January 9, 2014, 3:56 PM

Facebook discontinues its Sponsored Stories ad format

The ad format lets a marketer pay to highlight posts or actions that a consumer’s Facebook friend made that relate to the advertiser. Some Facebook users complained the ads violated their privacy.

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Facebook Inc. is discontinuing its Sponsored Stories ad format as of April 9, according to a post on the social network’s developers’ blog. The ad format let a marketer pay to highlight posts or actions that a consumer’s Facebook friend has made that relate to the advertiser.

The move was not unexpected after the social network last June announced plans to simplify its ad formats. At the time Facebook said that it would combine the “best of” Sponsored Stories into its other ad formats. For example, when a Facebook user sees an ad from a brand that his friend has interacted with on the social network, such as commenting on the brand, Facebook shows the user his friend’s comment within the ad.

Sponsored Stories sparked controversy and ultimately a lawsuit from Facebook users unhappy about their interactions with brands appearing in ads. After Facebook settled the suit the social network adapted its privacy settings to give users more control over who can see the information they share on the social network.

“Our social advertising honors the audience that people choose, so nobody will see information in social context for an ad that they couldn’t already see,” a Facebook spokesman says.

The shuttering of the Sponsored Stories ad format encapsulates a broader shift by the social network away from Sponsored Stories and other ad units dedicated to building brand awareness, Instead, Facebook is emphasizing ad formats that offer retailers and other advertisers more defined measures to gauge success. For example, it has offered multiple ways for marketers to retarget consumers based on their off-Facebook activities. Advertisers can then track the digital path a shopper takes after seeing the ad.

The repositioning seems to be working as retailers are boosting their social media ad budgets. Spending on social ads increased roughly 400% from 2012 to 2013, according to Internet Retailer’s new 2014 Social Media 500, which ranks the leaders in social commerce by the percentage of web site traffic they receive directly from social networks.

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