In recent months, some Facebook page owners have noticed that their accounts are driving much less traffic to their websites than they used to. In some cases, Facebook clickthroughs are down by as much as half, despite a huge growth in likes. Even worse, some brands noticed that this drop in traffic coincided with a new Facebook feature called “promoted posts” through which brands can pay cold hard cash to push their content out to more news feeds than they would normally reach—and the brands are not happy about it.
This juxtaposition of events makes it look like Facebook is artificially driving down traffic, then holding the old level of traffic hostage in order to generate some new revenue. But Facebook insists its doing nothing of the sort; instead, the company says that its just trying to keep its users Facebook feeds from getting too crufty with promotional posts they dont want to see. In other words, Facebook claims to be on the side of users against the advertisers, even if its making money on the deal.
The social network finds itself in a delicate position: for the first time, its trying to strike a balance between helping brands to reach users, keeping users returning to their news feeds, and making money of its own as pressure produce revenue rises.
Last spring, the International House of Pancakes launched an online children’s game that was inspired by the Dr. Seuss classic “The Lorax.” IHOP appeared to be serving up a hearty portion of advertising to children, too.That was the conclusion of the ad industry’s own standards police, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which said IHOP’s placement of menu items and its logo within the game made it too much like a commercial. The panel recommended last month that the firm disclose its marketing intentions to its young users.
The episode highlighted an increasingly thorny debate on how to monitor advertising aimed at children when they are confronted with so many new forms of marketing online.If even the ad industry can’t agree on the definition of an online ad, who can?
The Federal Communications Commission limits ads on television but doesn’t police the Web either.That worries children’s advocates, who say that the FTC and FCC may make distinctions but that to kids, a screen is a screen is a screen — and everything on it looks like entertainment to them.“There is a great deal of research that shows children don’t distinguish between content and advertising,” said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of communications at American University and an advocate of children’s media protections. “Now on digital, there is the opportunity of more blurring of those lines, and the industry is pushing to keep definitions of online advertising broad and unclear.”