Facebook hires former Bebo chief

Facebook has hired Joanna Shields, the former Bebo chief, from Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine TV group as the social network ramps up its commercialisation efforts.

Ms Shields sold Bebo to AOL for $850m in 2008 after developing the youth-oriented social network as a safe destination for brand advertisers. An early employee of Google in Europe, she is the latest in a string of ex-Googlers to join Facebook.

Facebook, which has more than 400m users worldwide, is more popular than Google in the US by some measures, but its revenues remain far below those of the search engine. While many advertisers are excited by Facebook’s scale and targeting abilities, some complain that its advertising sales team is under-resourced and that the company is hard to work with.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the world’s largest marketing group, last month said that social networks may not be suitable platforms for advertising because they are “less commercial phenomena, they are more personal phenomena”.

Ms Shields will be Facebook’s vice-president of sales and business development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Blake Chandlee, Facebook’s first employee in London and current EMEA chief, will take a new role as vice-president for emerging markets. The company says it is facing high demand from advertisers in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific but lacks local offices.

Ms Shields’ switch to Facebook comes just six months after joining Shine Group, which owns the production companies behind television shows such as Spooks and Ugly Betty.

ShineVu, the unit Ms Shields established, is the company’s first attempt to blend traditional TV content with social media, as she did at Bebo with web soaps such as KateModern.

Ms Murdoch, daughter of the News Corp chairman, said in an internal memo that ShineVu would continue. “I will not rest until we make the multiplatform Shine Group a reality,” she told staff as she announced Ms Shields’ departure. “I would go as far as to describe what we must become as a ‘multicultural’ creative company as it applies to TV and digital worlds.”

Ms Murdoch added that she was “sad not to be able to work day to day with my friend Joanna” but that Ms Shields would remain as non-executive chairman of ShineVu.

In an accompanying memo, Ms Shields praised Shine’s work and employees but said joining Facebook was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the company leading innovation in my field of social networks”.

Facebook’s revenues are forecast to reach $1bn in 2010. According to estimates by Enders Analysis, Facebook generated sales of £85m ($130m) from display advertising in the UK last year. “Advertisers are flocking to the site,” Enders said in a recent research note, particularly in the retail category.

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