"Sponsored Stories," the widely disliked ad format inside Facebook that made it look like you were promoting a product to your friends even when you weren't, is finally going away.
Facebook is consolidating and simplifying its 27 ad formats into a number less than half that size. Most users won't notice the change.
But a significant number will rejoice at never having to see a Sponsored Story again.
Here's what they looked like:
These people are not really telling their friends that they're Liberty Mutual fans. Rather, they probably liked the Liberty page for some other reason — maybe to get a discount — and that triggered the ad.
Most of the time, users couldn't really tell whether they were being used for sponsored stories or not. And your friends had no idea why you'd suddenly become a champion of certain brands you'd previously displayed little interest in.
The most annoying thing about Sponsored Stories was that you couldn't turn them off or keep them private. Facebook's user rules were straightforward:
No, it's not possible to block ads on Facebook. Ads help keep Facebook free and we strive to only show ads that are relevant and interesting to you.
That issue eventually turned into a class action lawsuit that was settled when Facebook agreed to let users opt out of Sponsored Stories. The litigation may have cost Facebook more than $100 million in lost revenue, according to Reuters.
Advertisers, of course, loved Sponsored Stories. They were one of the first mobile ad formats inside Facebook, and for some clients they were the most effective format, probably because users clicked on them to find out why the heck a friend was suddenly shilling hair care products.
In their short, brief life — about a year — Sponsored Stories triggered many, many rants about much people hated them. Here's a guide for advertisers on how to use them "without making people angry," for instance. When Facebook redesigned them to make them bigger, WebProNews said, "If you didn’t like Facebook’s sponsored stories you’re really going to hate this. ... Users will most likely hate it, as it is even more intrusive advertising on their page." (To be fair, all of Facebook's ads got bigger as part of a redesign of the news feed.)
Brian Boland, Facebook’s product marketing director, gave this cryptic quote to Ad Age:
Sponsored stories as an idea doesn’t go away. Sponsored stories as a product goes away.
We're told that what this means is that ads will continue to be triggered by your likes, and your friends will continue in some way to scratch their heads over your sudden enthusiasm for insurance companies.
Because they were effective, Facebook may take a short-term revenue hit from the change. But if that results in users being less annoyed by Facebook, it will be a win for the social network: Facebook knows that in the long-term it can only make money from advertising as long as users spend enjoyable time on the site. Anything that detracts from the user experience, no matter how lucrative, is poison for Facebook.
And that's why this annoying-but-effective format is now extinct.
Here's Facebook's simplification plan for Sponsored Stories:
Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.
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