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Stronger Evidence that Facebook Ads Work

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I’ve commented before that my post last February about Facebook advertising effectiveness, “Do Facebook Ads Work?,” is by far the most visited post on this blog and it continues to draw traffic. I followed with one on targeting that I think is important, though it hasn’t been as popular. Every time I do some research on Facebook ads I find something that I didn’t previously understand. This time it’s “social context.” I had seen it, but I didn’t really understand its source or its value.

What started me thinking about it was recent articles on the growth in Facebook advertising. Tuesday’s eMarketer newsletter pointed to huge growth in Facebook ad revenue.
Commentary in AdAge that pointed out that, “what is surprising is the majority of revenue, 60% or $1.12 billion, was earned from smaller companies in 2010, those more likely to be using self-serve tools rather than work through a media agency. That's greater than the $740 million coming from major marketers like Coke, P&G or” In November, ComScore figures had revealed that Facebook was now the largest online display advertising publisher, with over 23% share.

Growth, of course, only implies advertising effectiveness; it does not document it. The most compelling piece of research (full document below) goes back to April, and after I read it several times, I began to understand the “social context” issue. Nielsen has identified three kinds of ads—ads with and without social content and organic impressions. Facebook doesn’t use this terminology in any of their advertising material that I can find. Facebook simply points out that all Facebook ad formats have the Like icon at the bottom to encourage social content. This page shows a homepage ad that has no social content. It also shows a homepage ad with social content; that happens if one of your friends has “liked” the brand. The final type is what Nielsen has termed an “organic impression,” a notice on the page of a friend of a user who has liked or engaged with the brand. Facebook uses the phrase “may appear on the news feed.” I couldn’t find out what “may” means here.

This chart from the same study shows that both types of ads with social content are more effective in recall, awareness and intent. Personally, that doesn’t surprise me because I tend to find myself paying attention to the names first and only secondarily to what they liked! Isn’t it human nature that when we see names of people we know, we pay attention? The study is brief, so page through it if you need more detail.

So how do you get more people to like your brand so they can appear in these ads? (Facebook’s privacy policy seems to give implicit permission for your name to be used when you like the brand. There is supposed to be a way to disable this feature, but I don’t know anyone who knows how to do it.) That makes the strategy issue for marketers getting more people to like their brand in the first place. And the best advice seems to be the simplest—just ask them! That’s what Virgin America is doing on the ads above. Going a step further, you can create something called a “reveal tab.” That allows you to make a members-only offer—to ask people to like your brand in order to get an incentive of some kind. These are two simple strategies that can add to your fan numbers.

And the point of all this is that the more fans you have, the more likely they are to show up as social context in your ads and as items on their friends news feed pages. That gives your ads the aura of being recommended by a friend of the viewer. And it has a high probability of making your ad more effective!

And so it goes in the wonderful world of Facebook!
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