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'The barrier between social activity and connecting and actually buying something has totally been blurred' in social games such as Farmville, says Facebook Canada's Jordan Banks, who was in Toronto on Tuesday. ((Emily Chung/CBC))

Today's consumers feel it's "their right" to receive personalized messages from  marketers, says the new managing director of Facebook Canada.

"Isn't that the consumer's expectation these days? We're in this era of … this two-way conversation that every consumer feels is their right," said Jordan Banks during a public interview at the NextMedia digital media industry conference in Toronto on Tuesday.

"Whenever they interact with a brand these days, they want to have a say, they want to be treated … personally and they want to be talked to in a timely and relevant manner."

Banks characterized the World Wide Web as a great disappointment to marketers, who had high expectations of its potential.

"The anonymity of web 15 years ago didn't allow marketers to build any relationships," he told interviewer Robert Montgomery, CEO of Achilles Media Ltd. "I wasn't Jordan Banks. I was like hockeyguy111 or muskokasurfer — you name it. But I wasn't me and I certainly wasn't talking about things that were important to me."

'Paradigm shift'

He called the rise of platforms like Facebook — which has more than 500 million users worldwide and is visited by 10 million Canadians daily — a "paradigm shift" that provides a "huge commercial opportunity."

'The anonymity of web 15 years ago didn't allow marketers to build any relationships.'— Jordan Banks, Facebook Canada

"The social web has opened us all up to very targeted and relevant and personalized messaging that allows us to develop these very meaningful and rich relationships with brands."

Banks said research indicates people are more likely to be aware of a marketing message, recall its content, and buy or consume a product or content if it is associated with a friend's name or image.

He pointed to the success of Zynga, the company that creates the Facebook-based game Farmville that is now worth more than $5 billion, he estimated. Players can earn virtual money within the game by performing certain tasks, by buying it with real money or by filling out surveys and quizzes for Farmville "sponsors." Zynga's sponsors or marketing partners have included the Kia car brand and food brands such as Green Giant and Cascadian Farms.

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Facebook Canada's Jordan Banks says the site doesn't make much money partly because CEO Mark Zuckerberg, above, keys on the user experience. ((Canadian Press))

The game's allure lies in its ability to let people make statements about who they are through connections with friends, brands and activities within the game itself, Banks said.

"It's a way to augment my self-worth and vision in a virtual way. That very easily translates into that e-commerce adrenaline," he added. "The barrier between social activity and connecting and actually buying something has totally been blurred."

Companies' increasing attempts at targeted marketing have faced criticism due to concerns about the privacy of personal information used to target individuals.

In October, Canada's privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, said her office was considering the possibility of launching an investigation after the Wall Street Journal reported that 10 of the most popular Facebook applications were sending the ID numbers of users to at least 25 advertising, marketing and internet tracking firms. One of the largest reported breaches came from Zynga.

Facebook reported that the breach was unintentional and due to the technical details of how browsers work, and that the user's ID number would not provide access to user information.

Less than month before that, the privacy commissioner's office said Facebook had resolved earlier complaints. However, it was launching a new investigation into complaints about "Like" buttons on sites outside Facebook that allow users to recommend them.

Privacy lens

Banks downplayed privacy concerns, saying no personally identifiable information is ever provided to marketers, no one can talk to users individually unless they volunteer, and marketers can't engage users without informing them what data they want.

"Everything we do, we look through the lens of privacy," he said. "We work closely with the privacy commissioner. Her and her team have had great insights into the social web generally, what privacy looks like."

When asked why Facebook isn't yet making much money considering it has 500 million users, Banks said it is partly because CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team focus so much on the user experience.

"They won't compromise that one iota for business."

When asked about the threat of potential competitors to Facebook, Banks said he doesn't think about them in terms of individual brands.

"When I think about the number of people using Facebook and how much time they're spending on Facebook … I say to myself, 'Our real competition lies in anybody that is occupying somebody else's time on the internet.'"