Say hello to Conversation Advertising: Like a post, buy a Facebook gift

kids-talking

Today, Facebook introduced me to a whole new level of impulse shopping. This move may be more telling than the gift recommendation seems. I believe it is a new type of time-targeted micro advertising. Or, Conversation Advertising.

Let me explain.

This morning I clicked “like” on a filmmaker friend’s post on Facebook who was celebrating positive feedback he’d received on a submission of some of his work to a competition. The following appeared (identities and content hidden).

facebook-like-post-gift

Have you experienced this? Facebook wants to convert my happiness for him into a transaction. Of course I didn’t think this gesture warranted a gift. Is this a guilt play? Would my expression of gratitude mean more if I spent a little money to show it?

In a world of instant gratification and impulse shopping where checkout candy bar purchases and mobile shopping is big bucks, it appears Facebook is hoping to parlay an interpersonal exchange into a monetary one.

Let’s think about this in a different context:

Imagine you are talking with a friend on Skype and you tell your friend that you’re thirsty. How would you feel if suddenly a voice interrupted and said, “Why not go get a Coke from the fridge? It sure is refreshing on a warm spring day!” or a text ad that popped up on my computer screen or mobile and said “Stop by 7-11 on your way home from work and get a Slurpee”

That’s essentially what’s happening here. And maybe it’s time we the audience begin paying up for all this free we’ve been getting for years from services like Facebook and Skype. That’s why I believe what we’re seeing on Facebook may be a sign of things to come. What I’m calling Conversation Advertising.

The use of text or speech recognition to deliver micro-targeted advertising that seeks to take advantage of strategic moments in human interaction to suggest small purchases of products and services to meet immediate needs.

Like so many effective ads, this type of ad helps in a time of need.

In a way, this is happening already on Gmail when Google reads our emails and targets us with ads. The important difference here – and what makes the Facebook suggestions as a result of my minor interaction with a friend special – is a time-targeted ad. Here’s what I mean:

In my previous use of Facebook, I have “liked” a page and soon seen a new page suggestion or ad on the right-hand side. This usually happens in time, after I’ve browsed around a bit from page to page. (Note: I’m trying to emulate this on my Facebook page to see if it occurs immediately, as I thought I remembered it doing that sometimes, but I don’t seem to be able to replicate. Perhaps this happens elsewhere on the web?)

In Gmail, when I send an email or get an email, I see an ad on the right related to some topic in the email.

Both are still somewhat passive. They’re off to the side. In Gmail, we have a human interaction ad going on – but I wouldn’t say it is a conversation ad. This is because the ad doesn’t take advantage of a strategic moment in my interaction where a product or service may offer a solution to a problem I’m facing or need I have.

We are seeing more and more “personalized” ads – such as RFID Mini Cooper billboards and presidential campaigns micro-targeting us by using predictive analytics of the likelihood that our hobbies and purchasing habits predict our voting patterns.

But none of these are quite conversation ads.

Is the idea intrusive? Yes. Annoying? Very likely. Worrisome? Certainly. Will people “go for it?” As a citizen, I honestly hope not. But as a lover of technology, I find the prospect fascinating.

Furthermore, we may not have a choice. Nothing is free. We are the audience. Whether this type of advertising can really succeed will of course depend on how it is done. People do want conversations – they don’t like to be advertised to. Is there a way to make this form of advertising less intrusive, less one-way? I’m sure that there is. Just as there are a million annoying ads out there, there are those that we readily invite into our lives. If done right, this may be another avenue. If not, it could backfire enormously. If the ad helps me in a time of need, I may just welcome it.

Are there legal challenges to be had? Yes. Can they be overcome? Three words: Terms of Service (yes, I am oversimplifying a bit, but I sincerely believe these can be readily overcome).

Another major issue and turnoff is privacy. There again, while this may seem an overly invasive advertising method, keep in mind that we are readily giving away so much information about ourselves on sites like Facebook. We know Gmail is monitoring our emails. We know Facebook is reading not only what we like, but what we post and share. We know, though we may not want to admit it, that cookies are tracking us across the web and collecting every piece of info about us as possible. So really, is it much of a leap? We are more and more accustomed to this type of intrusiveness and seldom blink at it.

While Facebook’s move to suggest I buy a friend a gift is a bit clumsy (does it help me? Not really – No offense to my friend, but in no way would I consider buying him an impersonal gift because he heard positive feedback), I believe it does signify the beginning of something we should expect to see more and more as technology advances and individuals continue to live a digitally-tracked lifestyle. Like it or not, I believe we are witnessing the development of conversation advertising. What shape or form it takes and whether it becomes useful or not in the eyes of the consumer will depend on many things: such as how it develops and is used, whether it is truly helpful to the consumer, legal issues, and how the public reacts to it.

What do you think? How would you feel about this type of conversation advertising? What is your reaction to the Facebook “gift suggestion” discussed above, if you’ve experienced it? Where does my idea need improving? What am I missing? I’d love to chat about it.

Cheers!

– Matt

More on Facebook: Related Posts

I’ve been talking a bit lately about how “uncool” Facebook is becoming among young adults.

The recent move by Facebook to charge us to email someone we are not friends with through the service.

photo (top) CC Burning Image (bottom) CC Marco Trezza Photography

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4 thoughts on “Say hello to Conversation Advertising: Like a post, buy a Facebook gift

  1. Personally I think it’s way too pushy. Maybe if it’s a special occasion like a birthday, anniversary, birth of a child or any time you typically want to buy somebody a gift. First, charging to send messages. Now pushing you to spend money when you just want to impulsively interact with friends. These feel like steps to the end of Facebook. Are they just trying to sell out I wonder?

  2. Thanks Paul! I agree – it is very pushy. And I think it is backfiring. I’m hearing a lot about Facebook is “dying off” – and this may be another reason why. It cheapens the experience – and, it doesn’t really add value to my life, or to the relationship. If I’m going to buy a gift, I want to be there to give it to the person and I want it to be personalized. Facebook is beginning to feel desperate, where everywhere you look they are trying to get you to spend money on something you don’t need.

    I think if used a bit more creatively, and at the right moment, there could be a use for this type of advertising and we as consumers wouldn’t feel so put off.

  3. Of course maybe we’re wrong. Before I got into online marketing I didn’t think anybody clicked on those “Sponsored Listings.” How wrong I was. But I agree. There is a better way to push ads that would appear less random and in your face.

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