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Facebook has launched new ways to help its advertisers bank sackfuls of cash and no doubt cause privacy advocates to despair.

The social network has introduced Page Insights tools, due to go into the wild in the next week or so, which let Page owners see the number of friends of fans of a page, the total likes of the Page, the weekly total reach of a Page and the new 'people talking about this' metric.

Its emailed statement opined:

Facebook has enhanced Insights to show brands how to get more people talking about and sharing the things brands put on their Pages, which is key to getting a brand’s message out to more people. And research shows that word-of-mouth conversations among friends are the most influential for getting a brand’s message across.

The 'people talking about this' metric will count "stories" - meaning anything that is "eligible to appear in a user's news feed". According to Facebook, this will - deep breath - include:

  • Page likes
  • Posts on the Page's wall
  • Liking, commenting or sharing Page posts, photos, videos, albums or any other type of content
  • Answering a question posted by a Page
  • RSVPing to an event
  • Merely mentioning a Page
  • Tagging a Page in a photo
  • Liking or sharing a check-in deal
  • Checking in at a Place.

So anytime anyone does any of that long list of things, it'll be added to a public post of the number of times the brand has been talked about. The actual "story", i.e. the post, like or whatever, will not be shown.

The metric will include numerical breakdowns, private to Page admins, that will show how much a certain topic the brand posted on its Page was talked about.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Register that "there will be a range of numerical insights designed to help brands understand which types of engagement are most effective - through figures for reach, engaged users, people talking about this and virality".

Facebook is also introducing the 'premium ad unit', an ad for a product that combines Page posts about it with "social context" from your friends. In other words, you'll see an ad for, let's say Yummy Vulture Cola, that has a post from its Page and if any of your friends have liked the Page or commented on it, you'll see that too.

Facebook said:

Social context in advertising makes ads more effective and persuasive. It leads to a 68 per cent increase in people recalling the ad. And better yet, people are 2 times more likely to remember the message of the ad and 4 times as likely to make a purchase.

Although the new Insights are anonymous because only the figures are given out, they're likely to spark the ire of those already wound up about so-called social ads, who say that Facebook is daring to use people's personal online activity for profit.

The Facebook spokesperson said that users were in a sense already opting in when they chose to like a brand's Page or post on its wall, and when it came to social ads like the 'premium ad unit', people could choose to opt out through their settings.

They also emphasised that "Facebook only shares anonymous and aggregated data with brands".

"No personally identifiable information is shared," they added.

The social media firm is used to running afoul of privacy pushers, particularly as it has grown ever larger and more integrated with the rest of the web. Most recently, Facebook has been defending itself against claims that a patent it was recently granted describes the ability to track logged-out users. ®

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