Social ads turn Facebook likes into involuntary product endorsements

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Social media users might be marketing tools for companies and not even know it. 

Advertisers are increasingly incorporating social media likes into ads for products, often without the user’s knowledge, notes Jessica Guynn in the Los Angeles Times. In some cases, input on an interesting product —sharing a link with friends, liking it on Facebook or the Google +1 button — could end up with you providing a “personal endorsement” for the item to your friends.

Like it or not, you might have to get used to it.

Google-owned Zagat is expanding a program that turns comments from users 18 or older into actual endorsements. It is also well known that Facebook and other social media platforms regularly share information with marketers and other companies.

Often, “likes” or “+1” is taken out of context. There are different reasons why a person would “like” or “+1” a product. Many people click it to enter contests or get a discount or other freebies, Guynn writes.

Facebook recently tried to change its privacy policy to allow companies the ability to run social-media ads without explicit permission of users. That policy is on hold due to a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission by privacy groups.

Web companies say friend-based ads are more relevant and less annoying than traditional advertising. One branding expert says that ads that pop up in news feeds of friends are up to four times more powerful than standard Facebook ads. However, users are beginning to write off these endorsements by friends, the same as they do online celebrity recommendations.

Facebook pioneered social endorsements in 2007 when it launched ads that notified friends of who was purchasing on which websites. After mass protests, it pulled the program.

Google lets users opt out of specialized ads, but a few users have protested by switching their profile pictures to images of the company’s executive chair, Eric Schmidt, says Guynn.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.