In 2017, the “fake news” phenomenon uncovered the realisation that Facebook’s open-access-to-all activity was effectively becoming a liability to the social media giant’s brand and, in turn, the company itself. To combat this, Facebook revealed a facelift of sorts in a bid to provide transparency for both users and marketers.
This new update promises transparency, engagement and authenticity to provide an enhanced experience for Facebook users. As a result, updates from December 2017 and January 2018 have meant fewer video, brand and news posts in users’ Facebook feeds.
Unlike Instagram, sponsored formats and placements on Facebook are only available as sponsored activity. This means that sadly, you can’t create a full-screen canvas to display photos of your pets for the whole world to see, nor can you invite everyone to your mate’s surprise birthday party via audience network.
Facebook’s changing sponsored formats
The question is, why is Facebook investing time and money into more conspicuous sponsored formats like collection ads, canvas ads and in-stream videos? And why are they making UX changes to let you know that your funny cat video will be interrupted by ‘ad loading in 3, 2, 1…’?
The answer is simple. By creating these sponsored-only formats, Facebook is able to provide more transparency to users in terms of sponsored activity. Your audience will be 100% aware that your ad is an ad, because they’ll appear in a space where only an ad could appear. Anything that takes over their entire screen after one tap, or interrupts their video streaming, can only be an ad.
But that said, Facebook is certainly placing more emphasis on the most engaging ad forms by making it cheaper to serve them. These ads are the most effective when it comes to feeding the economy beast (attention in, money out). For marketers to advertise successfully on Facebook, they are becoming increasingly reliant on the more engaging ad formats.
The holy trinity of Facebook: Transparent, Engaging, Authentic
Using these more engaging ad formats enables Facebook to coerce marketers into its new holy trinity of ‘Transparent, Engaging and Authentic’.
The new ad style is transparent, simply because all content within that format is an ad.
It’s engaging, because a high-production-value video or full-screen canvas is bound to catch eyes more than the humble banner ad. And it’s authentic, because it’s a clearer, more accountable expression of your brand than a boosted post, or a dynamic ad.
For this reason, cutting-edge formats are on track to become the new norm in 2018. In time, slow, passive encouragement will become active encouragement, and old formats will go in the same direction as sponsored results and virtual gifts.
Transparency for Facebook marketers
As well as demanding transparency for its users, the social media mammoth is actually doing its bit to provide it as well.
Although improvements in audience and audience relationship reporting may have flown somewhat under the radar in 2017, the savvy marketer will have noticed changes happening underfoot.
The first sign of change towards an ‘audience-first’ approach was highlighted by the introduction of relevance as a composite metric. This has been bolstered by the latest additions to Facebook’s delivery insight tools.
Marketers now have access to information about audience bid competition, audience saturation and, most importantly, how much audiences actually like their ads. To put it simply, instead of posing the question ‘why isn’t my audience converting?’ marketers are instead asking ‘why doesn’t my audience like my ads?’.
The next step for marketers is to work out whether their ad is lacking in transparency, engagement and authenticity, rather than how disruptive their ad is. Because they’ve now got the tools to find out; all they need to do is tap into their audience’s responses in order to get a clear answer.
Successful Facebook advertising is no longer about playing a game of ‘hide the ad’. These days, it’s more about hitting that sweet spot between transparent, engaging and authentic to ensure your ads resonate with your audience. And now, there are more ways than ever to do this on Facebook’s platforms.