What’s the buzz, tell me what’s happening

Yesterday’s social media storm-in-the-making (or so it seems to me) was about the fact that Facebook can now turn your “likes” into ads.

This is what Ad Age had to say about it (and thanks to Kathy Moore for tipping me off):

The ubiquitous “like” is currency for brands, and Facebook is giving them a new way to collect: an ad unit that shows up on the right-hand side of the screen it calls “sponsored stories.”

The unit will give brand-related action such as a “like” or a check-in a lot more visibility on Facebook by adding them to an ad unit in addition to users’ news feeds.

For example, if 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. Though clearly marked with the words “sponsored story,” the ad — which will includes a user’s name, just like the news feed — is not optional for Facebook users.

Apparently there are four ways

marketers and brands can turn your Facebook activity into ads, as Ad Age tells us:

1. When you “like” a page;

2. When you check in to a place on Facebook;

3. What Facebook calls an “application play,” i.e. when you used an application to do something; and

4. A “page post,” i.e. when an advertiser buys a “sponsored story” to further distribute something they’ve posted on their page – so it goes into your news feed and in the ads you see on the right sidebar.

(Ad Age didn’t say this, but I assume #4 applies only if you’ve already “liked” that page.)

You can see more about this in the Facebook video on the subject (and I thought it was interesting that there’s no way you can embed this in a blog post, but whatever…)

Hmm.

That means that I’ve been mulling over this a lot – a LOT! – and I still don’t know if this is good or bad, or a bit of both.

At least five things to think about

1. This seems to try to put a twist on Twitter’s much-ballyhooed “promoted tweets,” which received more than its fair share of attention.

Me, personally, I could care less about the promoted tweets. First, because I rarely use Twitter’s web interface, and second, because the minute I see a “promoted tweet,” even if it’s on HootSuite, I pretty much tune it out.

2. These “sponsored stories” will only appear in the news feeds, and sidebar ads, of your Facebook friends, based on your privacy settings.

If you haven’t already tweaked your settings, I suggest you do that. It’s just commonsense.

Now, I don’t pay attention to Facebook ads to begin with. I can see how they are useful, but I’m just not an “ad” person (I’m sure I’m in the minority).

But if it shows up in the news feed of one of my Facebook friends, is that somewhat misleading, even if it has “sponsored story” attached to it?

I don’t know just yet, since I haven’t seen any. But it seems that could be one cause for confusion and potential backlash.

3. This could backfire on marketers.

Image: Asthma Helper via Flickr, CC 2.0

There are many reasons we “like” a Facebook page.

Sometimes it’s because we want to be nice to the person who asked us to “like” it,

sometimes it’s because we really like the brand; but

sometimes it’s because we hate a brand/organization so much that we want to share our vituperation.

The only way to do that on an official Facebook page is to “like” a brand… and then post away!

Just imagine the ads that might appear with absolutely terrible things being said about the brand.

(Jen Zingsheim pointed this out to me on Facebook as well.)

And if you’re liking someone’s check-in, for example, are you really liking the fact that they checked in to such-and-such place, or you liking the fact that they are doing something they care enough about to share with you?

And if it’s the latter, are you really going to pay attention to the “sponsored story” part of it? And if not, what’s the point?

4. If a company is going to make money off my “likes,” shouldn’t I get a piece of the pie, as Beth Harte said (and I agree) on Facebook?

And, yes, I’m aware of the irony.

5. This is the most interesting part of the whole thing: while you can determine which of your friends sees what, based on your privacy settings, what you cannot do is opt out of your “likes” being used as ads.

Yes. You read that right.

You cannot opt out of your activity being turned into advertisements.

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

Doesn’t it call to mind the Flickr-Virgin Mobile brouhaha from a few years ago? Granted, the case eventually went nowhere, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of it.

Might this affect how many pages you “like,” or whether you stop “liking” pages at all?

Public domain or not?

I had an interesting exchange with my friend Matt LaCasse on Twitter. Matt felt that since anything we post is in the “public domain,” it’s fair game.

(And kudos to Matt for understanding that differing professional opinions do not personal denigration entail.)

But it’s not.

What we post on Facebook is not in the public domain. That means something completely different.

When I looked up Facebook’s Terms of Service about who owns content that is posted, here’s what it says, specifically about sharing one’s content and information:

Sharing Your Content and Information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
  2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
  3. When you use an application, your content and information is shared with the application. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information.  (To learn more about Platform, read our Privacy Policy and Platform Page.)
  4. When you publish content or information using the “everyone” setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
  5. We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).

Where’s the problem?

You own the content and information you post on Facebook (according to Facebook).

Facebook requires applications to respect your privacy (according to Facebook).

You’re giving Facebook the right to use any content you post on its site any way it pleases – even though you own it – pretty much forever, unless you police all your friends and ensure they delete any content associated with you if/when you delete your content/account (according to Facebook).

And you don’t have to be paid royalties for it (according to Facebook).

So, in essence, you can control how your content is shared… unless Facebook decides otherwise.

Image: Rafael Peñazola via Flickr, CC 2.0

Where do “likes” fit into this?

From what I can tell – and, again, I’m not a lawyer – they’re not “IP” as such. They’re an action you’re taking, on Facebook, but who’s to say whether that’s protected by IP or not?

When I asked Lisa Dunner of Dunner Law – a friend as well as Women Grow Business (disclosure: client) blogger – what she thought about this, she said:

“Facebook’s latest ‘marketing solution’ in the form of its new ‘Sponsored Stories’ offering is troubling at least.

“While word of mouth recommendations and endorsements are golden to a business, Facebook’s unauthorized use of a person’s identity, in the form of a ‘like’ as part of a business’s paid for sponsored ad raises privacy concerns.

“One who ‘likes’ another’s good or service will be handing over one’s identity to the marketer, without any say as to how one’s identity will be used; in what context one’s identity will be used and for what duration one’s identity will be used.

“The fact that the Internet – and Facebook – have created a very public avenue for communication and disclosures does not necessitate the legal conclusion that all discourse and content on the Internet is in the public domain; quite the contrary, in fact.” [italicization and bolding mine]

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.

Now, I have absolutely no problem with Facebook making money. I like that it’s free, and I would prefer to see it stay free. And in order for that to happen, Facebook has to find a way to make money.

But at what point does monetizing what is, no doubt, a remarkable networking platform, that has changed our world in ways we could not have imagined even a decade ago, take precedence over simple, human decency?

Or will it ever?

You tell me. What do you think? Am I overreacting? Or is this a hint of (more) things to come?

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke