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Facebook’s ‘word of mouth’ ads blend in

As anyone who uses it knows, it can be hard to tell the ads from the content on Facebook.

As anyone who uses it knows, it can be hard to tell the ads from the content on Facebook.

That’s deliberate, says Facebook Canada managing director Jordan Banks.

“A Facebook ad has to be non-interruptive, timely, relevant and personalized,” Banks says.

In other words, the ads must look and feel just like the free voluntary content Facebook users post on their pages.

That’s the vision of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Banks says.

In the movie The Social Network, Zuckerberg insists in the site’s early days that advertising would interfere with it being “cool.” Now, seven years later, with 550 million followers worldwide and millions of dollars from private investors, Facebook needs a way to compete for ads.

Facebook’s ad revenue is projected to double to $4.05 billion US this year. Though it’s growing fast, so are other forms of online advertising. Google Inc. reported revenue of $29.8 billion US last year, most of it from advertising.

Facebook has plenty of fans in Canada: 15 million visitors a month; 10 million who visit daily.

Despite these impressive figures, social media continue to be a tough sell, with many brands uncertain how to divide their ad budget between conventional and new media.

Banks’ job is to convince the “Top 200 brands” that it’s worth being on Facebook.

With its massive database of users and detailed knowledge of who they are and what they like, Facebook offers brands the ability to connect directly to a specific segment of that audience, he says.

On the downside, the commercialization of Facebook has raised concerns about just how much personal information is being shared with advertisers, and how.

Facebook has responded by giving users more control over privacy settings. Users can opt out of everything, Banks says, though he questions why anyone would do that.

“If you opt out of everything, it’s not a very social experience. It takes away from the beauty of Facebook,” he says.

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