Google Moves Into Endorsements -- Which Makes Me Not Want To Endorse Anything
If you didn’t follow social media news this past week, you wouldn’t be the only one. What with all the sturm und drang over the government shutdown, the looming debt ceiling crisis, and a positive cornucopia of political posturing available 24/7 all week long, who could even pay attention to Facebook, or Google, or even Twitter’s IPO?
Still, there was some social media news that managed to catch my eye, amazingly enough. And that’s that Google is moving into the same “endorsement” social ad territory currently employed by Facebook. In other words, don’t feign shock if your mug suddenly pops up when your friends are in Google Plus or Google Play endorsing something that once, in a moment of wild impulse, you decided that you were going to let the world know you liked.
While the point of social advertising like this certainly is to use the power of word-of-mouth to ignite interest in a brand, there’s something persistently icky about this kind of endorsement, one in which a platform uses your proverbial thumbs-up for the potential betterment of itself and the advertiser, but not really you. Sometimes it saddens me that one of the key facts I know about one of my far-flung Facebook friends is that he likes FAGE yogurt. I, do, too, but is this really how Michael wants to be remembered? And what on earth did he get out of the ad?
One answer is that he got unfettered access to Facebook, which, I often point out is a free service, so we should all quit whining about ads. So let’s look at these types of social ads from another perspective, from the vantage point of the advertisers and platforms that support the form. Are these ads really worth the price of admission: potentially alienating users who had no idea that their data and images were going to be used in this way? (Seriously, who reads deep enough into the terms of service to realize this is happening? It’s the kind of thing that users only realize after the fact.)
And, do these types of social ads really have the same kind of word-of-mouth power as a conversation, on platform or off, between two friends about a product?
I think not. While individual users may be blithely ignorant of the fact that their likenesses sometimes show up endorsing products they’ve liked, they are much less naïve when they see a friend of theirs “endorsing” a brand in an ad on a social platform. Only a fool would think that contracts were signed between FAGE yogurt and Michael before he popped up as what appears to be one of its biggest fans. That essentially means that these ads aren’t word-of-mouth at all, but word-of-click; instead of person-to-person information, it’s person-to-platform-to-person, and that’s a different beast.
This practice won’t stop any time soon, particularly if the ROI, at least on a campaign-by-campaign basis, works. But the downside of this kind of social ad is more long-term: the more we users are used as endorsers, the less likely we are to commit to “liking” anything, at least in the very public nature of a social platform.