This New Ad Format Helps Brands Insert Your Social Media Photos Into Facebook Ads

West Elm is an early tester

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Brands already incorporate social media photos from consumers into their next big advertising campaigns. Now, there's a new way for them to promote those images in Facebook campaigns too.

Today, social marketing platform Olapic is launching a new ad format that includes images pulled from Instagram, Twitter, Vine or YouTube. The offering is called Predictive Consumer Generated Ads because its technology crawls social media for pictures that are expected to perform the best when sponsored on Facebook.

Olapic's technology combs through the streams of photos that people are posting on social networks. Then it uses an algorithm to help brands choose photos that are most likely to entice users to click on the ad. More than 100 brands, including West Elm, JetBlue and Lancôme, use the technology to find people talking about their brands.

Each user is contacted by Olapic and asked for their permission before photos are placed in ads.

The new social ads could grab the attention of retailers and e-commerce companies that use Facebook's retargeting tools, which help serve ads based on products that people already have viewed online. However, this is a twist on such retargeted marketing—an often aggressive tactic that advertisers use to generate sales by showing consumers the same product multiple times after they once clicked on it.

Olapic said its retargeted social ad is less obvious. "[The ad is] often a user-generated photo that you have never seen, but that speaks to the same product, so you're being retargeted in a much more subtle way," said company CEO Pau Sabria.

West Elm is one of the first brands to test the new format. The furniture company's Facebook ads build on its ongoing social campaign called #MyWestElm, which curates images of products shared throughout social media. Each picture is posted to a website with links to similar products on West Elm's online store. About 18,000 photos have been uploaded so far and the site generates 2 million unique monthly users.

Last year, West Elm started taking the user-generated pictures and promoting them on the product pages on its website. Forty percent of the retailer's Web pages now include such user-generated photos. The next step is getting those pictures in front of people on Facebook, said Vanessa Holden, West Elm's creative director, adding that it's good marketing to promote how fellow customers use the products in the real world.

"One customer's take on West Elm can be very different to another's," Holden said. "They create this co-inspiration space once you start sharing images of the way that they're living."

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.