Bingo could ruin Facebook so why is it gambling with its users?

Facebook’s recent announcement that it is to bring online gaming into its offering represents a merging of worlds that will trouble the sensibilities of some.

From now on, the world of Facebook will forever be disturbed by notifications of friends’ successes on the slots and bingo. It is the beginning of a revolution that could easily push large numbers away.

So why has Facebook chosen to take this gamble with its users?

Well, firstly it is potentially lucrative to both Facebook and the gaming companies it partners with.  Social media take up for the major players in the online gaming world has been relatively poor, with the biggest adoption seen by Paddy Power, Sky, William Hill, Betfair and 888.com. 

These companies all rely heavily on brand searches supplemented with attention-grabbing pieces of marketing, especially in the case of Paddy Power.  The opportunity therefore to access the user base of the largest social media platform in the UK would be a no brainer, so expect these big names to keep a watching brief on Facebook’s initial toe in the water.

Any partnership is likely to be based on a referral system, with Facebook receiving an agreed fee for any user it refers to its gaming partners.  A revenue stream that could boost its flagging financial fortunes significantly.

In purely technological terms, the new Bingo Friendzy game is not particularly different to the well established Texas Hold’em game that has been popular on the site for some time.  The major difference now is real money entering into the equation but it is this one change that many users are likely to find unpalatable.

This may prove something of a conundrum for Facebook, as it needs its new gaming element to be visible enough to spread in order to maximise revenues, but at the same it must be careful not to alienate its majority user base who will not be taking part.  There is a danger that repeated notifications from the variety of gambling games due to be launched will feel like spamming to those who don’t want to get involved, particularly as Facebook’s current rules and layout mean user content is more publicly visible than ever.

It will be a tough balance to strike, especially in the early days of any partnership, as it will be hard to know how much its users are willing to put up with.  Algorithmic changes designed to limit and control the flow of gaming notifications and ensure they target the correct demographic are a must, but it would seem an element of collateral damage will be inevitable.

If they fail to get the balance right, the consequences could be severe.  After the disappointment of its recent initial public offering and the relatively low revenues generated by advertising, the platform is not in the position of strength it once was.  A considerable number of its users feeling pushed out to the extent that they leave completely, would weaken Facebook in the UK (currently the 5th largest market for the business), maybe even irreparably.

Simply by agreeing to partnerships of this kind, Facebook has already gambled with its user base to an extent, it is a gamble they must be careful not to push too far by keeping an eye on the odds.

Alex Wares is Managing Director at search marketing agency Mediarun.