In a Terms of Service update released last week and to be effective on November 11, Google announced it’ll start using Shared Endorsements on it’s advertisement network. It’s similar to Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, launched back in 2011: users that reveal their liking of, say, a brand, might serve as pitchmen for it to their friends in an eventual ad.
The most appealing aspect of the approach is that it resembles the word-of-mouth effect, a powerful advertisement strategy in real life. Another possible reason for Google’s move is the fact that Facebook has already experimented with the option, so online social-network users should by now be more open to the idea. Finally, the search giant might be just adopting the competitor’s approach out of the fear of missing online ad money’s migration to social.
But Google shouldn’t bother copying Facebook.
First, because, although the ad format is relatively successful — Facebook made about $4 million per day out of Sponsored Stories by the end of Sep 2012 — users complains eventually led Zuckerberg’s company to decide dropping the feature. In fact, Facebook was subject of a class action for using Sponsored Stories without permission.
Second, while advertisers are indeed becoming more faithful about social websites, simply adopting a competitors format is not guaranteed to grab their attention if the website doesn’t have an appealing audience — which still is the case of Google Plus.
Third, the word-of-mouth effect is very difficult to implement, for the nuances of influence in real life are too complex to simulate — specially since the psychology of online interactions differs from that of face-to-face relationships.
The main problem with most online ads is that the websites portraying them seem to be sorry to show ad content, instead of proudly trying to connect brands with consumers. Most websites are afraid of bothering users by asking them directly about what kinds of products they would like to hear about, and instead try to guess what they want based on their online behavior — a task difficult even for a human expert.
Consumers are eager to learn about new products. Besides, people who ever tried to get their business to reach an audience understand how important advertisement is. These users would probably not mind spending a few minutes telling a website what kinds of ads they’d like to see.
If a website were to show quality ads, if it were really willing to put business in contact with consumers, and vice-versa, perhaps users would be less afraid of releasing personal information. And if Google Plus were the one to do so, perhaps people would finally seriously consider using it. Copying Facebook’s approach certainly won’t do it.
(A version of this article appeared in Washington Square News.)