In December of 2012, Facebook began its second test of Facebook Collections, a system allowing retailers the option of adding "Add," "Collect" or "Wishlist" buttons to products in their newsfeed posts. The December round of testing seemed to focus on finding the best name for the Collections button.

Facebook denies the Collections feature is a response to Pinterest, although the new feature shares much in common with the image-sharing site. The real targets in Facebook's crosshairs are big ecommerce sites such as Google and Amazon. Facebook Collections is basically a product search engine with one billion users build in.

Benefiting from Collections

It's easy to see how a retailer benefits from Facebook Collections. When a product winds up in a user wishlist, the "Add" button (or the "Collect" button, or whatever name Facebook settles on) becomes a "Buy" button, tempting both users and their friends. But what about businesses offering less tangible products? Could a plumbing company benefit from Collections?

The answer to that question will very much depend on how flexible Facebook makes the Collections settings and options. In theory, our intrepid plumbing company could create images of services and add them to the company Collections page, which users could then share.

Collections Limitations

Of course, that begs the next question: would users use Collections for services as well as products? It seems unlikely. And this may reveal a serious limitation to the Collections concept.

Pinterest users can pin and repin any image. Collections, as it stands at present, only allows users to click on products. This gives the system an undeniably commercial feel, and overt commercialism doesn't fly well with social media users.

Our same plumbing company, on Pinterest, could pin how-to guides, pictures of finished products and other non-commercial images, with links back to the company blog or website. Collections doesn't seem designed for such subtle traffic building and link-generation. Instead the message is overtly "buy this product."

Facebook, obviously, wants to make money with Collections. The company isn't charging affiliate fees or revenue shares. Instead, the company hopes to sell profile ads designed to increase business page likes. To effectively use Collections, a company will need as many likes as possible.

Can Collections Work?

If users adopt the new system, Facebook Connections could prove profitable for product-selling businesses. Sites such as Kaboodle show product wishlists can work. Facebook also has a built-in advantage over Pinterest for sales-products seen on Pinterest are often posted by strangers. On Facebook, users see their friends want the product, adding an important social influence to marketing.

At the same time, Facebook users are already well past their tolerance levels with frequent changes to privacy settings and invasive ads on profile pages. Unless presented carefully, Collections could be seen for what it is: an attempt to further commercialize social media. Whether or not users will accept that is, in my opinion, highly questionable.