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Facebook to post sponsored ads in news feed

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The company assured it would respect the users and their privacy settings.

will gradually roll out sponsored stories in news feed, beginning next year. From January 2012, sponsored stories or advertisements, which now appear on the right side of the page, will be part of the news feeds of the users - along with other normal updates and posts. To start with, the initiative will be available for the desktop version of the 2004-launched site.

The ads will be marked 'sponsored'. The company claims it will respect the users and their connections privacy settings. This will be done by allowing stories about pages and people to whom they are already connected.

Everytime a Facebook user clicks on the 'like' button for certain brands or pages, the ad would display the user's name, picture and a line, saying he/she likes the advertiser.

Facebook claims this will make it easier for people, businesses and organisations to feature these posts. Said a comment from Facebook: "Sponsored Stories respect all privacy settings and people will only see stories about people and Pages they've already connected to."

It's for the second time that the social networking site, headquartered in California's Palo Alto, is trying its hand at sponsored ads in news feed. In 2006, it tested this concept with some advertisers, but discontinued with the practice in 2008. This time, though, the firm is taking small steps to not encourage users by the presence of ads in news feed. "The company's goal is to do this thoughtfully and slowly," according to the Facebook Team in a reply to Business Standard query. "We hope to show people no more than one Sponsored Story in their News Feeds per day and the story will be clearly labeled as sponsored. And they'll have the same size and treatment as other stories in News Feed?"

But analyst tracking the Indian social media wonder if Facebook will be able to keep the ads at one per day.

"From the brands perspective I think this is a great move," notes Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO, Social Wavelength. "This allows them to reach out to users."

Substantiating, he says there will be some outrage among the user, but the social media is a "fairly young medium" that needs to balance between privacy and advertisement. "Ten years ago, when Yahoo came with banner ads, it was disruptive. Then changed it by putting these ads on the right side of the page. Facebook, too, down the line, will have to give users the option to be part of such initiatives."

The only backlash, if any, will be due to the option that users might not have an option to opt out of this feed. They, though, have an option to cross (x) out advertisements individually. However, Facebook says individuals will have full control on the news feed. "People have full control over whether or not they appear in newsfeed stories," says the site. "This is simply a distribution mechanism for these stories that you already choose to share with your Friends. No one can alter the content of that story in any way. It is identical to newsfeed."

Also, "if you don't want to share a newsfeed story with your friends you have, and have always had, a variety of controls at your disposal," it points out. For example, "you can decide not to take an action (eg, check in to Starbucks), you can remove the story from your profile, you can set your settings so the story is only visible to a certain subset of people (including only you)."

That Facebook wants to increase its revenue from advertisers is clear. For advertisers, the 800-million user-base is a treasure trove. In India, Facebook has over 40 million users.

According to a recent Comscore data, Facebook is the third-largest web property in the world, trailing only Google Sites and Sites. In October, Facebook reached more than half of the world's global audience (55 per cent) and accounted for approximately 3 in every 4 minutes spent on social networking sites and 1 in every 7 minutes spent online around the world.

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