Facebook to Offer New Ad Options

The Facebook, a college-focused social network that expects to be available at every college and university in the United States by next month, has unveiled new advertising opportunities for marketers.

In addition to the current offerings of targeted banner ads and text ads available to advertisers, select Facebook advertisers will now be allowed to create a customized sponsored forum on the site.

The sponsored groups are an extension of the standard groups students create and participate in. Students create groups that match real-life counterparts, fraternities and sororities, and political groups. Many also create or join groups for their favorite bands, movies, or beer — anything they wish to be associated with in their profile.

Facebook is extending group branding opportunities to advertisers, while being selective with brands it will allow to advertise. To preserve the value of the site, the company is focusing on brands it views as a good fit for its users. So far, sponsored groups have been set up by advertisers like Apple, Electronic Arts, MasterCard, and Victoria’s Secret.

Facebook has grown in the past 20 months from a Harvard student’s hobby to a national phenomenon. By mid-September, the company expects to expand its footprint from its current 832 campuses to every one of the over 2,000 four-year colleges nationwide. Despite nationwide reach, Facebook still feels like a local community, according to Matt Cohler, VP or corporate development. “Facebook is not a single giant social network. It’s a federation of several real-world communities,” he said.

Cohler, formerly the general manager at LinkedIn, points out that since users interact with people they know in the real world, they’re more likely to act as they do in person when social pressures require them to maintain a high level of conduct. He said this aspect of the network also limits instances of pornography or other undesirable content users might be tempted to post when behind a veil of anonymity — a fact that makes advertisers feel safer about associating their brands with the site.

Students who sign up for a brand group receive a monthly promotional email, and a brand logo appears on their personal profile. They also gain access to the brand’s message board on Facebook, where they can discuss the company’s products with the nearly 100,000 users who typically join each sponsored group.

“I frankly didn’t expect people would want to use the boards, but they do,” Cohler said. “Every day, there are women on the Victoria’s Secret board talking about which products are the most comfortable.” Because it has access to a user’s profile, it can limit users’ access to groups, such as only allowing women to join the Victoria’s Secret board.

Because users must register with a valid .edu email address, banner and text advertising on the site, as well as sponsored groups, can be targeted by geography or school, as well as by information drawn from students’ profiles and behavior.

Video game developer Electronic Arts has found the site to be an ideal way to reach the 18-22 year-old group that it sees as its core influencers, according to Jon Verna, senior media planner at Freestyle Interactive, which handles EA’s media buying.

“We buy them with every release of EA’s games, and we’ve found them to be an extremely efficient awareness buy,” Verna said. “We’re guaranteed to reach a college person, and we can narrow the audience further with demographic or psychographic targeting.” EA generally advertises on gaming sites, sports sites, and male lifestyle sites, he said.

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