How to Effectively Buy Into Facebook: Social Ads

You’ve established a presence for your brand on Facebook. Your new Facebook Page represents an additional channel through which consumers can effectively connect with your company and products. Now all you have to do is let them know it’s there.

Say hello to Facebook Social Ads.

In the quest to make a splash on what is arguably the hottest social network around, Social Ads can be a marketer’s best friend. They’re designed to be a support mechanism for Facebook Pages (but can be used to promote external sites or Facebook Applications as well), and combine the best traits of more familiar methods of marketing, including display advertising, behavioral targeting, RSS, even celebrity product endorsements.

When employing Social Ads (not to be confused with Facebook’s Beacon ads, which involve tracking user activity outside of Facebook), media buyers have two options: a Sponsored Story and a Sponsored Social Story.

Both serve relevant advertiser-related updates to Facebook users through their News Feed, which acts as a user’s home page and represents an RSS-like feature that’s constantly updated with news about a user’s Friends. These updates are based on actions one’s Friends take on the site, such as declaring an interest in a television show, rating a movie, or reviewing a restaurant on their Profile Page or a business’s Facebook Page.

The difference between the two ads? A Sponsored Story delivers updates through a corporate-branded ad, while a Sponsored Social Story actually drafts the site’s users to play a part in the advertising effort and ultimately lend more credibility to the ad.

The latter is both more intriguing and more contentious. Let’s assume that a band’s record company is about to release a new album and buys a Sponsored Social Story ad placement on Facebook to promote the band’s Facebook Page. If a Facebook user becomes a fan of the band through that Facebook Page, her identity can be linked to the record company’s Sponsored Social Story ad, with the ad featuring her Profile Picture alongside the band’s logo and a linked ad message that might read, “Kara is a fan of Coldplay. Hear the newest tracks from Coldplay’s new album here.” This message can then be delivered to a selection of Kara’s Facebook Friends based on targeting criteria, such as demographic data, geographic region, and employer or a set of keywords that appear in Kara’s Friends’ Profiles.

From a marketing standpoint, such a unit is pure promotional gold. As a social network, Facebook is built on friendship and community. Product endorsements are always more meaningful when they come from a trusted source. Put these two facts together, along with the ability to purchase Social Ads on either a CPM (define) or CPC (define) basis, and you’ve got an ideal media placement.

That said, not all Facebook users are fond of the idea of helping to promote corporate initiatives without getting anything tangible in return. To appease them, Facebook allows users to opt out of having any of their site activity tracked through the News Feed.

Ultimately, however, Facebook’s Social Ads — like contextual and behavioral targeting before them — are guaranteed to produce more relevant advertising for consumers because they tie into users’ interests and their friends’ interests. As with any situation where one party is privy to obvious capital gains and the other’s benefits are not so concrete, however, it can be a struggle to convince consumers of the value inherent in this type of more targeted advertising. Over time, I expect Facebook users will grow to appreciate Social Ads.

As captivating as this ad program is, many of us (as well as our clients) are bound to have a hard time accepting the idea of investing in an ad placement that doesn’t primarily drive traffic to our sites, the branding and e-commerce hubs we’ve long touted as the central nervous system of our cross-media marketing campaigns. Indeed, signing up for Social Ads and their associated Facebook Pages requires a leap of faith. But we knew getting into this industry that it’s fluid. Tides turn quickly in the online space, and it’s all we can do to keep up. Fortunately, Facebook’s accessible and easily manageable advertising programs make it easy to respond to evolving media consumption habits and marketing trends. Navigating the social media waters is easier than you think.

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