Venturebeat reports this morning on a new service called FriendRank. According to the article the name is a playful variation on GoogleRank. Underneath however, the service isn’t about ranking friends (that’s only part of the service). The service aims to provide advertisers a new platform in which you and your friends are placed within commercial advertisement.
FriendRank ranks your friends from social networking sites such as Facebook and then places these friends within Social Banners. An example is provided in the post:
[The] social banner would ask which of your close Facebook friends, among a short list, you’d like to invite to see the movie. Or a social banner might inform you that a friend Jim just ranked Iron Man with three stars, and it might ask to “click here to buy tickets at Fandango.”
The underlying idea, according to Seth Goldstein, one of the founders of Friendrank, is that people ignore ads. Social Banners are a way to let people start interacting with the advertisement. By inserting known friends into the social banner Friendrank hopes to provide an improved click through rate on advertisement within social networks.
While I could easily see an initial momentum for such an idea (“hey, what’s mike doing in that advertisement there”) I also think that Friendrank is balancing on a very, very thin line between a commercial success in social advertisement and commercial exploitation of private friends relationships. Again, from the Venturebeat article:
SocialMedia’s execs say FriendRank will look for positive reinforcement. If you tend to click often on an ad featuring a particular friend, that friend’s ranking rises within SocialMedia’s algorithm. Also, someone you don’t interact with at all won’t be part of your FriendRank. While your parents may be influential in your life, if they don’t interact with you much on Facebook, they won’t count for very much in SocialMedia’s algorithm.
SocialMedia finds out information about your friendships by watching who you play games with on Facebook or MySpace, or who you otherwise communicate with using other applications on those networks. SocialMedia is in a good position to get this data because it serves ads on hundreds of applications, which in turn can access certain profile data of the people viewing the pages.
In a CNET post on the same topic Seth Goldstein is quoted to say:
Goldstein said SocialMedia will be sensitive to people’s privacy, partly because of the backlash prompted by Facebook’s Beacon program. People will be able to click a tab on a social banner to read about how it works and how to easily opt out of the program, he said.
At recent social-media conferences, Goldstein has said that programs like Beacon are the future of this type of conversational marketing.
“Technically people are collecting cookies all the time,” Goldstein said. “What Beacon has shown us is that when you try to cross information between networks, the psyche isn’t ready. But over the years to come you’ll be able do this in any forum.”
The thing that gets me with this type of reasoning is that users are allowed to leave AFTER they have been exposed to the social bannering of Friendrank. There isn’t a single user that signs on for a social network in order to receive the opportunity to be exposed to advertisement. People join social networks for social networking reasons. They want to interact with friends. They want to play, have fun, get to know people. And when you are interacting with friends advertisement can easily get in the way of that interaction. While it may sound like fun that your best friend invites you to a movie on a Social Banner, it isn’t what you signed up for in the first place. That’s why Facebook got their backlash on Beacon, and that is a potential danger for any other type of social advertisement.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe services like Friendrank are the way to go with social advertisement. Hey, it might even make advertisement a little more fun. But I cannot help but feel that these services are crossing the thin line from commercial success to commercial exploitation of friends relationships. And that is a balancing act that might easily create a backlash by those that do not want themselves or their friends exploited that way. And once trust is violated, the user may be gone. This is not just a danger for the advertiser. it is also a danger for the user and his friends. If one of my friends is “spamming” me with social advertisment, what does that say about the relationship we (thought we) have?In that sense Friendrank isn’t the best of names when you relate it to your friends?
Social bannering is an interesting but dangerous experiment in advertisement. It needs a controlled environment, but more importantly, it needs users that are willing to participate UP FRONT, not people that have the possibility to opt out afterwards. We’ll have to wait and see how this develops. It is an incredibly difficult problem to solve, advertisment based upon social network interactions. It will be interesting to see if Social Banners such as FriendRank will be creating will be the way to go.