“Our business is advertising.”
These are the words of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, from an interview published in the April 20, 2009 issue of BusinessWeek. She continued:
“We believe advertising needs to blend into the experience … we don’t have big banners across the site, nor do we have text-based ads that are really part of the search experience. We have ads that act like our site.”
Facebook is the world’s premier social networking website. Hundreds of millions of people use it to keep in touch with their friends, families, and associates. These are the relationships and conversations that make human life meaningful. But:
“These naturally occurring social actions now also can be paired with sponsored content and advertising to create a Social Ad.”
– Facebook Product Overview FAQ
Facebook is a privately owned company that profits by surreptitiously injecting paid advertisements into its users’ human relationships.
“You understand that we may not identify paid communications as such.”
– Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. (“By using or accessing Facebook, you agree to this Statement.”)
Research firm eMarketer predicts that advertisers will spend $605 million to reach Facebook users in 2010 — a 39% increase from 2009. Marketers are increasingly confident that the money they spend at Facebook will draw consumers to pay for their products and services.
“People treat Facebook as an authentic part of their lives, so you can be sure you are connecting with real people with real interest in your products.”
– Facebook case study in a promotional message to advertisers.
People from around the globe login to Facebook hoping to share stories of life, love, hope, and achievement. Facebook’s aim is to make them talk about commercial products instead.
“The next hundred years will be different for advertising, and it starts today. … We are announcing a new advertising system, not about broadcasting messages, about getting into the conversations between people.”
– Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, at a press conference on November 6, 2007. Quoted by TechCrunch.
“[Facebook has] put the power of recommendation and referrals into a systematic environment.”
– Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook VP-product marketing and operations. Quoted in the November 12, 2007 issue of Advertising Age.
Facebook’s entire financial model rests on the fact that its users — or more accurately its used — are willing to display products as prominently as their friends and build their identities out of advertisements. John Doe’s Facebook profile does not list his beliefs, his achievements, or his goals. It is not set up to demonstrate his individuality or creativity or personality. It simply lists, “John Doe is a fan of: [insert brands here].” This is exactly how Facebook wants it to be.
“Facebook Pages are designed for businesses and brands to efficiently interact and communicate with users. Through Pages, businesses can engage with their fans and capture new audiences virally through their fans’ recommendations to their friends.”
– Facebook Product Overview FAQ.
It doesn’t stop here. Third party companies that develop Facebook applications also sell their users to advertisers.
“Slide offers brands a direct conduit to the most valuable audience on the web: young, engaged users who are eager to click and eager to share … Slide placements perform better than traditional online placements because the ads are not merely near the entertainment, they are the entertainment.”
– Slide promotional message to advertisers.
Slide, Inc. develops popular Facebook applications including SuperPoke!, which boasts approximately 150 million users. Its promotion continues:
“By weaving advertisements into the sponsored actions, brands receive maximum engagement. SuperPoke! is the definitive and most recognizable application on Facebook, and metrics prove that it is a highly effective advertising buy.”
These applications encourage Facebook users to structure their daily social interaction around branded products (e.g. spray a friend with branded perfume). Facebook makes it easy for application developers to deliver targeted advertising to their users:
“When you add an application and use [the] Platform, your content and information is shared with the application.”
– Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
Meanwhile, market research companies such as the Acxiom Corporation offer to help businesses develop targeting advertising campaigns using social networking sites.
“Acxiom Relevance-X® Social helps you see the social networks of your customers and how many friends or contacts they may have within online communities. … With Acxiom Relevance-X Social data, marketers can establish and maintain up-to-date social intelligence on their customers, interact with socially active brand advocates … and influence the influencers in a respectful and engaging way to drive purchase behavior.”
– Acxiom Corporation promotional message for direct social media marketing.
Facebook’s advertising creates a culture of consumerism. Users of the network define themselves by things rather than actions. Without thinking, they announce that they are “fans” rather than striving to be leaders. As a result, Facebook discourages inventiveness and destroys individuality. It promotes the opposite, and its users buy into mindless money-driven fads, surrendering their personality to become a particle in the mass of millions. The entire site is structured to make users build their relationships and identities around commercial products, turning human emotion, affection, and trust into commodities packaged and sold to advertisers.
The only way out of this hyper-commercial environment is to leave Facebook — but often that means losing the best way to keep in touch with friends, family and loved ones. Facebook makes it hard to leave. It has assembled the perfect captive audience for marketers. Don’t be trapped. Imagine life off Facebook, without advertising, on your terms. Imagine the potential of relationships built around meaning rather than marketing, and commitments rather than clicks. I will not be held hostage. Will you?