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This article was published on July 23, 2012

Sponsored search results on Facebook: I’m not sold

Sponsored search results on Facebook: I’m not sold

You can always count on the fact that Facebook is continuing its hacker culture, as we see bits and pieces of new features make their way to the live site, often responded to with a common comment from the Menlo Park firm: “We’re currently testing a feature…”

Another new feature surfaced last week, and this time it’s something that might make Facebook a bit of money. It also might fail. But hey, Facebook is currently testing a feature, so it’s worth looking at right?

For those of you who use Facebook to search for people, places and things, you might start seeing “sponsored results” jump into the fray. It’s currently in limited release, and here’s what it looks like:

When we reached out to Facebook about it, here’s what a spokesperson told us, in true Facebook fashion:

We are currently testing a feature that surfaces sponsored results along with the organic results when people are looking for things on Facebook. We try to show people apps and pages they’ll be most interested in.

This is Facebook’s way of saying, “We want to see if this will work so we’re not making a huge fuss about it until we figure out whether it’s great or pure shit.” Fair enough, the great thing about the Internet is that there is no software for people to install to get updates on a social site like Facebook. You can visit it on any given day and have something brand new pop up for you.

Facebook tends to stay pretty quiet on the features that it is testing. With the ability to release a feature to a smaller subset of users, Facebook doesn’t ever have to push an overly crappy experience out to the global population, even though it does once in a while.

This time around, the company wants to find out if we’ll click on something that’s “sponsored” over something that’s not. If we’re looking for coffee, like the image above suggests, someone could pay for their company page to be “sponsored”, which means it would show up before other organic, or non-paid, results.

We’re familiar with this approach, as it’s Google’s bread and butter. Will it work on Facebook? I honestly don’t believe that it will.

With all of the data that Facebook has at its disposal, this is the best that it could do? While I don’t have all of the answers on how ads factor into today’s social web experience, I do know that it’s going to take more than a sponsored result to make a dent. Will it get a few more likes for some of these businesses? Maybe, but that’s old thinking that needs to evolve, and we’re counting on Facebook to be the leader in that evolution.

As for sponsored results, If I’m searching for a coffee shop on Facebook, I know the coffee shop’s name. I’m not on Facebook for discovery, I’m on it for connection. I connect with people and companies that I’ve already met, heard about or done business with.

In the above example, someone is searching for “Jasper’s”, but which one did they want? Trust me, a person searching for Jasper’s know exactly what they are looking for. Sponsored results are an obnoxious intrusion into my connecting experience.

When I’m Googling for something, I know that I can tap in partial phrases or thoughts and then trust Google’s search algorithm to find matches for me. The sponsored results that show up in search might interest me in the case of those partial phrases or thoughts. Basically, I’m Googling “Red Hat” and I’m searching for “Joe’s Red Hats” on Facebook.

Make sense?

So yeah, when it comes to connecting with people, places and things, I don’t see something like sponsored results being the answer to any of Facebook’s monetization woes efforts.

If companies want to buy my attention, Facebook is going to have to come up with a much better way.

See also: Dear Facebook, It’s my content, and I want to know who sees it