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Facebook makes it official — an external advertising network is coming soon

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There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few days about the recent changes to Facebook’s privacy and governance policies — including the revelation that (gasp!) Facebook is not actually a democracy — but one element of the new rules has gotten less attention than it probably should: namely, the fact that the giant social network is going to use the data it has about your likes and dislikes to show you ads outside of Facebook. This is the first real confirmation that the company is going to roll out an advertising network that extends beyond just its own walled garden, and it could turn out to be one of the biggest factors in the success or failure of Facebook’s revenue-growth strategy.

It’s true that the network wants to do away with the voting process that it implemented as a way of improving its governance policies, which required it to get 30 percent of its users to support something before it could make a significant change. But this approach was mostly a failure before it could even get started, since the last vote the company held saw .03 percent of users participate — and as more than one person has pointed out, getting 30 percent of Facebook users to vote would mean 300 million people, which is more than twice as many as voted in the recent federal election in the United States.

Soon, Facebook ads could follow you around the web

In any case, the company has other goals it needs to meet first, and one of those is generating enough revenue to make Wall Street and other investors happy with its $50-billion market capitalization. And that has put a lot of pressure on Facebook to come up with a winning mobile strategy, among other things, since its clickthrough rate for traditional ads is abysmal.

Sponsored stories (which have been criticized in a number of jurisdictions, and could become illegal soon in Norway, according to one recent report) are one way of trying to solve that problem. An external advertising network — one that uses information about users and their activity on Facebook as a way of targeting external ads on other websites — is another way. Chris Dixon, the Hunch founder who just became the newest partner in Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, has described this as an “embedded option” for Facebook investors, meaning it could stand to significantly enhance the company’s financial prospects if it is handled properly.

“An external ad network is inevitable. Google proved this model with Adsense. With an already huge base of advertisers bidding on CPCs, it is impossible for most other ad networks to compete on publisher payouts. But Facebook’s traffic is so great now that an external ad network might increase their revenues by 2x or so.”

To put this in perspective, if an external ad network did manage to double Facebook’s revenues, that would take them to almost $10 billion a year from their current level of about $5 billion. Theoretically at least, it could push them even higher if Facebook manages to attract enough advertisers with its targeted data.

Your activity on Facebook = ads outside of Facebook

There have been hints that the company was planning to roll out such a network: earlier this year, Facebook experimented with sponsored stories on Zynga’s website that were governed by the data that the social network had about users based on their activity inside Facebook. And the company also provided a preview of the latest changes in May, although most of the attention at that time was focused on the privacy implications. Now it has become even more obvious that an external ad network is the goal — and Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer said as much in a comment to Forbes magazine about the new rules:

“Everything you do and say on Facebook can be used to serve you ads. Our policy says that we can advertise services to you off of Facebook based on data we have on Facebook.”

As Quartz points out, the first outcome of this new approach could be the introduction of ads into Instagram, which was acquired by Facebook earlier this year for $735 million. But the social network is sure to extend that to other websites and services it could partner with — if only because the kind of data that Facebook has on user behavior (even though it is anonymized) is one of the biggest potential treasure troves of ad-targeting that exists online. Access to information about the browsing and liking habits of a billion people isn’t something that comes along every day.

Google has built a multibillion-dollar advertising business around showing people relevant ads while they search, and so far nothing has been able to match the effectiveness of that approach. But if Facebook is able to target ads on external websites and services based on the data that it has, we could see one of the first major challenges to Google’s ad dominance.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Balakov

55 Responses to “Facebook makes it official — an external advertising network is coming soon”

  1. Bruce Carlisle

    It seems to me that there is one really important distinction between Google and a theoretical Facebook network. When I begin a search on Google, I am actively indicating an interest in the subject I search. That interest is commercial in nature often enough for google to make billions by showing me paid contextual links. Ads that will follow me on Facebook based on my actions will much less likely to be based on my commercial intent, largely because the ads will show up, yes based on interests I’ve shown, but far less likely because of any current commercial interest or intent. Which means the ad values will be ROS ad retargeting network-like as oposed to Google like and it’s a huge difference

  2. heliophobic

    So, I have two choices. Either care about my privacy or be a social outcast in the eyes of modern media.
    I’m pretty happy with the second choice.

    There even was a news article in a local magazine about how there’s bound to be something wrong with you if you are not in facebook and how the young males committing school massacres and other acts of violence are a part of that group.

  3. Jive Guru Dave

    Remember when Google was a great search engine? Now it steers you to its advertisers. It’s a lot harder to find what you’re looking for, but easy to find what Google’s advertisers want you to seek. Wish a newcomer without ads would come along. I think I’d even pay a subscription for it.

  4. nihal mehta

    this is going to be more powerful than just a 2x existing FB revenues– this is clearly THE FUTURE of FB’s business model, and potentially every other social media publisher (twitter, pinterest, etc) out there. through FBX, FB has access to billions of impressions of remnant inventory that they can make more contextual to the end user, which is 1) a win for FB (by not further compromising their own UI/UX with ads), 2) a win for the marketer (because they are able to target traditional display through FB’s data set), and 3) a win for the end user as regular ol’ banner ads all of a sudden become a lot more contextual. yep– that’s WIN^3!

