Facebook ramps up UK efforts

At an event in London last week, Facebook's U.K. Commercial Director Blake Chandlee briefed around 300 agency staff on the social ads platform it launched last October. The talk reflects Facebook's efforts to expand its presence and relevance within the U.K., and tap a potentially lucrative U.K. user base.

Chandlee focused on the advantages of social ads over traditional display formats, and gave a live demonstration of the detailed targeting capabilities that the platform can offer.

He also stressed that Facebook was not interested in following the likes of Microsoft and Google down the road of traditional display ads, but would instead embrace an "evolution" in Internet advertising.

"The big three are building large ad networks, and that's their strategy. That's a pure media play, and not something we were interested in doing as a business," he stated.

"That's why we've turned all of our banner advertising over to Microsoft," he continued. "If you want to run a banner ad on Facebook, call Microsoft, don't call me. What we sell is different." In addition to investing in Facebook, Microsoft is its exclusive third-party ad platform.

He went on to confirm that the new London sales team, based in Soho, would be headed up by ex-head of agency strategy for Yahoo, Stephen Haines.

Since Chandlee's talk, Microsoft has made a $44.6 billion bid for Yahoo, prompting much speculation about consolidation in the online ad industry.

Towards the end of the presentation, Chandlee also touched on Facebook's Beacon marketing system which has been shrouded in controversy since it launched with 44 U.S. partner sites in November last year.

It essentially allows companies to share behavioral and transactional information with Facebook, in exchange for having those transactions published in users' news feeds and potentially driving traffic to their sites.

Following a hostile reception from users over the opt-out nature of the system, however, Facebook was eventually forced to grant users more control over how their data is used.

"Here's the mistake we made: We made it opt-out," said Chandlee. "We've now re-launched it as an opt-in system. We haven't shut it down."

At present, the Beacon system only alerts Facebook users when someone in their network has purchased a particular item if the action is carried out on one of the partner sites, which currently aim at predominantly the U.S. audience.

Although this doesn't directly exclude users from outside of the U.S., it's unlikely, for example, that a user in England would purchase an item from a U.S. store instead of using a U.K. site.

That could all be set to change, however. With Facebook turning its attention to the U.K. market, the focus of Chandlee's London-based staff over the coming weeks could well be to attract U.K. partner sites for its Beacon tool.

Obvious choices could include Blockbuster and Travelocity, both of which participated in Beacon at launch and both of which have U.K. sites.

Blockbuster has already found itself in hot water over Beacon, with privacy advocates claiming that the partnership with Facebook breaches privacy laws. And the problems don't stop at Beacon. The entire site is subjected to increasing scrutiny from U.K. users and authorities over privacy issues.

As recently reported, the U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office plans to question the site after a user complained that he could not fully delete personal information from the Facebook database.

Although accounts can be easily deactivated, personal data remains on the Facebook servers until the user requests its removal. Facebook insists its data protection policies are in compliance with UK data protection laws.

The next few months could prove significant to Facebook's long-term success in the U.K. An expansion of the Beacon offering to U.K. partners is bound to heighten the concerns of privacy advocates and users even more.

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