I had my first experience with Facebook Beacon this past weekend when I purchased movie tickets for “American Gangster” from Fandango.com. Moments after my purchase a notification popped up in the lower right hand corner of my screen (similar to the email notification in Outlook) asking me if I wanted to publish my purchase to my Facebook. I chose the “No thanks” option given that I didn’t want to effectively recommend the movie without having seen it at that time. Later, when I visited Facebook, I had an alert asking me whether I wanted to publish my Fandango “story” for other users to see. I was given the option of publishing my purchase, opting out of publishing that specific purchase or opting out of publishing actions on Fandango altogether.
I had three reactions to this rather alien experience, which if shared by other consumers, do not bode well for Facebook’s Social Ads. First, I was irritated that despite having opted out while on Fandango, I was still prompted to publish my purchase upon my next visit to Facebook. Second, although I was given the ability to opt out of having Fandango send purchases to my profile, it was frustrating to see that I will still get notifications whenever I take actions on Fandango itself. Lastly, it was worrisome that my actions on Fandango seemingly will continue to be recorded by Facebook, even though I opted out of publishing them to my profile.
Aside from the obvious privacy issues associated with collecting information on my actions without my consent, there are fundamental consumer issues with Beacon which should concern Facebook. The experience of having a Facebook notification appear while on another site will likely be unsettling for most consumers. I will be surprised if the opt in rate for publishing actions at that point in the process is significant enough to generate much volume for Social Ads. If Beacon becomes widely implemented, the sheer number of notifications on Facebook and other sites could become a serious annoyance for consumers, leading to further opt out or even abandonment of Facebook altogether. With only a small number of actions likely to be published to profiles, the potential inventory for Social Ads becomes limited. Any advertiser that elects to target more granularly than a specific action will be addressing audiences that incredibly are small. Advertisers are not interested in actively managing a marketing channel that only reaches a small audience and generates an even smaller number of qualified clicks. Unless Facebook addressed the consumer experience with Beacon, there may be no viable option for advertisers interested in the Facebook audience.
Clearly, Facebook intends to iterate on the Beacon model, but I think that when it comes to the consumer experience, the first impression matters a great deal. Unfortunately for Facebook, this close encounter of the third kind with Beacon may leave consumers feeling like their actions have been abducted by aliens rather than used to communicate effectively and privately with their fellow human beings.