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Facebook’s Holy Grail of Branding

'Sponsored Stories' get 50 million ‘likes’ a day
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Facebook’s ad revenue last year totaled $1.86 billion. According to Carolyn Everson, vp of Global Sales at Facebook, that figure represents a mere trickle compared to the ad monetization fire hose Facebook holds. And that fire hose represents more than just direct marketing ads. Facebook is going for branding dollars.

Social media allows powerful word-of-mouth advertising to be globally scaled. “That’s the holy grail for branding,” Everson said yesterday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

Facebook’s advertising is only “1 percent of where we need to be,” she said. The company hopes to make its ads as compelling as a photo of a friend or a status update, she said. In January the company launched its Sponsored Stories program, which integrates actions such as a friend’s “liking” a brand into the news feed while displaying a correlated ad elsewhere on the page.

Three months into the project, and Nielsen shows the ads have a 68 percent recall, with users twice as likely to remember a brand and four times as likely to take action. The program represents a shift in the Facebook strategies for brands, Everson said. “Twelve months ago, it was, ‘How many fans can I get?’ But even if you get them, then you have to engage them,” she said. With Sponsored Stories, fans are engaging with brands voluntarily. Brands get “liked” by 50 million people per day, and those likes show up in a user's feed, Everson said.

Everson did not say how many brands had signed onto the program, as it is still in its early days. Initial partners included Starbucks,  Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Levis.  There was also no word on whether Facebook users appreciate becoming inadvertent endorsers of brands. But Sponsored Stories about nonprofits may ease the friction for users: Facebook has signed up Donors Choose, No More, Amnesty International, Women for Women, Autism Speaks, (RED), Alzheimer's Association, and UNICEF.

Facebook’s mobile apps may be a new frontier for advertisers as well. Everson said mobile users are twice as engaged with Facebook than desktop users. Still, Facebook does not yet have advertising on its mobile sites. 

Facebook hired Everson away from Microsoft, where she was briefly its global advertising head, in February.