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Home » Technology » The Man Behind Facebooks Marketing

The Man Behind Facebooks Marketing

Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg grabs headlines for managing the social network’s business. But the task of proving that marketing on Facebook is different from everywhere else on the Internet falls to one of her deputies: David Fischer, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Facebook filed to go public Wednesday with the company’s advertising business as its main revenue driver. In Facebook’s regulatory filing, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg warned shareholders that he won’t maximize profit at the expense of users.

Balancing between Mr. Zuckerberg’s antipathy for obvious advertising and profiting off Facebook’s giant user base of 845 million people is a delicate task that Mr. Fischer must grapple with. That has pushed the executive to think up ways to make ad products that will also engage readers.

Mr. Fischer, a 39-year-old former Google Inc. executive who joined Facebook in 2010, said he knew from day one that Mr. Zuckerberg wouldn’t tolerate pop-up ads or marketing campaigns that take over the Facebook home screen.

“The opportunity on Facebook is to connect with people,” said Mr. Fischer in an interview in October. “That was a new and distinct opportunity.”

One ad format Mr. Fischer has developed off that philosophy is a way for advertisers to leverage word-of-mouth campaigns en masse online. In January 2011, Mr. Fischer and his team launched “Sponsored Stories,” allowing advertisers to pay Facebook to highlight real status updates or “like” activity from users to their friends.

For the last year, Sponsored Stories appeared on the side of the screen, just like display ads. But starting this month, Sponsored Stories will move into Facebook’s News Feed, the coveted home page where 845 million users’ eyeballs gaze. It is the first time advertisers can pay to have their messages heard in the News Feed, essentially allowing marketers to pay their way into being relevant.
Sarah Hofstetter, president of digital marketing agency 360i, said Sponsored Stories has significantly changed Facebook’s ability to get brands to pay.

“Facebook got smart and said if we can give brands an opportunity to break through the clutter, then you can promote your content to the top of the page,” she said. “That’s great monetization.”

Mr. Fischer, a Massachusetts native, is a protégé of Ms. Sandberg. The two worked together when Ms. Sandberg served as chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers in the late 1990s, with Mr. Fischer as her deputy chief of staff. He followed Ms. Sandberg to Google in 2002, where he ran the company’s global online sales channel.

Mr. Fischer met Mr. Zuckerberg in 2010 when he sat with the young CEO on the couch in his Palo Alto, Calif., home for nearly three hours. Mr. Zuckerberg told Mr. Fischer, who was still at Google at the time, that he didn’t want to be involved in the day-to-day details of Facebook’s advertising business, recalled Mr. Fischer.

Still, Mr. Zuckerberg said he knew that he wanted advertising on Facebook to be “unlike anything else,” Mr. Fischer recalled.

At the time, Facebook’s ad business was still young. As late as 2009, most Facebook ads were simple display ads, which are banner ads that people can click on.

Once he joined Facebook in 2010, Mr. Fischer focused on the idea for Sponsored Stories. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, which equates with four degrees of separation to thousands of people, Mr. Fischer said. Metrics like that led him to believe that if Facebook could figure out a way to capitalize on “social endorsements,” it would be like creating a word-of-mouth campaign that could reach millions of people simultaneously. Since the campaigns would come from a friend, they would theoretically be taken more seriously than, say, a TV commercial, he said.

Advertisers who use Sponsored Stories include Burberry’s and Ben & Jerry’s. Facebook hasn’t released financial information on Sponsored Stories, calling it “experimental and unproven” in its regulatory filing. Overall, Facebook derived 85% of its $3.7 billion in revenue last year from online advertising, according to the filing.

Mr. Fischer acknowledged Facebook’s ad formats are still a work in progress. “We believe every industry is going to be rebuilt around people,” he said.

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