How Crap Gets Amplified On the Internet: Facebook Sponsored Stories

CrapAmplifiedAfter today’s debacle you can see why some journalists just hate social media. When something comes out on social, if it “seems newsworthy, then it must be newsworthy,” is the mantra no matter how false it is. Sometimes the news you read is not really news, or worse, it’s wrong.

Facebook announced in their developer blog that Sponsored Stories would be sunset as of April 9, 2014. And unfortunately, that’s all anyone read. Mashable then ran a story by Kurt Wagner which seemed to get a lot of social shares. But something didn’t quite seem right to me. So, like any good blogger, I did a little research and I found a conflicting story on FastCompany by Alice Truong, which said that “THE SOCIAL CONTEXT PROVIDED BY SPONSORED STORIES WILL AUTOMATICALLY ACCOMPANY ALL ADS.”


Further, in a quote given to ALL FACEBOOK,

“As announced in June of last year, we’re bringing the best of sponsored stories–social context–to all ads. Since this update makes sponsored stories redundant, we will no longer offer them as a stand-alone ad unit for marketers. Social context will continue to appear with all ads where eligible. Our social advertising honors the audience that people choose, so nobody will see information in social context for an ad that they couldn’t already see.”

So which is it?

Well, Facebook also updated their privacy settings which I think clears it up and said this:

Last year, we announced some changes to simplify Facebook ads, including eliminating different types of ads that had the same purpose and making our ads look more consistent. We also announced that marketers will no longer be able to purchase sponsored stories separately; instead, social context — stories about social actions your friends have taken, such as liking a page or checking in to a restaurant — is now eligible to appear next to all ads shown to friends on Facebook.

This week, we gave notice to our ad partners that this change relating to sponsored stories will start in the first quarter of this year so that they can update their tools and continue supporting the marketers they work with.

So what does this mean for people on Facebook? As before, you are in control of who sees what you post on Facebook, whether it appears in News Feed, next to ads, or elsewhere on Facebook. You can visit your Activity Log to see who can see stories about your social actions and change the audience or unlike or delete the content at any time.

In addition, you can visit your ads and friends setting to limit when stories about your social actions are paired with ads shown to friends.

What annoyed me was that the Mashable headline was misleading, yet it was shared almost 4K times at the time of this writing. This is how crap gets amplified on the internet.

In the past you could create “Sponsored stories” specifically, but they were always poorly targeted. Now FB is rolling out a new targeting feature “Behaviors”. Behaviors will have categories that are specific to a user’s particular actions or past purchase behavior, past purchase behavior, purchase propensity. This category is made up of some targeting segments previously categorized as Interests. So in other words, they’ll be everywhere.

And the reason Google+ won’t get sued for the same thing is because they made you opt into it, Facebook didn’t, and as per usual Google is learning from Facebook’s costly mistakes.


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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.