Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Facebook Social Ads Debut: The Power of Conversational Marketing Accelerates Pressure on Publishers

(NOTE: See the ShoreViews Video on this topic below in this post.)

At the recent Future of Business Media conference one of the key trends outlined by the speakers was that B2B media knows that social media is an important trend but that they are very reluctant to engage with social media tools. Most mainstream consumer publishers are about as far along, if truth be told, but it's of crucial importance that they wake up and see the opportunities in social media before others begin to skim off the best revenue opportunities.

One of the best examples of that can be seen in the recent launch of Facebook's advertising features, which are unlike most other tools used for marketers trying to reach audiences. Instead of just throwing up banner ads or typical CPM-oriented ad networks, Facebook is leveraging the power of their own social network to make companies, products and brands a real part of the Facebook community on a peer basis. The new Facebook marketing capabilities consist of two key components: SocialAds, which enables advertisers to get messages into the feed of Facebook activity appearing on member home pages, and Facebook pages for companies and products.

The SocialAds implementation on one level is not too different from any other ad feed that might appear in a weblog's RSS feed but with much more powerful capabilities based on member profiles and activity. An advertiser can target members on Facebook based on their personal profiles, including interests that match up with keywords, targeting both very small communities and very large communities based on those parameters. While keyword selections are fixed, as opposed to being able to define one's own, this still allows a fairly fine degree of targteting.

But the kicker in SocialAds is in the ability to link an ad to a member's reported activities on Facebook. So, for example, if a member visited a particular restaurant a graphic with a sponsored link to that restaurant could appear as a part of that member's post. Since there was probably a positive reason that the member mentioned this restaurant this then provides a very powerful personal endorsement to the advertiser, linking word-of-mouth directly to advertising. This is something very new and extremely powerful in advertising, a development that is potentially as revolutionary as Google's AdWords sponsored links were several years ago.

The introduction of Facebook pages for companies, products and brands is a more subtle features but equally important in its ability to support social media marketing. There are already more than 100,000 commercially-oriented Facebook pages for companies (our company page here) and their power is that they are so much like any other member's page. You can post company or product profiles, videos, links or any other type of content that you think is relevant, but the real value is that members can declare themselves "fans" of your commercial page - a high level of endorsement that enables a brand or product to become in effect a peer member of one's social network.

This is a positioning for marketing and messaging that for the first time really enables marketers to act in conversations within a social community as true peers. Certainly Second Life has shown the way on these types of capaiblities with its ability to allow brands to show of their stuff in virtual reality, but in Facebook's community it's less about glitz and more about rubbing shoulders with bona fide human beings rather than users wrapped in fanciful avatars with who knows what real persona behind them strolling into an online shopping mall. In Facebook pages a brand is less about exhibitionism than it is about engaging customers on a very personal basis.

Not all is sweetness and light in this new marketing environment - why is a sponsored link to ESPN's Pontiac-sponsored online site appearing in my news feed? A little TOO broad targeting, perhaps - but with futher refinements by Facebook and further refinements by Facebook members to indicate the kind of commercial messages they feel comfortable receiving the more powerful this kind of environment will become. It's perhaps a sneak preview of the kind of marketing environment that Google's OpenSocial may be able to make available to companies wanting to extend their message into a wide variety of media platforms that want to take advantage of the power of social media applications.

In the midst of a very busy week of product announcements bookmark Facebook's new marketing capabilities as one that you're going to the talking about - and thinking about - for a long, long time. This is just the beginning of a new era in conversational marketing that will change forever how goods and services enter the conversation of the marketplace.

For a visual run-through of how this all works take a peek at the following ShoreViews Video:

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