    [disclaimer: i’m slightly biased as i’m the CEO of localresponse, which makes traditional banner ads more contextual leveraging all public social data, including twitter– we see these ads perform ~10x better than the average.]

  5. Jonathan Martin

    what is facebook? I don’t know and don’t care to know. No time to waste.

    And, for those smarties- that think they are too smart – I have 150+ research papers, 4 books and 20 patents.

  6. Travis Broes

    I could not care less about advertising, or if I get adverts while not on Facebook as it has been normal bullshit they do anyway. I am continually getting spam based on words or phrases I have used for years now ,that is known as spam & fishing. Now they want to make it legal. I have problems with them selling our info because they have no control over that information or what it will be used for & we don`t know what information about us is actually being shared . WE only have the word of the CIA on that. Oh yeah we can trust the CIA they are good people,plplplplpl. The thing is they could access all the info directly at anytime anyway & have been ,don`t be naive. I don`t care because my opinions & movements are such that they are witnessing their own destruction & they can watch it all on the net. No matter what they do or say, no matter what law or ruling they make the critical reaction has been going for quite some time. The information they have on me is from the internet is nothing compared to what they already had before the net even started, You name it psychological profile ,genealogy, DNA sample, Financial brief, friends & family profiles, Tracking history, Arrest history, perceived IQ level within the restrictive limitations of their own intelligence & their gullibility, at my discretion. Whatever they learn now is only by the fact that I have no illusions about what information they have on me. The fact is that the ratio of information getting to the public far outweighs anything they can learn new about me that has any real train of direction they can clearly extrapolate & they never know when the next installment is due or how it will make its self known. Truth is move two &move three are already out before they can deal with move one. I am not alone. Thus they are outgunned & will be restrained ,confined ,isolated & will suffer severe psychosis ,oh too bad. Should not play mind games with real minds, it`s painful. WE are dealing with seventy & eighty year old ,delinquents who need their bum smacked.


    Hi, seems to me that there are so many “beginner internet marketing sites” it will make my head spin! I have spent many many days and nights just trying to figure out what is true and what are scams, it has been very exhausting for me! I want to help other people just like you! I am going to show you what I created so you finally find a starting point and learn how to make money online? its getmoneywiz “dot com” “one word” And just for the record I am not a “GURU” be any means, just a regular family person like you trying to start making money online from my home, “it’s not easy, its not a get rich today button!” It’s just information for you to read and you be your own judge, I hope this helps and Thanks


  8. gavinhudson

    I wonder what will happen to the price of Facebook ads when they put them on external sites. I imagine they’ll become more expensive for advertisers, making them less attractive.

  9. Hey great idea. Now all the people who thought it was a good deal to hand over all their personal information to Facebook can enjoy a new service directed precisely to them. Meanwhile the rest of us will have to do with ads that don’t appeal to us, except maybe by chance. Imagine our regret.

  10. TinyVox: Tape&Tweet

    Mobile ads suck because CONTEXT is skimpy, which is what AdSense needs. FB has all the context it can get about a user, and is in a position to deliver ads worth clicking on mobile.

    • Michael Valston

      Who is the go to guy/gal for best practice FB mobile ads? Are you saying that CTRs on FB mobile ads are going to be appreciably higher and will this also extend to ipads?

  11. The problem with ads on Facebook is they look terrible – hence CTR’s of 0.02% (my own experience). Extending beyond Facebook would open up much better performing IAB ad sizes… like the ones that get CTR’s of 5%? Why Facebook doesn’t put them on, is completely beyond me.

  12. Linked from my G+ stream, ugh. This disgusts me. I already knew that facebook was monitoring my activity even when Im not on their site but there is no way in hell I want these ads to follow me to other pages! Worst idea ever!!! Only reason I still have facebook is because some of my friends wont use other networks (g+, twitter) and I mainly only use their mobile app because I hate the targeted ad clutter on their webpage.

  13. I just dont appreciate this at all.Where is our privacy? We will be sold to the highest bidder.This is not cool at all. Most people dont want the whole world to know what we want to buy or not buy.What will happen with our social security numbers and credit cards and history? If it happens many people will live without the Internet and never buy online anymore..I know that I wont.Some one has already help themselves with my money already after I bought something online and the interaction was between two sellers one found out that I was looking to buy a service the other grabbed the deal without my consent ;I only found out that I money was taaken out of my account because it was more expensive…

  14. External ads must generate clicks. That changes Facebooks ability to provide branding ads that deliver a message rather a call to action.

    To make it work they would have to find a way to make publisher websites more than Google Adsense.

    They still aren’t nearly as good at preventing fraud as Google which will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  15. Radford Castro

    Google has to be concerned about this type of development. The search giant relies on 97% of its revenue on ads. If Facebook ads prove to be more effective and larger companies see a significant difference in sales, Google could be in trouble.

    • Esa Edvik

      G+ is FAR more social and built around social behaviour than Facebook. Just look at basic functionalities like conversing with people outside your friends, which isn’t even possible on Facebook. It’s like shouting at a market when you try to have a public conversation with someone on Facebook’s “pages”. You can’t quote, notify or in any way get the attention of the person you’re trying to have a conversation with WITHOUT friending them. That’s not “social” at all.