Facebook Beacon & Facebook Social Ads

by corinnew on November 27, 2007

When we talked about Facebook Beacon and Facebook Social Ads in class today, we used those two terms interchangeably. They’re not quite the same though. Let me try to explain the difference (as I understand it):

Facebook Beacon:
- Beacon works by allowing one of Facebook’s partner sites to put a cookie on your browser when you interact with their site (i.e. when you buy something on Overstock, rent a movie, etc.)
- The cookie then sends the information about your online activity (i.e. what you bought, what movie you rented) to Facebook
- Facebook then publishes that information to your friends’ news feeds.

The result looks something like this (picture from Charlene Li’s blog):

Facebook Social Ads:
- Company writes the ad copy and decides who they want to see the ad
- Facebook displays the ad “in the left hand Ad Space — visible to users as they browse Facebook to connect with their friends — as well as in the context of News Feed — attached to relevant social stories.”
- So social ads can work independently of Beacon, but they don’t have to. Facebook Beacon allows Facebook to feed the social ad to users whose friends have interacted with the company’s Facebook Page or their website

Here’s an example of a Facebook Social Ad (note that it displays the user’s profile picture):

According to Facebook’s website, “Facebook Social Ads allow your businesses to become part of people’s daily conversation.” Judging by the growing popularity of MoveOn.org’s Stop Invading My Privacy group, that conversation seems to be turning against them though. Even the mainstream media is starting to weigh in on this issue. Here’s a CNN story on Facebook Beacon that should qualify as negative media coverage:


I’ve also just stumbled across this blog post which outlines a lot of the privacy concerns we discussed.

Update: According to the New York Times, Facebook has bowed to the pressure and announced changes to its Beacon program which are aimed at protecting its users’ privacy. Here’s the official press release. And lastly, an interesting story from CNN on behavioral targeting in online advertising.

Yet another update (Dec. 4):
Brian Solis just published a good post which analyzes Facebook’s reaction from a crisis communication perspective and criticizes Zuckerberg’s choice of a press release as a way to communicate changes to the Beacon program to a community of networked users. So if the press release was a bad idea, what should Zuckerberg have done? Todd Defren has a suggestion or two for him.

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