Will More Mobile Facebook Ads Be Annoying Enough To Drive Users Away?

Earlier today, Facebook’s very own Mark Zuckerberg and the site’s other head honchos held a conference call with investors to discuss the company’s first earnings report since it went public back in May. Given the stock’s not-stellar performance and investors’ concerns about Facebook’s ability to actually, ya know… make money, the Zuck did his best to liven up spirits by saying the company is beefing up its mobile ad strategy. Which yes, means ads for Facebook users on their smartphones and tablets. Let the clogging begin.

Reports claim that the reason so many big investors pulled out of, or decreased orders on, the Facebook IPO before it even began is that the company had not done much to monetize its massive mobile audience.

So, in apparent response to those worries, Zuckerberg opened the call by saying that mobile is now among the company’s “top priorities,” and that they’re starting to figure out how to generate revenue from mobile ads. It’s important, as he notes, because mobile users are about 20% more likely to use Facebook on any given day than other users.

Facebook is already making money — about $1 million per day — from “sponsored stories,” according to chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. About half of that comes from mobile ads, says the company.

“Ad impressions continued the recent trend of growing more slowly than users as more of our usage is on mobile devices. This trend is particularly true in markets such as the U.S. where smartphone use is expanding rapidly,” she said. She added that that sponsored stories were “the cornerstone of mobile monetization” strategy.

Facebook seems pretty excited about sponsored stories, which is a bit funny, as those same sponsored stories have already been the subject of privacy lawsuits filed by users. People claimed the ads turned them into marketers, unwittingly peddling products and companies to their friends, without compensation. Facebook now lets users control what content can be used as sponsored stories.

Meanwhile, chief financial officer David Ebersman said it would be difficult to forecast exactly how much money can be made from the sponsored stories ads in the Facebook Newsfeed, since they’re in the “early days of growth,” and that it’s hard to see at this point the “sizable impact on what kind of performance we can deliver.”

Now the real question is — will an increase in mobile ads turn off formerly faithful Facebook users?

The controversial sponsored stories have already been a legal and PR problem for Facebook, so it seems likely that any additional ads popping up in mobile Newsfeeds is bound to tick off many a user, especially when these ads eat into the already scarce real estate on a user’s smartphone screen.

To Zuck and his cronies, we say: Good luck not alienating millions of users.

Of course, it’s possible that additional ad revenue from customers who aren’t put off by ads will make up for those that are driven away by the intrusion.

As we pointed out, even before the Facebook IPO became of the year’s most-hyped non-events, we discussed our doubts that Facebook would be able to transition smoothly from a basically ad-less free-for-all funded by venture capital into a profitable mega-site that pays back investors through increased ad revenue. Its past reluctance to look and feel like a traditional website — part of what made it so attractive to users — appears to be what has thus far kept Facebook’s stock value from reaching its potential.

Case in point — The conference call comes directly on the heels of news that Facebook shares fell today more than 10%, almost 40% less than its IPO price.

Live Blogging Facebook’s First Earnings Call [Wall Street Journal]

Previously: Facebook’s Cash Cow Zynga Blaming Some Of Its Gaming Problems On The Social Network