Facebook’s Rumored Read, Listened, and Watched Buttons: A Money-Making Fit With Broad Category Ad Targeting
September 19th, 2011

Facebook will add new feedback buttons to stories in the news feed, according a TechCrunch source. Starting with “Read”, “Listened”, and “Watched” buttons, users will be able to indicate that they’ve already consumed a piece of content. This will allow them to provide more specific information about how they’re related to different types of content, which could help Facebook refine the news feed to show them more of similar types of content. The tip matches with the tagline “Read, Watch, Listen” which AllThingsD heard will be used for the f8 conference.

The granular feedback could also power the quietly launched Broad Category Interest targeting available in Facebook Ads, which lets advertisers target anyone with interests related to a selected subject rather than targeting those with specific Likes. For example, advertisers could target the category “Literature/Reading”, and Facebook could show their ads to users who frequently click the “Read” button on posts about news articles or books.

Facebook uses the Like button on news feed stories to improve its EdgeRank algorithm for determining what stories are most relevant to a user. Since Facebook currently has relatively little information about the content of news feed posts that aren’t tagged related to Pages, Likes of a friend’s stories result in that friend’s content appearing in the feed more prominently. If Facebook knew if a post was about a news article, band, or movie, it could make similar posts appear more frequently regardless of which friend published them.

The rumored “Read”, “Listened”, and “Watched” buttons fit with what we’ve heard about Facebook planning to provide developers of apps and websites the ability add more meta data or structure to news feed posts users publish about their content. A user could find a book on a review site, publish a post about it that is accompanied by meta data indicating they’re posting about a book, and Facebook could then show a “Read” button beside the story. Those who click the “Read” button would see more stories about books.

With Broad Category Interest targeting, which Facebook rolled out over the last few months but never announced, all this data becomes monetizable. A user wouldn’t have to formally Like the Page of a book for Facebook to know they’re interested in reading, because they often click “Read” on news feed posts. Rather than having to add a long list of popular book to Facebook’s traditional Specific Interest keyword targeting, an advertiser could simply target the “Literature/Reading” category. Then any users who Liked Pages of book or have clicked “Read” on news feed posts might see their ads.

For music and films, Facebook has Broad Category Interest sub-categories for different genres. The meta data provided by publishers might therefore include content genres, or at least titles that Facebook could cross-reference with a genre index. Then it would know to show more pop music news feed stories and ads to users who clicked “Listened” on a Lady Gaga post. Any posts that include content tied to Facebook’s rumored music, video, or news hubs would also receive the appropriate button.

Strengthening Broad Category Interest targeting could produce big revenue gains for Facebook. As we discussed earlier today, the Facebook Ads marketplace is inaccessible to many small businesses because they don’t have the know-how to effectively use the self-serve tool, or big enough budgets to use many of the tools and services built on the Ads API. As Broad Category Interest targeting is far easier to use than Specific Interest targeting, an improvement of the feature thanks to the “Read”, “Listened” and “Watched” buttons could help Facebook recruit this long-tail of advertisers.

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