Facebook tests ads for Groups

Facebook’s ad business could be expanding to Groups, a popular feature that “allow[s] people to come together around a common cause, issue or activity to organize, express objectives, discuss issues, post photos and share related content.”

Groups are used by more than a billion people each month, making them a potentially lucrative source of ad inventory for Facebook.

According to a statement Facebook issued to TechCrunch, “We have started to test delivering ads to people in Facebook Groups, and will be evaluating the response before determining how we will move forward.”

Currently, the ads, which are formatted similarly to Facebook’s News Feed ads, are appearing on desktop and mobile in Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand.

A powerful new tool for marketers?

Given the popularity of Groups, marketers will almost certainly have an interest in the opportunity to reach Facebook users via them. Because Groups are typically organized around specific topics or communities, they could be an effective means to target audiences of interest. Not surprisingly, according to Constine, Facebook’s Group ads will not only allow marketers to target users by demographic filters, such as age and location, but by Group topic.

So marketers interested in reaching sports fans or mothers, for instance, will have a new way to reach these users on the world’s largest social network.

But Group ads aren’t just about targeting. Many marketers, such as Procter & Gamble, are increasingly focused on reach instead of granular targeting. And to offer that reach, Facebook will soon need more inventory.

As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine noted, Facebook is expected to reach its maximum ad load for News Feed ads next year, which means that the still fast-growing social network could find itself in the unusual position of having to try to keep its growth on the fast track. The easiest way to do that is to add ads to new areas of the Facebook service that currently don’t have them, and Groups are one of the obvious places to do just that.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Facebook’s experiment with Group ads will result in a full global roll-out. One of the risks is that as Facebook tests ads in locations that are devoid of them now, it could annoy users. For obvious reasons, this risk seems especially high in closed and secret Groups, which are not public and require approval or a member invitation to join.

But even if the extension of ads to new areas on Facebook annoys users, there’s no evidence that users will actually revolt because of ads, meaning that marketers probably don’t have to worry that Facebook’s ad ambitions will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

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