April 30, 2014, 3:20 PM

Facebook seeks to dominate mobile

The social network today launched a mobile ad network called Audience Network that will compete with similar services from Google and Twitter. Facebook also rolled out other new features at its F8 developer conference.

Lead Photo

Facebook's Audience Network

Facebook Inc. launched today its much-anticipated mobile ad network, along with a host of other mobile-specific tools at its F8 developer conference.

The ad network, which Facebook calls Audience Network, enables marketers to leverage the social network’s massive user base, the information Facebook knows about its users and the social network’s targeting tools to place ads in mobile apps, said Deb Liu, Facebook product manager, at F8. For example, Target Corp. can use the tool to target moms between 25 and 40 years old who Like cooking shows with an ad that appears in the Huffington Post’s mobile app.

By using what it knows about consumers to place targeted ads outside of Facebook, the social network is opening up the possibility of an extremely lucrative revenue channel, says Nate Elliott, vice president, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

“It's been clear for a while now that the real value of social media to marketers won't come from placing ads on social sites—it'll come from using social data to improve the ads marketers place everywhere else,” he says. “Today, Facebook has finally started to build the database of affinity that has always been its birthright.”

Even though there are already large mobile-focused ad networks, such as Google Inc.’s AdMob and Twitter Inc.’s MoPub, Facebook’s Audience Network is distinct because it can make use of the vast amount of information the social network knows about its users’ interests, says Melissa Parrish, a Forrester Research vice president and research director, who covers both social media and mobile.

Audience Network could transform the way marketers buy ads, says Brian Solis, principal at research and advisory firm Altimeter Group. "Today's process of media buying isn’t as scientific as many would want to believe," he says. "Facebook can change that. Facebook can allow you to buy not just demographics but to buy and market according to psychographics, the human characteristics that define a person's interests, which it has access to."

More relevant mobile advertising will be more valuable to consumers and marketers, Liu said. For instance, she said, the mother of three looks at her Facebook news feed on her smartphone first thing in the morning, might be delighted to learn that e-retailer zulily Inc. is offering discounts on children’s clothes—and click to buy.

Facebook also announced today a new mobile ad unit, called Engagement Ads, designed to renew consumers’ interest in apps they have previously downloaded. The ads look similar to the social networks’ Mobile App Install ads, which Ime Archibong, Facebook’s strategic partnerships manager, said have been highly effective. For example, he said that the portrait-editing app Facetune’s $500 spend on Mobile App Install ads helped it catapult from No. 283 in Apple Inc.’s App Store to No. 2.

Facebook aims to make it easier for consumers using a mobile app to share content with their Facebook friends by launching a mobile Like button. The button is complement to the traditional Like button.

The social network also announced a “send to mobile” feature for retailers and other web sites that offer Facebook Login on their web sites and iOS or Android apps. The social network lets consumers who sign in via Facebook an opportunity to receive a push notification, which takes them to the App Store or Google Play to install the brand’s mobile apps. Facebook says the tool provides a convenient way for brands to convert desktop traffic to mobile.

Facebook also announced an anonymous login feature for mobile apps.

“We know that some people are scared about pressing this blue button,” said Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, pointing to the Facebook login.

The new anonymous tool, which Facebook plans to roll out in the next few months, lets consumers sign into apps without sharing all of the information they share with Facebook—or having their actions on the app shared with their Facebook friends. The move solves a critical problem, says Larry Drebes, CEO of Janrain, a provider of social media login technology.

"This is a new way to handle customer profile management for unique users across devices without forcing the user to give up personal data,” he says.

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