Are Facebook’s ‘Sponsored Stories’ too invasive?

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As detailed within the L.A. Times earlier today, a Facebook status update from Iowa blogger and multimedia producer Nick Bergus quickly became a “Sponsored Story” in Facebook’s advertising program. On Valentine’s Day, Bergus posted a link to a $1,500, 55-gallon drum of Passion Natural water-based lubricant on Amazon and included the humorous statement “A 55-gallon drum of lube on Amazon. For Valentine’s Day. And every day. For the rest of your life.” Similar to Amazon product pages such as the JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser or 1 Gallon of Tuscan Whole Milk, the product page for the giant barrel of lube has drawn numerous mock reviews designed to poke fun at the product listing.

amazon-bergusDiscussed on Bergus’s blog, his friend sent a picture of the post appearing in the advertisement section of the Facebook layout. Bergus also started to receive messages from friends and former co-workers about spotting the ad on their page as well. According to Bergus, he stated “I’m partially amused that Amazon is paying for this, but I’m also sorta annoyed. Of course Facebook is happily selling me out to advertisers. That’s its business. That’s what you sign up for when make an account.”

It’s likely that Amazon or the manufacturer of the product is purchasing social advertising on Facebook with the Sponsored Stories program. Bergus continued “But in the context of a sponsored story, some of the context in which it was a joke is lost, and I’ve started to wonder how many people now see me as the pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of lube.”

Sponsored-StoriesAccording to Facebook’s help center, a Facebook user cannot opt out of being featured within a Sponsored Story. However, the Sponsored Story will be limited to the group that can see the status update. For instance, if a user promotes Nike in a subset of friends that like running, only those friends would see that status update if it’s used in a Sponsored Story paid for by Nike.

However, if the status update is set on all friends or for the public, the user’s status update could be seen by a much larger group of people. While escaping from Sponsored Stories isn’t an option, users can opt-out of showing Facebook Likes within advertising by altering the setting at the “Edit social ads” option in Account Settings. 

Facebook is currently testing an advanced version of the Facebook Sponsored Story by tying it into Open Graph actions according to Inside Facebook. Limiting an initial test to a small group of advertisers, actions such as read, watch or listen will be tied into the advertising platform. For instance, if ABC wants to pay for advertising within the Sponsored Story program, the action of watching an episode of Modern Family on Hulu may trigger a Sponsored Story within the feeds of friends. While this example Sponsored Story could send the user back to ABC’s Facebook brand page when clicked to “like” the network, it may simply serve as a recommendation for the Modern Family and ABC even if the user didn’t enjoy the specific episode. 

According to an earlier report this month, Facebook is also pushing more advertising out to the mobile platform and Sponsored Stories is a big part of that push according to the Financial Times. The new model of advertising is expected to launch during early March and will appear within the News Stories in the mobile layout. Facebook is already experimenting with Sponsored Stories within the News Feed in the Web format of the social network and has rolled out Sponsored Stories within the new photo slideshow interface as well.

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