Facebook Turns on Waterworks with Unilever For New Commerce Model

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Facebook is starting to migrate its “sponsored stories” (user-generated ads) onto other websites, starting with that of social game behemoth Zynga, in order to expand its marketing reach. And in another telling move, the social media giant is backing away from its philanthropic Credits program — launched with high hopes in 2009 as the virtual currency for the social network.

They’re the latest steps by a social giant struggling to shore up its revenue model. The site’s new partnership with Unilever on Waterworks, a cause marketing app that lets users donate online credits while revealing key ad targeting data, signals how Facebook is evolving its commerce platform in order to boost F-commerce opportunities.[more]

Waterworks was revealed at the Cannes Lions advertising gathering in France last week, described as “a ground-breaking new Facebook Timeline application for charitable giving developed by the Unilever Foundation and Facebook in partnership with Population Services International (PSI).” The app was unveiled as a beta pilot by Unilever CMO Keith Weed, who shared this video demo with Cannes attendees:

The Waterworks announcement, as a social corporate citizenship move, is a feel-good partnership also designed to encourage more Facebook users to spend money through daily donations via the site, so that “potential advertisers may be able to identify premium users and their spending habits more easily,” said Miles Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, to Bloomberg

“Facebook is starting to realize its biggest asset is its data and its customer base, and if it can monetize that, that will be the answer,” he added. “Then we’ll stop worrying about it being an effective advertising medium or not.”

The site’s monetization of social cause marketing — in effect, a way to “pay it forward” — comes on the heels of its just-announced Facebook Exchange to help marketers identify “valuable” users, willing to spend money and more easily targeted, based on their browsing history. Additionally, the social network is letting app and game developers accept local currency and introducing subscription plans for media outlets and entertainment companies.

“We can all of a sudden target 900 million people instead of those just playing games,” commented Peter Vogel, co-founder and president of the Plink social media loyalty program. “Our members have been asking for other options. This may be a signal that Facebook is finally ready to put some muscle behind the payments platform.”

Below, Unilever illuminates the Waterworks project with storytelling in “A Waterworker’s Story” —

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