Om Malik and Matt Ingram are asking why Facebook doesn’t simply ask their 40+ million users to determine what the users would want in terms of advertising on a social network.
Excuse me but are you guys naive or just starting your holiday drinking a bit early in the season?
The answer is that actually using social networking as a springboard for advertising ideas, although it would be totally consistent with the claimed model of what a great social network will be, would be totally inconsistent with maximizing profit. I am *so tired* of hearing people talk about how what is best for us user gooses is best for those advertising ganders. It just ain’t so!
Advertising – even good ads people think they really like – are all pretty much rooted in the old saw “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Sure there are good products, and sure most companies are honest, and I even think many ads are reasonably “true”. But the point is that good ads must inspire buying behavior before they inspire wise behavior, and any marketing effort worth it’s even it’s weight in online ads will work to make buyers, not work to make wise people.
Most wise people don’t buy a lot of stuff unless they stumble upon great wealth, and even then most do not become rampant “consumers”. They reflect, they travel, they exchange ideas, they learn and they love. Shopping? It’s not on the list of activities that spawn great human enlightenment, and it never will be. Fun? yes. Popular? Sure. Profitable for companies? YES! Shopping, and more generally commerce online is the only sizeable revenue source, making it the key to internet innovation and the driver of internet changes. User centricism is generally going to be trumped by this force with some notable exceptions like Wikipedia and perhaps Open Social.
The very best marketing ties real human factors to products, but in the same way “conversational marketing” is an oxymoron it is not reasonable to expect “social network advertising” to be glowing extension of the social networking experience. Maybe in Mark Z’s dreams, but not in his increasingly profit-centric reality.
I’m strongly behind the idea that online community needs should trump profits. Also, I agree that following this mantra can lead to some successes. Google initially frowned on advertising while they built a fantastic search system, but note how it took advertising to make them the key online player they are today. Not a little advertising either – billions and billions and the prospect of billions more.
Can social networkers design ads they like? I doubt it. However this could come about indirectly. Google Open Social is the most likely source of social networking advertising innovation for the very reason that Google *makes their big profits elsewhere*. Google can sweep in with a truly user-centric social model, monetize it to a limited extent using adsense, but from their perspective leave their core cash dow – PPC search – intact. Also, Google then conveniently puts a huge, perhaps even deadly crimp in Facebook’s potential to become a dominant online environment. As I’ve noted before Google is brilliant at managing to do the right thing and in doing the right thing reap big benefits for … Google! (How DO they do that so often !?)
Oh, speaking of NOT doing the user centric thing because it might threaten the cash cow we need look no farther than … Google. Note their ad standards have relaxed quite a bit over the years while keeping “user friendly enough” to avoid the sharp criticisms that should have been levied at Google when they slapped ads on the left side of the home page, conveniently blurring the distinction between organic and paid listings, then stopped prominently shading the advertising. Oh, they also allowed bogus sites to run adsense, didn’t crack down early enough on the spiral of massive click fraud, and have even embedded travel advertising in organic listings while still claiming they don’t do it (example: try this search: “SFO to JFK”).
So, the moral of Beacon is not that profit sites should stop acting like profit sites, rather that since there is a sucker born every minute, we suckers need to stick together, and every so often we need to stick it to the man to keep him on track. Maybe that’s all Om Malik is saying today, and if so I’m with ya!