Facebook Testing Sponsored Search Results
Last week, Facebook began testing a new way to monetize their hugely successful social networking site: sponsored search results. The new feature will appear in the search typehead when users enter a particular phrase, and is being tested in limited release. So far, users seem fine with this latest use of their browsing habits, but some think it is not the best use of Facebook’s massive store of personal data.
According to TechCrunch, companies can buy a sponsored result for a specific page, app, or place (not a generic search word). So the service seems targeted to companies trying to swipe business from their competitors- for example, Pandora can make sure that every person searching for Spotify gets them as a search result too.
For now, the sponsored results will appear only in the search bar, not on the full search results page. The sponsored results appear the same as normal search results, except for the word “Sponsored” in small print.
Drew Olanoff at TheNextWeb argues that this effort will fall flat, as users on Facebook know what they’re searching for and won’t bother clicking on sponsored results:
With all of the data that Facebook has at its disposal, this is the best that it could do? While I don’t have all of the answers on how ads factor into today’s social web experience, I do know that it’s going to take more than a sponsored result to make a dent. Will it get a few more likes for some of these businesses? Maybe, but that’s old thinking that needs to evolve, and we’re counting on Facebook to be the leader in that evolution.
“I’m not on Facebook for discovery,” he adds.
But that might be the old way of thinking about Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and Co. are acutely aware that teen and pre-teen users have grown up on Facebook, and are almost never disconnected. This demographic might provide an opening for Facebook to become more about real-time searches.
In any event, I wonder if users will protest this latest instance of Facebook using them as marketing guinea pigs. It wouldn’t be the first time Facebook quietly debuts a feature only to roll it back just as quietly.
What do you think? Are Facebook’s sponsored search results a good thing?