November 22, 2011, 5:04 PM

Facebook adds ads to its Ticker

The integration of paid and organic content offers a new tool to marketers.

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Facebook Inc. has begun adding ads to its Ticker, which features updates on what a Facebook user’s friends are doing at that moment, such as if someone clicked that they Liked a particular brand or product or what music someone is listening to on Spotify. 

The ads that Facebook is integrating into the Ticker are Sponsored Stories, an ad format on the social network that enables companies to pay to highlight posts or actions that a consumer’s Facebook friend has made that relate to the advertiser. Including those ads makes them far more prominent than they’ve been, say experts. Facebook displays “Sponsored” under Sponsored Stories in the live feed.

The new integration on the Ticker represents the first time the social network has rolled out integrated user and paid content to all its users. Facebook previously separated its ads into two positions on the right side of the web site. The site’s self-service Marketplace ads appeared on the right side of a Facebook page under “People You May Know.” Sponsored Stories appeared in a box under the Marketplace ads.

Sponsored Stories will continue to appear in that position, as well as in the Ticker, says a Facebook spokeswoman. However, tests have shown that consumers’ engagement increases when the social network merges organic and paid content, she says. Facebook began testing the potential impact of integrating user-generated content and ads in September.

Because the ads feature member-generated content it is a natural fit to tie Sponsored Stories into the Ticker, says the spokeswoman. “Sponsored Stories surface stories created by friends, so it makes sense for those stories to show up in the Ticker,” she says.

The integration of paid and organic content has the potential to be an extremely powerful tool for marketers, says Lou Kerner, social media analyst at the institutional brokerage firm Liquidnet. “For Facebook members, the lines are increasingly blurring between what’s an advertisement and what’s organic ticker content,” he says. “That creates enormous opportunities for marketers to reach audiences in ways that will drive high engagement.”

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