Marketers Puzzled Over Lack of Ads in Facebook’s New Feeds

Company reached out to agencies after Thursday's announcement

Many marketers gleefully anticipated that the content-specific feeds that Facebook was reportedly prepping would improve their ability to target ads. But when Facebook announced the new feeds on Thursday, advertisers were all but shut out—many of them feeling none too happy about it. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company has yet to determine how it wants to handle ads in the four new feeds.

The ability to target, say, image-rich ads to the Photos feed, or promote a brand-related jingle to the Music Feed ads would be “definitely a great opportunity for advertisers. I don’t know why they’re not making that available right now,” said Performics global CEO Daina Middleton.

Facebook isn’t leaving Madison Avenue completely in the dark. After the announcement, the company emailed marketers with a follow-up overview of the new feeds and design “and said right now ad units aren’t going to change,” said iCrossing’s head of social media Amanda Peters, who received such an email.

Despite that outreach, “I was surprised that there wasn’t any mention of ad units [during Thursday’s announcement],” Peters said. “I think [the new feeds] do present an opportunity for new units and potentially more dynamic units, more targeted units for specific feeds. My guess is that would come very soon.”

But maybe marketers shouldn’t be surprised about a lack of initial ad talk, given past Facebook announcements regarding product changes, said MEC managing partner and social practice lead Kristine Segrist.

“I feel like historically whether it was Timeline or other big platform changes, they roll out the user experience first, get some learnings, test it in the wild, then roll out the accompanying ad products,” she said. However “the scary story for marketers is whether users have newfound controls and can choose to spend time where brands or businesses can’t be part of the conversation.”

Until then, advertisers will have to take solace in the tweaks Facebook is making to the content those ads can feature. Borrowing elements from the Timeline format, feed stories like ones promoting which Pages someone’s friends like will now include a bigger profile picture as well as the corresponding Timeline cover photo and thumbnails of which friends like the Page. “I’m hoping the larger cover photos will help gain Page likes via Sponsored Stories,” Middleton said, assuming Facebook permits advertisers to buy the new Page Like Stories as Sponsored Stories.

Marketers will also have to contend now with a new context for their content. Whereas before they were competing with any and every kind of content from friends’ posts to photos to article links—and still are in the regular News Feed—the Following feed pits brands’ posts directly against shared articles. In a sense, that’s a deconstruction of the current online news experience where banners run alongside articles. It’s also akin to the social reader mish-mash that Twitter has become. But it ultimately means brands’ content should be of the same quality as publishers, even though both entities will get equal distribution by chronological order.

That could lead to closer ties between brands and publishers, Segrist said. She laid out a scenario in which a brand already partnering with a publication could extend that partnership or its resulting content to Facebook in order to “offer greater utility than a brand just about itself.” Therefore brands should be thankful they’re not siloed to a Pages-only feed “because who would go to it,” she said.