an app in the Android marketplace on my phone numerous times and while there are apps there for Citibank Hong Kong and Citibank Korea, I never found the Citibank USA app. Lo and behold, I happened to be on their website yesterday on my laptop and clicked on their mobile banking link. Buried several links in was the link to the Android app, which required that I fire my up Android browser and type in the URL to download the app.
Now, I had been perfectly content with Citibank’s mobile site, which is well designed and easy to navigate from my HTC EVO. It may be a simple oversight that it’s not in the Android marketplace. The point here is Citibank has clearly invested in reaching and engaging with their consumers through mobile, and they still have some work to do to make the experience seamless.
There are many other brands that haven’t even dipped their toes into the mobile space yet. Virgin America is one that continues to surprise me given its focus on innovation and customer experience. Not only is the airline lacking a mobile app, they haven’t even optimized their website for viewing on a mobile phone. The act of booking a ticket on their website is infuriatingly complex on a mobile phone. And yet, they’ve been on the front lines of using social media to grow and amplify their brand.
John Battelle summed it up best in his round up – “the web is the foundation of nearly everything we do.” Make it your resolution for 2011 to complete that thought by exploring what the foundation means for your brand, and ensuring that you are investing in those areas.