The ongoing 'fake news' saga highlighted a previously unseen flaw in Facebook’s model: allowing open access to all became a liability to the social media giant’s brand, and therefore to the wider company.
This prompted Facebook to present its new update, touted as improving transparency, engagement and the authenticity of user experiences. Updates over the past two months limiting organic visibility have resulted in less public content, including news, video, and posts from brands within the news feed.
Unlike with Instagram, most of Facebook’s sponsored formats and placements are available only to sponsored activity. That means you (sadly) can’t create a full-screen canvas experience for your cat photos, or invite people to your child’s birthday party via audience network.
It also represents a final nail in the coffin for any marketer who believed that Facebook wants to make ads practically indistinguishable from any other content on its platform.
Why is Facebook changing its sponsored formats?
So why is Facebook investing time and money into developing more conspicuous sponsored formats? Why would they be making user experience (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 around sponsored activity. Anything that interrupts my video or takes over my entire screen after one tap can only be an ad.
Facebook is also giving preferential delivery to these more engaging forms of ads – ie making it cheaper to serve them. 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.
Given the wide-reaching effects of an engagement-baiting punishment or a low ad account trust score, authenticity and transparency is effectively mandatory.
Pushing these formats to the top is Facebook’s way of forcing advertisers into its new holy trinity of Transparent, Engaging, Authentic.
How is Facebook providing transparency to marketers?
Facebook’s move 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 how much your audience like your ads.
Another significant introduction is ‘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 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 isn’t my ad 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.
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 between transparent, authentic and engaging that resonates with your audience. And now we have more avenues than ever to operate successfully on Facebook’s platforms.
Liam Tasker is social media executive at Return