Facebook's anticipated IPO today is just the latest chapter in an already fascinating 2012 for those watching the social media giant's advertising-related moves. The company's developers have been pushing out new ad products as well as iterations of older ones, while attempting to put a highly monetized global brand in front of Wall Street investors.
Indeed, it's been a busy four-and-a-half months for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Co. And the recent road to a $100 billion valuation hasn't always been a smooth one.
Following are seven of the biggest Facebook developments this year from the lens of digital marketing news.
GM Takes Antisocial Stance
By now, nearly everyone has read about the auto brand's rather vague on-the-record assertion earlier this week to the Wall Street Journal that it was done buying Facebook ads. With Facebook's 900 million audience at hand, it is debatable whether GM's stance is temporary or long-term.
At any rate, GM's statements were startling for no other reason than that brands, agencies, and tech vendors have been typically uncomfortable speaking any kind of ill will toward Facebook in recent weeks. For GM to do so in this IPO week of all weeks seems to call out that it's not only time for Zuckerberg and his team to put on their so-called big boy pants for investors, but for budget-minded advertisers, too. If GM's bold remarks about Facebook signal the end of a walking-on-egg-shells era, it could be healthy for the digital advertising community.
Instagram Purchase Bolsters Mobile Aspirations
Facebook has been routinely criticized by users for its less-than-stellar mobile app. As a result, industry watchers have questioned whether Facebook can effectively monetize its platform on mobile.
The purchase of popular photo-sharing mobile app Instagram, for $1 billion, could address that shortcoming. What Facebook does with Instagram to bolster its mobile ad products could be one of the more interesting marketing industry stories going forward this year. For web promotions, Starbucks and other brands have begun using Instagram-filtered photos in their Facebook Premium Ads in recent weeks.
Premium Ads Get Mobile Distribution
Facebook announced multiple ad products at its marketing conference, dubbed fMC, during late February. A key revelation: mobile ads were finally part of the eight-year-old social media company's marketing services.
For Premium Ads purchases, companies started getting promotions delivered in mobile users' news feeds if they or their friends liked the brand. While mobile ads are not being sold separately, the development was important for Facebook to evolve toward offering marketing to smart phone users.
A Low-Risk Groupon Alternative
Also at fMC, Facebook Offers - a deals platform for retailers and CPG companies - was unveiled as a low-risk platform that could attract businesses large and small. Facebook, for the time being, appears committed to letting brands use Offers for free, under the idea that enough of them will buy ads to further distribute the deals on the social site, effectively monetizing the feature. At no cost, the Offers can be rolled through the news feeds of brand fans at the same frequency as regular posts.
Conversely, Groupon and other deals players like LivingSocial and Google Offers take up to 50 percent of the sales cut when consumers redeem vouchers. More than anything, Facebook Offers has probably made the company more lucrative as a one-stop-shop for branded social media management, including social commerce.
Improved Page Insights
Facebook also made its Page Insights a real-time product in February. The product upgrade was designed to rid the system of lags that, according to marketers, sometimes had lasted several days.
It was the next logical step after the social media firm diversified its analytics package during October 2011. Before then, in terms of metrics on the social site, brands were essentially limited to how many "likes" their posts and ads were accruing.
The enhanced version permit brands to more clearly see what is working versus what isn't. It also gives brands a better view into why they were generally investing in the social site in the first place. The new metrics included a buzz gauge called People Talking About This, as well as Friends of Fans, Weekly Total Reach, and a dashboard feature that lets marketers see analytics for up to 500 brand posts.
Logout Page Becomes Ad Real Estate
A smaller but intriguing fMC announcement involved offering brands takeover-styled ads on Facebook's user logout pages. Ford was one of the first brands to purchase the ad unit, appearing on the pages in late March.
People visiting the Facebook logout page were greeted with an image of the sleek 2013 Mustang, in black. It was a still of the video, which could be played directly on the logout page. The large image was accompanied by the post, "Seen the latest Mustang spot? Watch now, then grab a Mustang badge."
Unlike GM, Ford remains confident in its social-heavy strategy, telling ClickZ earlier this week that it wanted to "accelerate" such efforts rather than scale them back.
App Center Will Likely Create New Ad Inventory
Last week, Facebook unveiled App Center, a platform where its users can search for mobile and web apps while also seeing recommendations based on their social graphs. It caught the attention of mobile marketers who lament how hard it's been to get their apps in front of consumers. Julie Renwick, director of mobile for ad agency Ogilvy North America, characterized the move as "a game shifter."
To be clear, Facebook won't sell products in its App Center. Instead it will likely promote apps that use the Facebook log-in, allowing the company to accrue even more consumer data and potentially offer advertisers better targeting.
But it's plausible to imagine Facebook monetizing the App Center by offering developers featured spots for mobile and web. Just as is the case with buying Facebook ads for "likes" on the site, brands may want to maximize their app real estate by promoting downloads.
Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
May 22, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT
June 5, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT