Sep. 1, 2011 at 7:45 PM ET
Because free things often come with a catch, it shouldn't be any surprise that sites like Facebook and Twitter have ads, but now those ads are going to be coming at you in much more subtle ways.
Twitter already rolled out paid ads of followed companies in users' Twitter streams. Now it's going beyond that to include paid tweets by brands and companies that aren't amongst a user's following list.
AllThingsD reported that, "In discussions with ad buyers, Twitter is describing the concept, which will roll out to a small subset of users by the end of September, as 'Promoted Tweets to users like your followers.'"
Perhaps we're conditioned for this, at least those of us who have been using Gmail for awhile. It's almost natural now to glance over and see those ads on the right frame, which seem to somehow correspond to what I'd just been reading. In true Pavlovian pant, I sometimes even click on those ads.
As for Facebook, their new ad insertions are over on the app ticker. Now if you never use apps — and I rarely do — this will barely register with you. But, if you are one of the FarmVille faithful or a regular on any other Facebook app, you've probably noticed that ticker already. Again, depending on your tolerance, it's either really grating on the nerves (like nails on chalkboard) or you've just zenned it out.
It's over on the right-hand side and it gives a run-down of what apps your Facebook friends just played or used. (TMI, in my opinion, but that's just me.) But now the ticker is showing updates with the word "Sponsored" after it, and those are the paid ads that have snuck in, attached to whatever app your friend just used or played. Give it to Facebook at least, for making it so stealthy, most probably won't pay it any mind.
But, while it may seem low profile, some observers think this is a big deal, like The Next Web:
This is a hugely significant change from Facebook, as it shows they are willing to blur the lines between natural and sponsored content in a way that they have never really done before. It seems as if they are testing this on the app news ticker softly, to gauge user reaction and the rate at which the sponsored stories are clicked ahead of the natural stories.
The move by Facebook is clearly an attempt to get more people clicking on ads, by 'disguising' them. It started with Sponsored Stories, which many users don’t actually realise are sponsored at all, and has now progressed onto the next stage.
Facebook has already primed its 750 million members and its $3.5 billion ad revenue with the sponsored ads that line up on the right side of the profile page (what is it with the right side?) that seem to align with a user's "likes." But, if you don't notice that the ads are ads, will the News Feed be next? And on Twitter, will users clicking and retweeting ads do exactly what they want you to do? It'll be like when you're sifting through a magazine (people still do that, you know) and you see these great layouts and articles and then you realize, hey, this is an advertising section! Will you feel just a little bit had when this happens on your social network, too?
As The Next Web puts it: "Integrating paid and organic content in this way could have wider consequences for social networks as they risk losing the trust of their users and the value of the site."