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Could the Facebook “want” button be the answer to ad revenue questions?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Even before Facebook’s IPO stumbled its way onto the scene, pundits have been making a bit of a sport out of predicting the social behemoth’s demise. The general themes center around why Facebook won’t be around in ten years – a topic we’ve written about before on this blog. The IPO just intensified those sentiments, raising (legitimately in some cases) serious questions about how Facebook could ever generate the kind of revenue that would place it among silicon valley giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft. Facebook ads generated about $1 billion last year, but that seems almost paltry in the face of nearly 900 million active users.

I’ve been thinking that  just a little stroke of marketing genius would allow Facebook to parlay its popularity into Adwords-level cash. If CNET’s report of a leaked Facebook “want” button turns out to be true, that stroke of genius might be on the horizon. The “want” button would theoretically be a “like” button for products instead of general entities. Retailers around the web could put a “want” button on their product listings, which would allow Facebook users to create a centralized wish list within their social network. This idea seems so simple and obvious, but it has me wondering if it’s just the thing to ratchet up Facebook’s ad revenues into the tech-sector stratosphere.

Let’s apply a little imagination here. Facebook folks have been spending recent months watching plucky little Pinterest become the darling of the e-commerce world and wondering how they didn’t capitalize on this wave. Facebook, after all, has been the king of online sharing for years. Then it dawns on them that Pinterest, unlike Facebook, is not about what people like; it’s about what they want. Pinterest boards are centered around aspirations (kitchen designs, gardens, tantalizing meal ideas, etc.). Think about how much online marketers will love you if you can point them to what people actually want. In many ways, that’s what has made Google’s Adwords so appealing to advertisers. It allows you to show up in front of a group of self-declared prospects. A Facebook “want” button could virtually do the same.

Think of the utility. Users could keep track of all of the cool things they come across online in a centralized place and build birthday and Christmas lists that would be visible to their entire social network. Advertisers could target based on Facebook users who want a new TV or a new car or a very specific camera model. In most cases, Facebook also knows your birthday and who your family members are, so think about being an online retailer and having the ability to target a woman whose husband wants a new computer and has a birthday coming up in the next 30 days. Product marketers could target users who want a competitor’s product and present targeted selling points. The possibilities are pretty cool.

Although it’s just a rumor at this point, to me, this is how Facebook could capitalize on its assets of nearly a billion active users and the rich data they’ve gathered about those users. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go “want” a few shares of Facebook stock.

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