Technology Facebook Brand Safety

Facebook lifts the hood on its journey to becoming more brand safe


By Charlotte McEleny, Asia Editor

December 19, 2019 | 8 min read

Like many digital platforms, Facebook has been under significant advertiser pressure for some time to overhaul its measures around brand safety.


Facebook lifts the hood on its journey to becoming more brand safe

The company has spent a lot of 2019 launching new products and services that aim to help brands and have more control over aspects such as privacy and brand safety.

Speaking to The Drum in Singapore at an event about Facebook’s 2020 priorities, the business shared some insights into how it’d been developing products and speaking to the market about brand safety. Brand safety and privacy were named as a core point of focus for the business in 2020.

James Tan, director, business product marketing APAC, tells The Drum that having launched new products over the past year, it has learned three things about the challenge of getting brand safety right.

One is; everyone cares about brand safety. The second one is it's a balancing act between the three stakeholders, who are the people on the platforms, the publishers who need to make a living out of the monetization and the advertisers that need to meet their business objectives and we're constantly figuring out what that balance is to make sure that the whole ecosystem is healthy and sustainable for everyone," he says.

"The third part is around the whole idea of this and needing to be working very closely with all the third parties that we mentioned earlier. It is still early for us. I think we are still on this journey and we are working very hard on that idea of balance."

With a lot of tools being new, Sarah Bennison, business product marketing for APAC, says that Facebook and the wider industry could do a lot more in the region of education for brand safety. A key point for many brands is having them understand that there are different levels of brand safety for different company’s needs.

Bennison highlights the ‘three S’s of the brand safety spectrum’, a definition presented by Tan at the event, which defines three types of brand safety. The first is ‘Safety’ which is relevant to all advertisers and defines ‘content that no advertiser wants to run ads adjacent to, near or embedded within.

This was described as the Facebook brand safety floor. The second category was ‘Sensitivity’, of which most advertisers are relevant. This is about ‘content that falls within commonly agreed-upon categories of risk when showing ads’. The third ‘S’ is ‘Suitability’, which is unique to every advertiser and is about ‘content and ad pairing that poses unique brand risks’.

“There's a ton more we need to do to educate people. A lot of our tools are quite new and when you look at that spectrum of safety to suitability, when you use the terms brand safety that means different things to different people and we are just taking people on that journey and helping our advertisers understand where we stand and what tools we have available. There's a ton more we need to do,” says Bennison.

Events over the past couple of years, including the Christchurch shooting being shown on Facebook, had created scrutiny on Facebook and other digital platforms over brand safety measures. Many in the industry had viewed Facebook’s approach as hands-off, not wanting to overstep any line in terms of free speech, but the platform has changed this, becoming a more proactive player in brand safety.

In terms of what drove this, Bennison says it is a chicken and egg situation in terms of what pushed Facebook into having a new approach to this important topic.

“I don't know which one came first. I feel like even at a user level, all of us as people on the internet, we all have a just heightened awareness. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when that awareness came and did it come from certain events, did it come from different policies or industry changes?" she asks.

"But we are where we are, which is just the heightened awareness across the industry, across brands, across people and that really helped us to pivot, around this time last year to say ‘Okay, you know, we really want to make sure that we are a privacy-first company and we need to take stock of our things along the way’."

Despite where the trigger came from in becoming more privacy and brand safety-first, the core goal for Facebook is always to build a community, according to Tan.

I think when we talk to customers and advertisers and publishers, we always start with the people. The mission then is always about building the community. So within the communities, there are two parts of this - there is a user, they are the people and then the business is on the platform. I think that those two are table stakes," he explains.

"They are the core of the need for Facebook to really focus on building trust and rebuilding trust. The salespeople on teams are constantly in conversations with their customers and talking to them about the new products that we're building. So it's not an ‘or’ but more an ‘and’, but this is important because it's a big focus for us to build trust."

The best way to engage around these topics is not in isolation, however, according to Bennison. She explains that when talking to the business side of Facebook’s community, in particular, the key is to talk about these topics in the context of business concerns.

“The client meetings that I do sit in, we try to make it about their business and so it's not as much as trying to decide between telling them about these new stories, features or talking to them about their valid concerns around privacy. It's ‘how's your business going?" What are you trying to do this holiday season?’, especially in APAC," she explains.

"We've got all these mega sale days where people are spending a lot of their attention and effort and trying to drive, there are now eight mega sale days, such as 9.9, 8.8, 11.11, 12.12. So a lot of focus of our advertisers are on those days and we just want to make sure that we're supporting them and their business model and then of course if they raise these concerns, we address them."

How this topic progresses in 2020 is about building further partnerships within the industry and educating, according to Tan and Bennison. Facebook has a captive audience in brands and users wanting more control over these issues, so it’s got to take these conversations to its community and beyond.

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