Facebooks's 'Sponsored Stories' Turn Your 'Likes' Into Ads
From now on, if you "like" a company that's purchased a sponsored story on Facebook, that company can use your endorsement in an ad that runs on Facebook's homepage. The same goes for any check-ins, or relevant content you share via a Facebook application. Ad Age offers the following example: "[I]f Starbucks buys a 'sponsored story' ad, the status of a user's friends who check into or 'like' Starbucks will run twice: once in the user's news feed, and again as a paid ad for Starbucks." This paid ad will show up on the right-hand side of the homepage, along with the user's name, profile picture, and any "likes" or comments.
The good news is that Sponsored Stories have limited visibility. If you're inadvertently featured in an ad, only your friends will be able to see it on their homepages. The bad news, though, is that there's no way to opt-out of the service. Facebook explains: "While there is no way to opt out of seeing all or being featured in any Sponsored Stories, you can remove specific stories by clicking the 'X' displayed in the upper right side of a story and choosing the appropriate option when prompted."
In other words, you can choose to hide the ads, but you can't prevent your online activity from being used for third-party profit. And that seems to be the fundamental difference between Facebook's 'Sponsored Stories,' and Twitter's ostensibly similar 'Promoted Tweets' service. "[I]n Twitter's case, Promoted Tweets didn't come from just anyone's content -- they could only be selected from the advertiser's account or those affiliated with it," writes Read Write Web's Sarah Perez. "A promoted tweet wouldn't be stolen content from an unsuspecting user. Of course, that's not Facebook's way."
Thus far, Facebook's list of partners includes companies like Coke, Levi's, Anheuser-Busch and Playfish, along with nonprofits like Donors Choose, Girl Up!, Malaria No More, Amnesty International, Women for Women, Autism Speaks, (RED), Alzheimer's Association and UNICEF. The potential benefit for these advertisers is obvious. Users are more likely to at least look at an online ad if it includes themselves, or one of their friends. We're not sure if that would necessarily entice more people to buy a particular product, but it certainly adds an extra level of interactivity to otherwise unremarkable Web ads. The only problem, of course, is involving consumers in ads without giving them the chance to refuse. And that's where 'Sponsored Stories' might hit a snag.