Capitalism and Facebook: Sponsored Stories Sneak Their Way In

by Caitlin Melvin January 28th, 2011 

While I do love the idea of promoting brands, I was shocked to see a number of stories on the latest advertising idea from Facebook, Sponsored Stories. The concept is great - the lack of choice for Facebook users is not so great.

What Is Sponsored Stories?

A sponsored story is when you check-in to, let's say, a Starbucks. You tell your friends on Facebook that youre heading over to über-franchise Starbucks to grab a latte. Step One: You've mentioned the brand. Step Two: From that point - you could get placed in a little ad that basically broadcasts your love for Starbucks for your friends to see.

Sponsored Stories

Now, the issue of course is not that your friends have seen that you like getting latte's from Starbucks - it's that you have become an advertised endorsement for Starbucks against your own will. And what really makes Facebook a bully is that you can't opt out of this new feature.

A Great Opportunity for Brands

I don't like this new advertising scheme because I don't want to be a free endorsement for brands, and not have the opportunity to opt out of this. But then again, I do like it because I think this is a great opportunity for brands - as I say this muffled under my get a great marketing opportunity.


Because it's word of mouth at its finest. It's the perfect way for brands to get real-life people praising their products. And you also get to see your friends using the products too. Remember the McDonald's commercial where someone is out in public eating a Big Mac or Egg McMuffin - or whatever the commercial was advertising, and someone else sees that person eating one, and they decide they want one too - and it continues on with a number of other people. Well - this advertising idea has the same effect. Your friend Sally is getting a latte, and now maybe you want one too. BAM! Word of mouth.

Word Of Mouth

A Love-Hate Relationship

I started out harshly on this new concept from Facebook. And maybe I jumped beyond the idea of internet marketing and touched base with my anti-capitalism feelings. I think the idea is great for brands, but it's not so great for people who would prefer to opt out of it. I could see a big handful of people not caring, which would be enough for brands to use them as word of mouth. If Facebook gives users the choice to opt of this - I would appreciate the concept much more.

Caitlin Melvin

Caitlin works at Search Engine People. She loves internet marketing, and has a passion for social media. Caitlin is a former competitive cheerleader, a crazy cat lady, and a work-a-holic.

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6 Responses to “Capitalism and Facebook: Sponsored Stories Sneak Their Way In”

  1. Phil Turpin says:

    Hey Caitlin,
    I completely agree with you that users should be offered an 'opt-out' option and I understand what you're saying about being used in an advert without your consent.

    However, I fall into the 'not caring' category and that's not because I don't care about my privacy etc. (I can be very anti-facebook / pro-privacy at times) but simply that, as far as I can see, the only difference between the first red box (in the diagram above) and the second red box is the second has a logo (and, presumably, has been paid for – forgive me but I'm not up to speed on these sponsored stories yet). Presumably the positioning of the Sponsored Story too? My feeling is that simply by checking into somewhere you're advertising for that brand anyway but they're just not paying for it – but appreciate the fact that the brand's not paying for that exposure then.

    Interesting post though and has certainly got me thinking.

    ps – I'm a Foursquare guy, not Facebook places, so this wont affect me anyway :))

  2. arpitha says:

    Good Article!!! Can Facebook places really beat Foursquare? I see some sites like people can use to share office gossip anonymously that are already built on top of facebook places. The advantage facebook has compared to other sites is Huge Huge user base.. Time will only tell who wins!!!

  3. Sometimes it seems like Facebook is experimenting to see how they can drive away their users.

    From the day I signed up (somewhat reluctantly, but many people I know were on Facebook and no other networking site) I've made it my policy not to "like" corporate entities. I "friend" people and "like" various non-profits, local civic organizations, etc.

    Is that enough to keep me from showing up in a sponsored story? I don't know. Perhaps I need to occasionally post a status update encouraging my friends to boycott any business that uses my name in their advertisements without my permission. That failing, one of these days I just might quit… have been thinking about it for a while now.

  4. Shannon says:

    You say that users don't have an option – but they do. They can choose not to 'check-in' to a place to begin with.

    I think this would bother me a lot more if it affected every status update on Facebook, not just the check-ins. Of course, that could be the next step.

    That said, I don't look forward to having to look at all of these new ads on my newsfeed either.

    I do wonder how they deal with negative comments. Say somebody checks in after having a bad experience. 'Sally checked into XXXXX – 'Ugh, I hate it here'. Not so great for the advertising then!

  5. masstyo says:

    Hi Caitlin, What a nice article to share, I think facebook is the most advantage for me, because it has a simple and nice view and make me easier to interact with friends or other people. Thanks in advance.

  6. Caitlin Melvin says:

    @Phil Thanks so much for the positive feedback. It's not just checking in the places (the only brands doing sponsored stories at this time are Coca-Cola, Levi's and Starbucks) but it's also liking their pages as well. I do get what you're saying about already being an advertisement for the brand when you are checking in or liking a page publicly on Facebook. I think it's just the fact that the brand is using people as an endorsement without consent. Thank you for the comment though!

    @Jack because Facebook is a private company they are pretty much allowed to do that. But we will see how much of an uproar this causes and whether or not it actually sticks around.

    @Arpitha I'm so glad you enjoyed reading my article. I love getting positive feedback!