Readers are asked in the online poll to indicate which social networks had the best ads among Bebo, Friendster, Facebook, hi5, LinkedIn, MySpace, "Other," and "They're All Equally Horrible." Based on more than 700 responses as of Tuesday afternoon, "Equally Horrible" was in the lead with 256 votes to Facebook's 214.
Coming in a distant third was Friendster with 70, trailed by MySpace and LinkedIn, which both had about 50. Sobering--if highly unscientific--results amid all the hype surrounding social sites and their stratospheric valuations.
Some might argue that a poll about advertising of any kind would lead people to check the "Horrible" box, if offered, because ads are widely viewed as a necessary evil to receive "free" content or services. "I don't think there's any type of advertising anybody is overly fond of," said Adam Ostrow, Mashable's editor-in-chief.
Even so, the distaste for social network ads suggested by the Mashable poll contrasts with a forecast from Interpublic's Magna Global unit Tuesday predicting social media, including both social networks and ad-supported applications, will grow by 37.4% in 2009 to $1.5 billion through improved monetization.
Cracking the code on social network advertising has proven inherently difficult so far because of the vast but highly fragmented pools of online inventory they represent. "Social networks are notoriously bad at getting users to click on ads," wrote Mashable contributor Stan Schroeder, in a post prefacing the blog's ad poll.
He also noted, however, that "sometimes you catch and ad with the corner of your eye and it grabs your interest, at least for a millisecond. And, if you find it interesting enough to read the short blurb or keep your eyes on the image for a couple milliseconds more, then the ad worked."
Apparently, not many respondents experienced even that fleeting level of interest in social network ads. If finishing as a respectable runner-up to "Equally Horrible" can be considered a triumph in this case, then Facebook is ahead of the rest of the pack.
In comments posted about the poll, readers cited Facebook's ads as the least intrusive and most relevant, while criticizing MySpace ads as too flashy, annoying and "full of spyware."
In a follow-up post Tuesday on the survey results, Schroeder explained that Facebook had taken a different approach. "By using a visually unobtrusive ad box on the left hand side on the screen they manage to catch your eye much easier than any of Google's standard AdSense formats, which are all over the place on MySpace, for example."
While MySpace introduced its own hypertargeting ad program late last year, the Web's largest social network "has so much inventory that the bulk of it is still remnant ads," Ostrow said.
Of course, many felt Facebook went too far in targeting members with its Beacon initiative, tracking users' off-site activities. A privacy backlash led the company to let users turn off the feature completely if they wish.
At the same time, the Mashable poll indicates "people like ads more targeted at least to their interests," Ostrow said.