In January 2012, Facebook will start displaying Sponsored Stories ads in the main News Feed. The company will start with the desktop version of the website, but if successful, we could see ads appear on the mobile side as well.
"Our goal is to do this thoughtfully and slowly," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We hope to show people no more than one Sponsored Story in their News Feeds per day and the story will be clearly labeled."
Although Facebook plans to ensure users see no more than one Sponsored Story in the News feed per day, the ads will be marked as "Sponsored," the stories will only feature friends or Pages which users already Like, it's still a very risky move. Where does it end? As my colleague Charlie Osborne writes, Facebook News Feed ads: How many is too many?
Just because Facebook is starting with one ad doesn't mean it will stop there. Facebook says users will be able to delete individual ads by clicking on the "x" (just like current ads on the right-hand side), but they will not be able to completely opt-out of seeing Sponsored Stories in the News Feed.
Facebook has shown ads in the News Feed before, but in 2008 it stopped the practice. Clearly the social networking giant wants to try again, but it better have a seriously good game plan if it's going to avoid annoying its massive user base.
I understand that Facebook needs as many different revenue sources as possible with its upcoming IPO, but I'm not sure ads in the News Feed are the best move here. The social networking giant is not exactly desperate for money, so unless Facebook expects this to result in its biggest money-printing operation to date, I don't see why the company is doing it.
Facebook does offer a unique approach to advertising, but the fact is that ads are still hated. The social network should be focusing on improving the quality, not the quantity of ads. Most users already skip the majority of stories they see in the News Feed. Adding more content that most will make a point to avoid will only further devalue the feature.
My biggest concern is not that Facebook will flood the News Feed with ads, but that it will eventually move on to the profile. That is one area that I absolutely do not want to see ads, because I see it as my personal page. I think if Facebook ever puts advertisements in the Timeline, the social network will have a very hard time recovering from the backlash.
As for the upcoming News Feed ad backlash, I think it will come regardless of how well Facebook implements this new source of revenue. No amount of campaigning or explaining will be able to prevent that. I think users won't like it, and I think they'll threaten to leave, but as always the Facebook addiction will keep them around.