In defense of ads on Facebook

Despite all the benefits Facebook provides, it seems its makers can’t keep everyone happy. For every small change to its interface, there are hundreds of protest groups that pop up. Aside from the obvious questions of privacy, one of the most prolific complaints has to do with the use of ads to support the immense overhead of the growing company.

Facebook’s users tend to forget the benefits when they are confronted with the minimal costs of using the service. I’ll let you in on an open secret: nothing is free. If you are not paying for a service, you are the product being sold. Facebook is no exception: Though the service is free to use, the “cost” is that you are opening yourself up to be advertised to. 

Advertising to support the services we love is hardly a new concept. In fact, it dates back well beyond the current era and even that of Don Draper. Nearly all of the “free” services and entertainment we enjoy are supported by ads and sponsors in one way or another. Our favorite shows on television, magazines (like this one), and free concerts like Downtown Alive and Rhythms all ascribe to that model.

When Facebook went public last May, it refocused on two major goals: profits and growth. How does a site like Facebook become profitable? By selling advertisements to offset all the expenses associated with maintaining such a huge site. 

As for the second goal, growth in a site like Facebook can be achieved in two ways: increasing subscriber base or increasing the time each user spends on the site. If at any point people feel that using the site is not worth their time or becomes unenjoyable, they use the site less or quit altogether and Facebook loses its profitability.

So what qualifies someone who makes a living in marketing and PR to defend Facebook and its use of advertising? Because I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve had countless of my own ads rejected by Facebook for publication because they don’t fit their strict standards. I realize how hard Facebook works to ensure that the ads remain relevant and unobtrusive. The future of their business absolutely depends on their ability to strike a balance between keeping both their advertisers and users happy.

One thing that many consumers may not understand is that Facebook rewards businesses and advertisers for being interesting. There are complex algorithms based on how many clicks, likes, comments and shares each post gets. Interesting posts – those that contribute value to the reader – get more interactions and make it easier for future posts by the same author to be seen. Facebook ads work in much the same way. If an ad is interesting, it reaches more people for less money than those that only aim to shout their sales messages. 

Despite all the complaints about changes and the new ways Facebook allows advertisements, millions of people continue to interact and engage on the site. They keep up with their friends, family, favorite brands. Facebook has brought attention to many worthy causes and spreads many messages of goodwill. So, let’s try to remember the bigger picture and stop letting a little contextual advertising get in the way.