Facebook Faces: Jim Squires Talks Future of Social Ads

jim-squiresJim Squires is an indie rock-loving guy who’s not at all into sports. So it’s somewhat curious that the story of his arrival at Facebook involves Dallas Mavericks boss Mark Cuban.

“What you see is what you get with Mark,” said Squires, who helped start up the NBA owner’s Broadcast.com in the late 1990s. “He’s super high energy; I loved working with him.”

Yahoo purchased Cuban’s company for $5.7 billion at the height of the dot-com boom, after which Squires went to work for the burgeoning portal. He has had an intriguing career, including stints at Ning and Mixercast, and for the past two years he’s worked for Facebook as product marketing manager. He answers to David Fischer, the Palo Alto, CA-based company’s VP of advertising and global operations. An Atlanta native and product of Texas Christian University (undergrad) and Cal-Berkeley (master’s), Squire’s most important role at the social site has been overseeing the development of Sponsored Stories. And when it comes to making Facebook marketing more social, it sounds like he’s just getting started.

ClickZ News recently sat down with Squires to learn more about the future of Facebook Ads, the company’s new Menlo Park campus, whether or not he’s the social site’s version of Google’s Matt Cutts, and other topics. It’s the second part in a summertime series, where we delve into some of the lesser-known Facebook personalities whose work ultimately affects brands large and small.

Here are excerpts from the Q&A:

ClickZ: You’ve been a products guy at Broadcast, Yahoo, Ning, and Mixercast. Two years in at Facebook, what do you like best about being employed there?

Jim Squires: There’s a very tight-knit sense of camaraderie among people working here. It actually feels really small, everyone knows each other, and we work collaboratively.

CZ: Before Facebook launches a new marketing product, what executives absolutely have to sign off on it before it goes live?

JS: It depends on the situation. Like I said, it’s very collaborative. So everyone is kind of involved in the mix. David Fischer is very closely involved with any new product, [COO] Sheryl Sandberg is often involved, [VP of product] Chris Cox…is closely involved as well. We’re continuously releasing new features and iterating, and they are involved in the process throughout.

CZ: What marketing product have you been most responsible for in terms of its development?

JS: Sponsored Stories was the big product my team launched at the beginning of this year. I spent at least six months on it before the launch, and it’s what I have been devoting most of my time to during the last few months as well. Most recently, I launched the Comments ad units for Sponsored Stories. We talked about that at Cannes, and we’ve started doing a pilot with that ad unit in conjunction with Leo Burnett, the creative agency.

4sponsoredstoryCZ: Are marketers increasingly choosing Sponsored Stories as an ad option among the other units available on Facebook?

JS: Over the last five or six months, it’s been very popular and continues to grow. [Facebook partner] Nielsen did a study that shows when you do an ad in social context, people are 68 percent more likely to recall seeing it. They’re four times more likely to purchase. Sponsored Stories are performing two times better when it comes to engagement than “Ads with Friends,” which also can be purchased. Advertisers are loving Sponsored Stories, and our research shows that users are loving the ads, too.

CZ: How does Facebook do its consumer research? Online panels? Focus groups?

JS: We do a combination. We do everything from quantitative stuff online and at scale to qualitative stuff with smaller focus groups and in-person usability studies.

CZ: How much more social can Facebook Ads get? What is the next step in their evolution?

JS: We’re thinking more and more about the distinction between the voice of the advertiser and the voice of your friends. Voice of advertiser [represents] all the ad units that you can currently buy on the site, getting your messages out through paid publishing. Voice of friends is hearing about the brands from your friends, whether it’s a structured action such as “Elizabeth Likes JetBlue,” or it’s something more [social] where Elizabeth is responding to something JetBlue said. More and more, we fundamentally believe that hearing about brands from your friends is much more powerful than hearing about them from the advertiser. All the data says that is the case. So a lot of the new products you are going to see coming out in the future months are geared very much toward facilitating rich conversation and actions between users and advertisers.

CZ: Google has Matt Cutts to make the human call on spam and advertiser quality control issues. Does Facebook have a “Matt Cutts” for Ads or Pages, and if so, is that person you?

JS: It’s not me. But in David Fischer’s operations, there’s an Ads review team that has a similar role to what you described. And much of that review is automated, but there are definitely humans in place who can make the call on whether something should run or not run.

CZ: Facebook is moving from Palo Alto to Menlo Park soon. Have you seen the new campus? If so, what do you like about it?

JS: I haven’t been there yet. But there are a lot of photos floating around, and it looks pretty killer. It looks very similar to what is here in terms of architecture and design. What I like about our facilities personally is that they are design-heavy and nice, but also a little rough around the edges. We have stickers all around the [current campus] that say, “This journey is 1 percent finished.” And it’s a slogan that’s everywhere. I like that our offices physically reflect that.

CZ: Other than Facebook, is there a social site that you find value in?

JS: I really like Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t watch a movie unless I look at Rotten Tomatoes first.

CZ: Are you a movies buff?

JS: I am a movies buff, but I am actually more of a music buff. I am a musician myself, so music is a big part of who I am. I skew toward indie – Black Keys, Broken Social Scene, and I’m really into the new Grizzly Bear album that just came out.

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