Facebook Mobile Ads May Get Tap-to-Call Feature

Big possibilities for Facebook Home

Facebook recently had preliminary talks with a tap-to-call vendor as it considers fleshing out marketing opportunities for brands on Facebook Home, Adweek has learned. While details are scant, a source close to the situation said the digital giant has been negotiating with a tap-to-call vendor such as RingRevenue, Freespree or Synclio.

Facebook, which announced Facebook Home with partners HTC and AT&T on April 4, wouldn’t comment. But the ramifications are obvious for potential Home advertisers—consider how the immediacy-minded feature would appeal to the concerns of a Geico, a Holiday Inn, a Jiffy Lube, a Dominos or any local business that has benefited from Google's mobile tap-to-call capability in recent years. If Facebook implements the feature, it seems highly likely that ads enabled with tap-to-call will also appear via the social firm's wildly popular smartphone app. Per eMarketer, tap-to-call promos, i.e. ads that allow a user to call a company by simply touching that ad, are part of the reason why Google will control 55 percent of the net mobile ad market this year.

"[Tap-to-call] has been a relatively successful feature for Google search on mobile devices," said Clark Fredricksen, eMarketer rep. "In that light, it is easy to see why Facebook would want to include something similar in its own mobile efforts—both in terms of product and advertising, especially as it continues to roll out graph search. It wants to connect people with interests. If that means local businesses people are looking for on their phone, then something like tap-to-call would make sense."

Gregarious Narain, co-founder of tech firm Chute, concurred. "I'd imagine that a tap-to-call feature makes perfect sense for Facebook Home," he said. "One of the goals of Facebook Home is to make connections possible with the least amount of friction and to have the ability to quickly pivot from text to voice seems natural."

He added, "Direct calls-to-action and other deep forms of linking seem like a natural way to eventually enhance the experience."

But Vasileios Tziokas, marketing manager for London-based tech firm Upstream, predicts Facebook—known for quick-trigger product launches—will only move cautiously into this area.

"Facebook has made—and admitted—a lot of mistakes with its advertising strategy," he said. "But the company has shown it understands how mobile works as a medium. Facebook will, therefore, be very careful before it starts streaming ads with direct-call features."

And not everyone believes tap-to-call is a potential home run for the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media behemoth.

"For Facebook, users are served ads based on interests, not intent," said Dimitry Ioffe, CEO of digital agency TVGla. "We can assume with Home that ads will likely pair interest with location. However, intent is still not a part of the equation. Just because you 'Like' a business does not mean you have any intention of going there no matter how close to it you are."

Count Geoff Hamm, Tapjoy vp of sales, among those who question whether tap-to-call can work via Facebook as well as it does on Google mobile search. He also wonders if the feature might allow Facebook Home users to quickly call one another.

"To be able to look at someone’s picture and then to just tap the picture and call or text them would be convenient," Hamm said. "But because it would be most functional on a person-to-person basis, and because Facebook Home is primarily a photo-sharing or viewing app, it’s less of an advertising opportunity than we see with search and map applications."

Meanwhile, Fredricksen from eMarketer is taking a wait-and-see attitude towards whether Facebook Home will have a big impact on the marketing space. Indeed, it’s fair to question whether consumers are going to be jazzed about the HTC First phone via AT&T—not to mention whether they’ll go through the trouble of downloading Home.

"It is still unclear whether Facebook can make a compelling case to adopt this," Fredericksen said. "If it limits other experiences in the phone—as some of the reviews have suggested—consumers could be hesitant to use it."

The HTC First is the first phone to come preloaded with Facebook Home. The device went on sale last Friday through AT&T for $100, while other Android-employing carriers like Samsung and Lenovo are expected to eventually release phones with Facebook Home. It's unknown how sales have went so far.

Fredricksen added, "It is not like there has been this tidal wave of sentiment or conversation on Twitter. If there was a store, I doubt there’d be a line out the door."

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