What are Facebook Sponsored Stories? Here are some screenshots to explain it.
Enough of background info – here are the observations!
1. When I read about Facebook’s Sponsored Stories earlier this week, the first thing that came to my mind was a scene from Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. There is a scene where Meryl (played by Laura Linney), Truman’s on-screen, on-show wife is having a conversation with him and suddenly starts promoting a Co-co mix, that prompts Truman to ask, ‘Who are you talking to?’
Well, Sponsored Stories is not that bad, but with Sponsored Stories, Facebook, as a platform, is increasingly starting to resemble The Truman Show!
2. But again, I notice a lot of negative sentiment against this move by Facebook. The fact that users do not have any say/control over it could be one big reason, but think about it – you have a choice, as a user…don’t talk about any brand!
Also, there are comparisons between Sponsored Stories and Twitter’s Promoted accounts, but I really don’t see any similarity there at all. If anything, Facebook’s Sponsored Stories is eerily similar to something else on Twitter. Many brands on Twitter freely retweet positive opinions in an attempt to amplify that sentiment among its own followers – Sponsored Stories seems just like the paid, Facebook version of that activity!
Of course, Twitter is not a walled garden like Facebook, but if you’ve allowed brands on Twitter to get away with it, why not Facebook too? In fact, Facebook at least promises that your sponsored story will appear only to your followers/network…on Twitter, a brand retweeting your positive take is visible to the entire world!
3. Earlier, sometimes, when I used to gush about a brand or a service, I used to add a note, ‘No, this is not a paid endorsement’, if my gush seems way too explicit or blatant. One smart-alec follower even asked me once, in response, ‘So, how often do you get paid to endorse products on Twitter?’.
Now, this new move by Facebook gives rise to unpaid shills. In their earlier avatar, shills were compensated for their effort and were happy for that part of it, despite social infamy for their ilk – but now, they are going to have mixed feelings – on one hand, their ilk is likely to grow at an astonishing pace, but on the other, no more compensation! Sad day for shillism!
4. David Armano talks about how Sponsored Stories blur the lines between paid, earned and social media and specifically about the risks – what if a negative comment becomes a sponsored story? This is a huge possibility if this was completely automated and there was no human intervention. But on second thoughts, haven’t we ‘like’d a brand page on Facebook only to complain on the wall/discussion forum? If those comments were visible to all of that brand’s followers/fans, our sponsored story is at least visible only to our friends on Facebook! Some solace, that, for brands!
5. Consider another interesting angle – we normal mortals are not the only ones on Facebook. There are celebrities too. What happens if Facebook’s Sponsored Stories use a celebrity’s update to promote a product – oh the permutations and combinations!! Let us start with a celebrity promoting a particular brand on mainstream media and talking about a rival brand on Facebook – if that becomes a sponsored story, I wonder what really happens after that!
Second scenario – these celebrities charge big money to endorse products in the real world, but when something they say to their friends on Facebook is picked for promotion via Sponsored Stories, is that invading their opportunity to earn? Yet another scenario – you see the last two screenshots above? They are Sponsored Stories carved out of mere ‘like’s! What if a celebrity just ‘like’s a rival (rival to the brand he is endorsing) brand page and that becomes an ad by that brand?
6. And finally, who owns these sponsored stories? I mean, the actual content? For example, you may have noticed film production houses advertising (on television and in print) with quotes from leading film reviewers – they may have sought permission from the media publications those reviewers write for, to do so. If you extrapolate these Sponsored Stories scenario, can a brand (any brand, even films) take their stories beyond Facebook, say, into print or television? They are after all paying for those stories to be mined and used as advertising – who should they get permission from? The end users, whose comment is being used? Or Facebook, which owns the platform? Do they need permission at all?
Screenshots of Sponsored Stories from Facebook’s official marketing video.