How Facebook Makes You an Unwilling Shill

Travis recently became an unintentional pitchman on Facebook:

But that behavior, becoming fans of a company, exposed an interesting problem recently. I became a fan of Kinzin—for no real reason, other than that I liked their design and the way they solved a problem of online communities: namely, privacy controls for family, especially kids.

So imagine my irony-laced surprise when a friend sent me this screenshot, of an ad she said she clicked on because she thought I was explicitly messaging it to her…

I’m going to remove myself as a fan for Kinzin. I don’t dislike their service, but I don’t want to be an inadvertent (and uncompensated) shill for them.

Here’s the screenshot. It’s unrelated, but apparently somebody took Travis’s photo just as he was passing between dimensions:

He makes a good point about the ‘uncompensated’ part. Obviously his ‘endorsement’ has value but (besides free use of Facebook, for which he already looks at ads) nobody’s paying him for it. Robert Scoble has 4923 friends on Facebook–how much is his endorsement worth?

Travis explains that there’s no way to turn off this functionality on an individual company (or ‘page’, in the parlance of Facebook) basis. To do so for your entire profile, click privacy in the menu bar at the top of your profile. Then click News Feed and Mini-Feed and choose the Social Ads tab. Finally, choose “No one” in the dropdown box and click Save Changes.

I don’t want to impugn Kinzin here. I don’t have an opinion of their service (it’s not really targeted at the likes of me), and their only gaffe was in picking a potentially-unpopular advertising strategy.

Michael from Kinzin left a comment on Travis’s blog. He didn’t apologize per se, but he did say that they’d turn off the ‘social actions’ (goofy name, that) for their Facebook ads.

What’s the lesson here? We don’t know very much about social advertising, or how it’s going to be perceived. So, proceed with caution.

UPDATE: Michael from Kinzin has written two relevant posts about Facebook, privacy and advertising.

3 comments

  1. This came up on the panel I participated in at SxSW. My feeling about the root of what makes this creepy is that there are actions we perform on the web that we don’t mind having traced back to us, like digging a story or even buying tickets or supporting a company page on facebook. What Beacon does, though, is to take those out of their expected obscurity and to push them at our friends, in a context that doesn’t differentiate one type of friend from another. Moreover, participating companies, and here Kinzin needs to this, aren’t making it clear to people that they have chosen to use this channel. Making a change or announcing things after the fact helps, but it’s not the same as being told up-front.

    The thing that gets me about the awkward rollout of Beacon and those using it is the duh! factor. I’m surprised that anyone doesn’t expect people will not be cool with having minute actions across the web consolidated and pushed into our relationship communications without being told or asked up front. It’s just old-marketing mentality.

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