What Facebook's Announcement Tells Us About Social

Social Network: Average Time Spent

Photo: comScore

Facebook wrapped up the first Facebook Marketing Conference in New York yesterday. On the whole, it spun a pretty compelling case for Facebook advertisements—which is to say, social advertising.Excitement had also been building around the event after it was revealed last week that Facebook would be releasing a slew of new ad products.

First, a brief summary of the new products:

  • Timelines for brands: brand pages are being revamped to look like profile pages with the timeline and other social features to facilitate user interaction
  • Facebook Offers: a new way for brands to distribute deals and discounts to their fans via the newsfeed (it doesn’t appear to be a daily deals type product from what we can tell)
  • Reach Generator: a tool for brands to increase the audience for their message (brands currently only reach 16 per cent of their fans currently)  
  • Premium For Facebook: a holistic content distribution product for brands advertising on Facebook: brand content that originated on their page can now be advertised across the home page, the newfeeds, the mobile newsfeed, and the logout page

The product release is significant because it gave us something of a road map for where social advertising is heading. With the largest user base and user engagement that dwarfs any other network (see chart above), Facebook’s plans serve as a sort of bellweather for social advertising. So goes Facebook, so goes social—so to speak.

Integrated Ads
Unsurprisingly, the convergence of content and ads is quickly becoming the de facto norm of social advertising. Twitter led the charge on this front when it unveiled “promoted tweets” last year. Whether they like it or not, users are going to come across the occasional ads while sifting through the avalanche of content produced by social sites. However, this raises another question: If the point of integrated ads is to increase user engagement, how effective is one advertisement passing through your newsfeed if you have 1000+ “friends”?      

Nonetheless. letting brands break into the newsfeed is potentially game changing development for social advertising. It allows brands to directly interact with consumers in a more personal manner and ultimately allows them to direct the conversation if executed properly. Furthermore, it’s slowly eroding the barriers between content and advertising—brands are increasingly producing advertisements masquerading as content. It is difficult, for example, to classify Old Spice’s much hailed “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad as exclusively an advertisement when it has been viewed over 40 million times on YouTube.

However, it carries many of the same downside risks of traditional advertising. If brands are perceived to be “screaming” at consumers then social advertising will be just as ineffective and irrelevant as the outdated online advertising model that Sandberg trashed during her opening remarks.

monetise Mobile
The other major news from event was that Facebook will finally begin to monetise its massive mobile audience. In its recent S-1, Facebook revealed that 425 million members use the mobile app—a number that will only continue to rise as smartphone penetration increases.

Up until this point, Facebook hadn’t attempted to make a cent off its mobile platform. The plan outlined at the presentation isn’t even a direct plan to monetise the mobile platform per say. Instead, it was integrated into a larger plan to give advertisers a holistic ad distribution platform—another way for advertisers to reach audiences with their content.

As detailed today, Facebook’s plan points to another evolution in social advertising: the mobile platform will remain an extension of the desktop—there will not be mobile-specific ad content. Advertisers, in other words, will need to be conscious of how well their content translates to the mobile platform.  

What Is Social Advertising?
An underlying theme of the entire event was the attempt to delineate and define social advertising from what’s came before it. The three main speakers—COO Sheryl Sandberg, VP of Product Chris Cox, and Director of Customer Marketing Mike Hoefflinger—all attempted to frame and answer this question. The crux of their argument can probably best be summarized as “stories, not advertisements.”   

This, however, creates the false impression that stories and advertisements were two different things to begin with. Stories are inherent in advertising: The alcohol advertisement with a bunch of young, good looking party goers is certainly telling a story as well. Facebook didn’t create the idea of stories as advertisements, but it does give brands new and deeper ways to share those stories—backed by arguably the deepest analytics available.

Just like anything else, these stories can good or bad. Despite some of the impressive ROI numbers flashed today, social advertising is not a cure-all. Part of the nature of social advertising is that brands wilfully loosen the grasp on their message. Because of this the story can get out of your hands pretty quickly, as Loew’s recently found out.

Nonetheless, we are still very bullish on social advertising. Social advertising is ultimately a critical component of any fully integrated advertising campaign. The inclusion of social media in an online ad campaign produces higher average revenue per order, according to a new study from advertising analytics firm ClearSaleing.

In other words, Premium For Facebook will never displace AdWords—they serve different roles for advertisers. The strength of social advertising is providing a forum for brands to build deep continuous relationships with consumers in a personalised manner. Search still has a higher level of intent and engagement, something social can not replace—yet.


  • The future of social advertising is seamlessly integrated content and advertising—and content as advertising
  • It does not appear social mobile platforms will be developed as independent ad platforms, but will be an extension of the desktop
  • We are very bullish on social advertising and believe that Facebook’s new products are a welcome innovation to the market’s evolution

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