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The social news site Digg has recently launched an innovative advertising system where users vote on adverts to make them more popular.

If you haven’t heard of Digg, it’s basically a news portal where the community votes on stories and content from around the Internet. The more popular the story the higher it appears on Digg until eventually it appears on the front page. Imagine the BBC website with all the stories on the front page there because viewers voted on them. Alternatively if Digg users dislike a story they can ‘bury’ it, making it go further down the pages.

The same principle applies to ads now appearing on Digg. If the community likes the ad more people will see it, if not, it gets buried and no one sees it. Essentially your recommending it to your fellow users by voting it positive.

This is really interesting because you’re immediately challenging the advertiser to create an engaging ad campaign for the audience. If the brand goes in half hearted then not only will they lose money but the attitude of 2 million plus Digg members could take a negative turn against the product/company.

I think this probably works best for viral types of advertising, I can’t imagine people voting up the launch of a new breakfast cereal or shampoo. Viral ads like the Nike ‘Ronaldinho R10‘ or John West ‘Bear Fight‘ video could be the way to conquer it. I would certainly hire one of the most active Digg users to consult on my ad.

Another problem is relevancy. Ads that appear are based on other peoples votes which could lead to hugely inaccurate results for the end user.

However assuming some funky algorithm is involved and I only get shown ads from people who are my friends and those who have voted on the same types as story as me (Sports, Technology, Gaming etc) it could be positive or negative. Just because you and me vote up the same type of news stories/online content doesn’t mean we like consuming the same things. Even if I myself voted on video about a basketball player scoring from the halfway line on the buzzer. It doesn’t mean I want to be sold the latest basketball gear. I don’t even like basketball, I could have just appreciated the shot.

I think socially recommended ads can be great, I’ve found through research in consumer testing that things to buy that are recommended by friends are much more trusted than those recommended by sites like Amazon. Check out the example below, which products would you be more likely to click on? (privacy considerations aside)

amazon recommended products example

Of course there is the case of Facebook Beacon which was famously hated by more or less everyone in the world. The Beacon advertising system published onto your friends newsfeeds websites that you had been visiting, what products you purchased, rated and flights or hotels booked etc.

facebook-beacon-nyt

One huge problem with Beacon was that it opted you in automatically which is insane especially on a site like Facebook where there are so many privacy controls. Even if most people don’t use half of the privacy options there are benefits of having them there including an overall sense of trust in the site.

Opting people in automatically is such a dangerous move, allowing users the choice would have been far more sensible. The Beacon saga would have been a whole different story if the control would have been in the users hands.

People have a major desire for control when privacy is a factor even if they will never  exercise using it. Another recent example is when Facebook made a change to the terms of service, millions of users joined groups (the largest had 2.5 million) demanding the TOS be changed back. When Facebook finally said ‘OK, we’ll let the users vote on the TOS’, guess how many users out of 200 million actually voted? only 600,000. Once Facebook gave the option of control via the vote people calmed down and got less involved and how many times have you actually read a TOS document anyway? The moral of the story is conrtol, control, control.

In the case of Digg I think it would work better on a traditional social network with people who actually know you. I’m not sure how it would work but maybe combining friends who go to the same events as you with ones who communicate with you the most could work. If one of these friends clicks on a ad that same can be shown to you automatically or have a ‘share’ button on a ad.

Using Voting On Advertising To Make It More Relevant

I’m a big fan of using the feature of being able to vote on advertising to make it more targeted and relevant for yourself. This not only creates a better experience for you but it also saves the advertisers money by not wasting impressions.

The idea is that when you vote negatively (thumbs down, minus sign whatever) against an ad it will not get shown to you again, if you vote negatively again to more ads in the same category then that category will not get shown to you again. Make sense right?

When you vote positively on a ad then the opposite happens, you see more from that company or of that category of ad. Your friends could also be shown ads which you have rated positively.

Facebook is currently using a voting system on its sidebar ads. If you vote the ad thumbs down you’ll get asked to rate the ad either:

Misleading
Offensive
Pornographic
Uninteresting
Irrelevant
Repetitive
Other

facebook_ad_vote

Once you pick one of these I’m assuming that you should not see this type of ad again. However I’ve noticed it doesn’t really work, could it be that Facebook doesn’t have enough ad inventory to support these ratings? That could answer why when I rate negatively I still see the same type of crap ads.

However it’s a step in the right direction if the feedback goes to the advertiser as well as Facebook. It means that everyone works harder to make things better.

On Facebook the feature probably doesn’t get used much as users have the luxury of ads not being very intrusive and many people have ad blindness online. But on services like Spotify it could really improve your overall experience and even become beneficial. This model would work even better on mobile where screen environment is much smaller and ads become more in your face.

The question is will people bother to vote at all? After reading the responses to Facebook launching the feature it seems that many people online either a) haven’t notice the feature at all because they don’t notice the ads or b) won’t rate ads because they don’t want to waste there time or do the hard work for Facebook.

At the end of the day the ads are going to be there regardless, if it’s a free service it needs to generate revenue. Wouldn’t you rather the ads occupying the space were of interest to you?