It’s no secret that Facebook is very active in defining the avenues by which brands and companies can operate successfully on their platforms.
Facebook the company is famously protective of Facebook the platform, and even more so of Facebook the brand.
Facebook’s new update
Controversy in 2017, accusing Facebook being a major source of ‘Fake News’, has highlighted an unseen flaw in the company’s egalitarian plan. Being open equally to all, activity on the platform can become a liability for the brand, and therefore the company.
It is on the back of this controversy that Facebook has presented its new nips and tucks. Transparent, engaging and authentic experiences every step of the way – very palatably dressed up in a way to enhance user experience.
However, behind every major facelift, there is a well-thumbed business case.
(Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous update)
Updates in December 2017 and January 2018 affecting organic visibility have resulted in ‘less public content, including news, video, and posts from brands’ in the Facebook news feed.
Sponsored activity on Instagram vs. sponsored activity on Facebook
Consider Instagram – where a multi-shell structure means you see friend-and-family-generated content almost exclusively, interspersed with regular, visually signified ads.
Sponsored activity on Instagram is visually signposted– it’s frequently video, with high-production value, shot from angles with lighting that isn’t within the natural remit of the selfie generation. Ads on Instagram are regular, codified, and an important part of the experience.
While paid activity is visually distinguishable from user-generated and organic brand activity, experientially, it is not. Ads on Instagram have the same goal as most organic brand and indeed most user-generated content: get me known, get people to buy into me.
Luckily, Instagram has a very sleek infrastructure for injecting non-native ads seamlessly into the endless scroll of the feed and the rhythmic thumb-tap of a story binge in a way that makes them feel native, adding the final cherry on top of integrating ads into the experience.
(Instagram ad: Tomb Raider The Movie, 2018)
However, Facebook is something of the opposite.
Most Sponsored formats and placements are available only to Sponsored activity.
You can’t, for example, create a full-screen canvas experience for your cat photos. There is no way to invite people to your child’s birthday party via audience network (hopefully). Your ‘U OK Hun? X’ will never light up the messenger banner.
Those formats that do toe the line, such as boosted posts, are being phased out.
(Facebook canvas ad: No Man’s Sky, Hello Games)
Still, most marketers are working off the assumption that Facebook aims to make sponsored activity indistinguishable from user-generated content to stay under the radar of ad fatigue.
Why is Facebook changing its sponsored formats?
This would raise the question – why is Facebook investing R&D time and money into developing ever-more-conspicuously-sponsored formats such as collection ads, canvas ads, and in-stream videos? Why would they be making UX changes to let you know your video binge will be interrupted by an ‘ad loading in 3, 2, 1…’?
In creating these sponsored-only placements and formats, Facebook is ushering in more transparency regarding sponsored activity.
Your audience will know that your ad is an ad, because only ads can appear in this space. Anything that interrupts my video or takes over my entire screen after one tap can only be an ad.
But Facebook is giving preferential delivery to these more engaging forms of ads, i.e. making it cheaper to serve these types of ads.
Why? Because these ads are the most engaging formats. They feed the beast of the engagement economy (attention in, money out) more effectively than anything else.
And Facebook is coercing the advertiser to use them.
In order to successfully advertise on the Facebook Platform, advertisers are increasingly reliant on utilising these more engaging formats.
And given the wide-reaching effects of an engagement-baiting punishment or a low ad account trust score, authenticity and transparency is mandatory, duh.
Transparent, Engaging, Authentic
Pushing these formats to the top is Facebook’s way of forcing advertisers into its new holy trinity of Transparent, Engaging, Authentic.
This new style of ad is transparent in its format – all content of this format is an ad. They are engaging – a full-screen canvas or a high-production-value video blows a poxy banner ad out the water. And they are authentic – it’s a clearer, more accountable expression of your brand than a boosted post or dynamic ad.
And this is why the cutting-edge formats, throughout 2018, will slowly become the new normal. Slow, passive encouragement will eventually become active encouragement. The old will slowly go the way of sponsored results and virtual gifts. They may even become the new black hat.
(Sponsored results: A very different time in Facebook’s ad history)
And in fairness, Facebook is not simply demanding transparency, it is also doing its fair bit to provide it.
How is Facebook providing transparency to marketers?
Improvements in reporting on audiences and their relationships to our ads may have flown under the radar somewhat in 2017, but a smart marketer will have felt the change in the wind.
The change towards an audience-first approach was first signalled by the introduction of the relevance score as a composite metric. It has been bolstered significantly by recent additions to the delivery insights tool.
Now, a marketer has unprecedented access to information regarding audience saturation, audience bid competition and, simply but vitally, how much your audience like your ads.
And let’s not forget the introduction of ‘test and learn’, a fully-fledged A/B testing platform integrated into Facebook Ads Manager. With a conspicuously audience-led approach to testing, Facebook is signalling that your audience is no longer a disposable variable.
To put it simply, the marketer’s question has gone from being ‘why isn’t my audience clicking or converting?’ to a more simply but effective ‘why doesn’t my audience like my ad?’
We should no longer ask ‘is my ad not disruptive enough? Is it not popping out in the news feed?’, but rather ‘where am I lacking? In transparency? In authenticity? Or is it my ad not engaging?’
And now, we have the tools to find out. We can simply tap into our audiences’ responses for a clear answer. In many ways – it’s amazing to think that we haven’t been able to put our audience first on social until relatively recently.
(New additions to the Delivery Insights Reporting section)
And that’s essentially the before-and-after of the facelift.
Successful advertising on Facebook is no longer the mind game of hide-the-ad that it once was.
It’s now about hitting the sweet spot, the perfect point between transparent, authentic and engaging that resonates with your audience. It’s about speaking in this new way to the same audiences. And now we have more ways than ever to do that – more ways avenues than ever to operate successfully on Facebook’s platforms.