This afternoon, I was alerted by AllFacebook.com's blog post about Status Plug, which bills itself as an "ad network for Facebook", though its' site notes it is "not affiliated with or endorsed by Facebook." The basic premise is that advertisers pay Status Plug to distribute ads through its network of Facebook Public Profiles, and shares the revenue with the admins of those Public Profiles. Ads then get served up to fans of those public profiles in the form of status updates - ie "video, audio, images, text and links".
Last week, Ad Age reported that US Weekly had become the first company to sell a sponsorship of their Facebook Page (currently at fewer than 4,000 fans) to a major brand in a deal they made with State Farm. Since this is an official page and there is a disclosure, I don't object to this type of advertising, although:
a) I don't believe for a minute that this is an effective spend for State Farm, compared to them actually having their own Facebook Page, engaging in their own conversation, and building their own fan base.
b) This sponsorship alone is technically a violation of Facebook's Terms of Service, namely that on Public Profiles "Application tabs cannot contain advertising of any kind."
No, on the contrary, I believe the only way content providers such as US Weekly can stay in business long term is to build fan bases through social media, continue to provide top-notch content, and build partnerships & sponsorships with brands who want to affiliate themselves.
So what's wrong with Status Plug? First, 6 of the 9 Pages currently listed on their Page directory are American cities, and unofficial Pages. The other 3 are also unofficial Pages. These unofficial Facebook Pages definitely violate Facebook's Terms of Service and if Facebook is smart, they will take down these Pages or migrate them to the proper administrators (for cities, the Mayor's office, for instance). So advertisers in effect are paying for entrance onto unofficial pages posing as official ones, that could be taken down at any point. (Note- this is an issue we've noticed and written about before.)
Worse yet, this sort of in-update-advertising-without-full-disclosure is definitely a violation of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)'s ethics code. Lines between paid advertising and authentic content are often too blurry online, and and fans of Facebook public profiles should know they're getting paid advertising as updates instead of real content.
Finally, there's the practical consideration: If I'm getting advertising from a Page I'm a fan of, I'm going to de-fan that Page, just like if I'm constantly getting event invites and group invites from a "friend" on Facebook, I'm going to de-friend that person. Thus, an advertiser through Status Plug might not only be ineffective and unethical, they might actually create resentment for their company by turning a Fan Page into an ad platform.
The net effect for users if this did ever take off would be that Facebook Fan Pages would become Spam Pages. Status Plug is in the same category as the clearly unethical Magpie for Twitter.
Look, I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of this group. But that doesn't make it right.
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