Facebook + your face = social ads

Site will use your recommendations to help sell products

Facebook wants to stick your face on the ads it shows to your friends. Sounds barmy, but that's life in the social networking whirlwind.

The idea is a new twist on product endorsement - if you like something, the chances are that your friends will like it too. Or at least trust the fact that you like it.

I Like. You buy.

Facebook says that the system could work with everything from music tracks to baked beans. It'll work in much the same way as it does currently when you endorse a third-party app (like iLike, SuperPoke or Top Friends) on the system by sending it to people in your friends list.

Branded products will have profile pages on Facebook under the scheme, which has two elements: Facebook Pages and Social Ads. However, Facebook was quick to point out that it's not only for branded products, but also for people like celebrities and bands to have a presence on the platform (a la MySpace).

Once again, of course, the issue of privacy will raise its head. But once signed up, the truth is that most of Facebook's 50 million active population volunteer a huge amount of information about themselves anyway. And that's not Facebook's fault - the site rightly says it is only using what its users choose to share.

Call it "social advertising"...

Leah Pearlman, the product manager for Facebook Ads, posted on the Facebook blog early this morning to defend the move. Users will not be able to opt out of the ads if they are friends with people that are recommending products or services.

"We believe we've created a system where ads are more relevant and actually enhance Facebook," wrote Pearlman. "We noticed people wanted to connect with their favorite music, restaurants and brands; but there was no good place for these types of affiliations to exist.

"Ads will be getting more relevant and more interesting to you. Instead of random messages from advertisers, we've launched Social Ads. Social Ads provide advertisements alongside related actions your friends have taken on the site. These actions may be things like "Leah is now a fan of The Offspring" (if I added The Offspring to my music)."

... or "trusted recommendations"

The so-called "social advertising" plan was unveiled yesterday at an advertising gathering in New York. Founder Mark Zuckerberg said that "nothing influences a person more than a recommendation from a trusted friend".

However, Mr Facebook clearly doesn't quite understand how annoying this kind of stuff can be. The New York Times reports that Zuckerberg said the launch would make the site "less commercial" because of the personal endorsement.

Pearlman added that Facebook "will always stay clutter-free and clean" and "will never sell any of your information". She added that there would be no more ads present on the system than before, which is strange because it sure doesn't sound like it.

We'll be interested to see how this social advertising trend develops. Facebook will be well aware that if it gets the balance wrong, users will surely simply stop visiting the site as much.