Today, Facebook launches a new ad unit called “Sponsored Stories” that turns Page updates, as well as Places checkins, Likes, and application activity by users into advertisements. Sponsored Stories will allow advertisers to augment viral buzz by giving greater distribution and visibility to posts that endorse their organization or business.
Sponsored Stories will initially be available through Facebook’s managed brand advertising services for display on the home page and profile, and in the coming weeks it will become part of the self-serve performance advertising tool for display across the site. Launch partners for the ad unit include Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, and Anheuser-Busch, as well as social good organizations (RED) and UNICEF.
Facebook has been testing the ad unit for a few months and says it has resulted in brand lift and increased engagement, ad recall, and likeliness to be recommended to friends for the organizations that tried it.
When a user checks in to claimed Place, Likes a Page, or shares content to the news feed from an application that has paid for Sponsored Stories, that activity may appear as an advertisement to their friends. The ad is shown in special right sidebar module, and displays the user’s name and photo, any additional context or friends they’ve tagged, a picture of and link to the advertised Facebook Page or app, and the Likes and comments from the original post.
Similar to social context ads and Ads for Applications that Facebook launched this year, Sponsored Stories increases the relevance of advertisements to users by displaying a recommendation from one of their friends. Seeing that a friend has checked in at Starbucks is a much more compelling reason to visit than a standard advertisement telling a user to go get a coffee.
Jim Squires of Facebook Product Marketing says “all privacy settings are honored”, so the ads will only be visible to those who can see the original post they draw from. This means users will only see Sponsored Stories by their friends who haven’t restricted them from viewing their shared content. Advertisers can overlay any of Facebook’s standard demographic targeting parameters to further refine who sees a Sponsored Story.
Facebook plans to educate users about how Sponsored Stories respects their privacy through a blog post and explanation in the Help Center. However, there won’t be any link to this information within the ad unit. Some users may not want their content turned into ads, and since there’s no way to opt-out or turn off Sponsored Stories, some protest should be expected.
Page post Sponsored Stories are more straightforward. Pages can buy greater distribution for their latest news feed update, ensuring an audience for a particularly important link or announcement. Users who Like the Page will see the post in Sponsored Stories without having to Like it or take any other action.
Sponsored Stories co-opt a user’s actions, voice, and identity to create ads that resonate with their friends. While Twitter has diluted its content stream with promoted tweets in order to make money, Facebook may have found a significant new revenue stream without selling out the beloved news feed.