Snipe.Net Geeky, sweary things.

Advertising on Facebook – Part One

A

I have a Facebook application that seems to be doing rather well – over 100k monthly active users after just two months, and gaining by about 1.5k every day. I’ve been toying with trying to monetize that in some way, and the most obvious way (that requires the least amount of effort) is to add banner advertisements.

This article series replaces my previous article, Advertising on Facebook – An Experiment, published in January. The information provided in the previous article will be provided in this series, but in a more organized, informative manner. That article is deprecated.

Social Media Advertising Networks

There are a handful of advertising networks that seem to be the top options available:

As of now, I have only experimented with SocialCash and SocialMedia, although I may expand the experiment to include others soon. SocialCash and SocialMedia seem to be the most popular choices of the above four, and SocialMedia has just raised an additional $6million in venture capital after coming out strong in 2008.

According to an article in Venture Beat, Social Media says it brought in between $15 and $20 million in revenue last year, mainly due to successful sales in the last six months.

A note about the ads

The types of ads offered by both SocialCash and SocialMedia tend to be what I consider a little deceptive. By that I mean many of them are engineered specifically to look like part of the application, and often use the application user’s name, photo and friend’s photos in the ad itself. SocialCash seems to be more guilty of this than SocialMedia, but both rely on similar tactics.

Ad by SocialCash
Ad by SocialCash

Some of the images in the above ad are profile photos from my friends Facebook profiles. This ad links to a mysterious Facebook app called Jamster Mobile Screensaver. I have no idea if this application is legit, and am not willing to sign-up and give it my mobile number to find out, but it feels fishy to me. Sort of reminds me of those “text L-O-S-E-R to shortcode 666666 for texts from hot girls” type of thing you see on TV at oh-my-god-o’clock in the morning.

Another sample ad by SocialCash
Another sample ad by SocialCash

And in this ad, also by SocialCash, the ad pulls in my profile photo and my name. The advertiser site you get to when you click on seems to be some sort of Scrabble-type game, which requires the user to download an Active-X component to play. While I have no justified reason to believe this is suspect, an ad linking to a site that requires a download rubs me the wrong way, big time.

Another ad-type I have seen from SocialCash is a similar-style ad that leads you to a “quiz” website. At the end of the “quiz”, the website asks for your mobile phone number (without really explaining why), and in small text at the bottom, informs the user that they will be billed $19.95 per month for this service – when they are not even particularly clear on what the service actually is.

Still another ad style I have seen from them is one that leads you to a website that when you try to leave, a javascript alertbox pops up informing the user that they are going to miss out if they close the window, and sometimes even spawns a new popup window after the user has confirmed they want the window to close. I have a real problem with these kinds of ads. They feel a lot like the malware sites that try to convince (windows) users that their computer is infected, and they have to download this software to clean it. The software is, of course, malware and will subject the installer to a variety of ills from keylogging to unpromoted ads.

I am absolutely not implying that the advertisers with SocialCash are promoting malware – just making the comparison in how that type of ad feels to me, someone who’s been around the Internet block for 15 years. That said, I received a troubling message from one of my application users today, which I will address later in this article.

In the SocialMedia ad below, you can see they’re not pulling in as many user details, but a less savvy application user might not recognize this as an ad, and may actually think that this “Valentines Cards” thing is somehow related to the application itself. On the possible upside, the destination website, MyFunCards.Com, does not seem to be a paid service and seems harmless enough, although I certainly cannot speak to their SPAM policies or what they do with people’s email addresses when you send or receive a card from them.

Ad by SocialMedia
Ad by SocialMedia

The Conundrum

My own personal feelings are that these types of ads are not entirely ethical. The problem is, they work – and their somewhat sneaky tactics are exactly why they work. Facebook users suffer from banner-blindness as much as any other web user, so your standard, run-of-the-mill banner ads just won’t get as high of a click-through rate. So before you begin, you need to ask yourself whether or not you can deal with your name being associated with advertisements that may not reflect your own ethics.

Ads that trick a user into clicking on them by making it seem like its part of the application functionality (“you have 1 new message!”) are deceptive. Offers that throw a javascript window alertbox when a user tries to close the advertisement page, asking if they are really sure they want to leave and miss out on xyz implements the same tactics that malware sites use. It just doesn’t feel right to me.

What SocialCash Had to Say

When I first signed up in January, I emailed SocialCash, expressing some concern over the types of ads being run. They replied with the following via email (in two separate emails, condensed for clarity):

Types of ads/offers.  One quick point on terminology:  “Ads” are the banners themselves; “offers” are what the user sees after clicking on an ad.  Your question seems to be on the offers.  We’ve been in the online marketing business since 2000 (on Facebook since early 2007) and advertisers range from large brands vying for app installs to tourism companies advertising discounted trips to Paris.   We display ads over 100+ countries.  In this range of advertisers is also mobile content, which provides users scheduled content on their mobile phone for a monthly fee.   This is a service many users enjoy worldwide[…] […]We’re in the process of upgrading our ads and you’ll see a change-over in the near term.  And like we said before, we have a wide mix of both ads and offers.  To fully understand the available options with advertising, we’d encourage you to do what most developers do and try multiple ad networks at once.  This is really the best way to learn the ins and outs of optimizing and monetization.  That experience also enables a great deal of choice for you on the whos, whats, wheres, etc. of advertisements within your applications.   There are tons of great resources out there!

An Additional Concern

As I mentioned earlier in the article, I received a troubling message from one of my application users today. I have emailed SocialCash about this, and expect to hear back from them tomorrow, but this situation was drastic enough for me to pull their ads from my application today. This is the message I received:

I like the app or at least a lot of my friends do.

However, in the last two days my anti-virus has been flagging up a malicious link on your start page. It appears to be a script that, if allowed to run, will capture key strokes and other info. I re-checked using Norton anti-virus (I use Avira anti-virus normally) and it also flagged the same script.

Avira warns me that ” functionalities include – but are not limited to – downloading trojans, link to other infected pages, spy the user or spoof the content of a banking site.

I replied back to this user immediately (for obvious reasons), and they replied again:

It happened in two different apps on FB who have the same ad server as you have at the top of your page – socialcash I think?

This, my friends, is a deal-breaker. If they do not have an adequate explanation for what happened, I will no longer be using SocialCash. Even if the advertiser/advertisement is not actually malware and was erroneously labeled as such, it is their responsibility to make sure something like this NEVER happens. With all the actual virus activity on Facebook, sometimes like this can ruin the reputation of an application – and once you lose the user’s trust, you WILL NOT GET IT BACK.

UPDATE: For more information on this issue, click here to read Part Three.

In the next article in the series, I show you my performance stats. Click here to go to Part Two!

About the author

snipe

I'm a tech nerd from NY/CA now living in Lisbon, Portugal. I run Grokability, Inc, and run several open source projects, including Snipe-IT Asset Management. Tweet at me @snipeyhead, skeet me me at @snipe.lol, or read more...

By snipe
Snipe.Net Geeky, sweary things.

About Me

I'm a tech nerd from NY/CA now living in Lisbon, Portugal. I run Grokability, Inc, and run several open source projects, including Snipe-IT Asset Management. Tweet at me @snipeyhead, skeet me me at @snipe.lol, or read more...

Get in Touch