Facebook has changed the game. The world's biggest social network has launched a new reward scheme, doling out Facebook Credits to users who watch certain ads. It's not 'real' money per se, but they can be redeemed against real products and services through Facebook Deals, the network's daily deals service a la Groupon.
The 'incentive' stands at one meagre Facebook Credit (worth 10 US cents) at the moment, although there's nothing to stop Facebook introducing tariffs in future: longer ads/priority clients could yield a higher fee.
It sounds like a massive con. Rafts of users could stack up credits by watching ad after ad on various embedded media. A whole sub-culture of Facebook Credit trolls could spring up. Or could this new scheme actually make good business sense?
Dan Greenberg is CEO of Sharethrough, one of the agencies serving these paid-for ads. He calls this new concept "a step away from interruptive advertising." Interesting phrase.
We all switch off when ads are played to us against our will. So-called free apps that serve up commercial breaks mid game or mid session irk and annoy - but if you knew you were being paid (albeit peanuts) to watch the thing, you might pay a little more attention. Hell, Facebook's even calling this monetised intrusion an 'opportunity': "Watch a sponsored video and earn credits in some of your favorite games and apps, so keep your eyes open for these opportunities."
Facebook is currently targeting the gaming community. The paid-for ads nestle in their favourite games. It's a clever pick for the network; gamers tend to be more focussed on interactive media, and less likely to click away. More on gaming and business here.
Fact is, Facebook had to do something. Banner click-throughs on the site are extremely low: 0.051% in 2010 - half the industry standard of 0.1%, while the cost per click is up to double other media sites'.
This move also gives extra weight to the Facebook Credit. Largely ignored to date, the Credits are used to send a personalised cocktail or buy in-game goodies - virtual nonsense. Now it's been given a real-world value, benchmarked against tangible items on Facebook Deals.
As usual, it's over to you. Has Facebook made a cardinal error? Or is this the future of advertising?