Facebook Wants To Make News Feed Ads Better, But Will Brands Comply?

By Justin Lafferty 

Facebook has been aggressively rolling out new advertising vehicles over the past few months, but it appears as if the site is going to focus on what it’s got going now. In an earnings call Wednesday with investors, Facebook’s top officials said that the company is more set on making sure that the types of ads that are currently in place are the kinds that will be relevant for users and generate engagement. However, as some brands improperly use or overuse News Feed ads, users may be less likely to do much more than keep scrolling.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said during the call that Facebook isn’t trying so much to add new types of ads, but to make the current ones better. It seems as if the maligned right-side ads, which are easily hidden by ad-blocking technology (and don’t translate into mobile), are becoming old news to Facebook. Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg both talked about how Facebook is trying to make sure that the ads users see are the ones that they’ll want to engage with.

Sandberg discussed Facebook’s goal for ads in the earnings call:

I think we feel really good about our formats, but one of the main pushes that we have is to make each ad a better experience for users — (where the) content of the ad is as good as content from a friend or anywhere else on the site, as well as make those higher returns for marketers. Those two go hand-in-hand. I think the place you’ll see more from us is more around targeting, around being able to take the formats we have and make the ad better within those formats. That’s certainly our focus now, but as our site evolves and our product evolves, we never rule out changing the format, as well.

However, it seems like Facebook still has a long way to go to make the content of ads closer to the quality of what users see from friends and the pages they’ve liked. Many users still mark News Feed ads as spam, regardless of content, because they are likely coming from pages they are not connected with. Although News Feed ads may work for brands the budget and the smarts, many Facebook marketers have one or neither. Jon Loomer tackled this topic in November, showing that many brands simply spam News Feeds, which only leads to more distrust from users when they see ads.

As Loomer’s image shows, many users think that any posts from pages they haven’t liked are spam, and they’re not afraid to say so. Smart brands will manage this conversation, but not all brands have that kind of intelligence.

So how can brands place ads in the News Feed without annoying users? Targeting, creative content, and engagement: By utilizing proper targeting, the ads will only be seen by those who likely want to see it. Sandberg pointed out how Facebook will start doing more to make it easier for marketers to target users, and custom audiences has been a major step in this direction.

If the content is boring, users won’t want to do much more than scroll. If it doesn’t catch their eye, forget it. Advertising in Facebook is much more than just clicking “promote post.” Many brands pay to spotlight posts that already have high levels of comments, but they rarely respond to them. Loomer took Hubspot to task, but many other News Feed ads have thousands of comments, some of them genuine questions that could lead to conversions, and not one comment from the pages.

I was pleasantly surprised to see this post promoted in my News Feed. Look at how often Nomorerack replies to commenters.

Alhough Facebook is committed to making News Feed ads better, there is only so much it can do, unless brands are punished for negative engagement and rewarded for positive engagement.

Readers: How often do you positively engage with News Feed ads?