Expect a growing wave of complaints and resentment on social networks over the next few years as the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn increase their efforts to generate revenue through advertising.
You see, since the launch of these hugely popular social networks many of were under the misguided impression that we were the customer. We enjoyed using these amazing free services, connecting with family, friends, colleagues and new people around the world. Its been wonderful and it has revolutionised the way we communicate.
And its free!!! How good is that?
Hold on, didn’t your parents always tell you “nothing in life is free”?
Well, they were right. You pay one way or another for most “free” services. Payment doesn’t always have to be financial. Sometimes we pay in time or attention. That’s how traditional “free” media like TV and radio works. It interrupts our attention and asks for 30 seconds of our time in return for free entertainment.
And so it will be with social networks like Facebook and Twitter. These are big expensive beasts to run. Free memberships don’t pay for staff, servers, large buildings, Segways and funky cafeterias.
Up until recently Venture Capital was funding the growth of these services and the focus was on attracting users who in turn shared their life, loves and information. Eventually these networks had to start delivering a return to the VCs and shareholders and inevitably advertising would be the solution.
The good news is that the services are still free…. BUT you are now the product. All that information you have shared, all those like buttons you have clicked, all those groups you have joined have helped the networks understand more about you so they can attempt to deliver more valuable solutions to their real customers; the advertisers.
Ask most people what they think Facebook is for and they’ll say ‘it’s there to help me make friends’. Guess what? Facebook’s boardroom isn’t talking about how to make you more friends. It’s talking about how to monetise your social graph.” Increasingly that will be via a range of “targeted” products like Graph Search, Suggested Apps, Sponsored Posts and Sidebar Ads.
Facebook has been doing advertising for a while but its only recently that users have really started to complain about it. That’s because initially the ads were focused on the sidebar and we’d grown accustomed to that style of advertising on other sites and Google search results.
But the shift to mobile forced Facebook, and others, to rethink how they serve up advertising. There’s now room for sidebar ads on the mobile site so now the ads are steadily being seeded into your stream or newsfeed. And that’s not kosher according to some users.
Now Twitter is evolving from it’s Promoted Posts product to unveil its newest ad product, which enables “keyword targeting in timelines” allowing brands to serve up ads to users based on the content they’re actually tweeting. (Read more about it here)
The bottom line is you need to get used to it or unsubscribe. These networks need to make money in order to continue providing you with a “free” service. They will push the limits of your loyalty to their service over time, but as long as they aren’t losing more users than they’re gaining they won’t desist.
Whether you like it or not…you are now the product.