You’ve Got New Corporate Friends

Facebook opens up to new companies

Blockbuster and Coca-Cola want to be your friend.

Earlier this week, Facebook launched an advertising application that gives Facebook profile pages to companies and allow users to identify themselves as fans of that company’s products.

Activity about the products will pop up on a user’s news feed, sometimes with links to the company’s Web sites. Companies can buy advertisements that would appear beneath the news feed announcements, as well as banner ads mentioning people who endorse certain products.

John G. Palfrey ’94, the executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, compared Facebook to sites like Google, where web surfers are willing to tolerate ads. But he said Facebook’s move is risky.

“I think that if they turn out to be not terribly intrusive they could be very very good for advertisers,” said John G. Palfrey ’94, the executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, “People have gotten used to Google ads in various places online including their e-mail...[but] if it clutters the Facebook experience or crosses lines of propriety—which we don’t know what they are they are yet—it will backfire. It’s high-risk.”

Twelve major companies have signed on to the initiative, including Coca-Cola, Blockbuster, eBay, Travelocity, Herbal Essences, Sony Pictures, and Verizon.

“I feel like Facebook, recently, was actually made popular because of the fact that it was mostly geared toward students who wanted to get to know each other or just talk online. The whole corporate aspect of it seems like an intrusion and I don’t know whether I like that,” Jason S. Lim ’10 said. “I don’t know of many people who would friend Coca-Cola for some strange reason.”

Other students feel the move is wise from a financial perspective.

“It makes sense. Over the last year, I’d say Facebook has done a very good job of building traffic,” said S. Travis Mae ’09, the co-president of the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum. “It seems like a very smart way to transform traffic into profit.”