Rule #1 When Integrating Ads: Engagement is King

This is the first article in a series that aims to arm developers with tools to sell space to advertisers.  It’s by no means the defacto standard, but rather represents a vision of the most favorable direction Facebook application developers can take.

In this article, we’ll discuss the concepts related to user engagement, what the terms mean, and how to communicate them to advertisers. Little did I know that it would end up following Brian Morrissey’s Adweek article calling for better integration between Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue.

What is Engagement?

In advertising, “engagement” is an over-arching term used to describe user interest in an ad.  In rich media ads, “engagement time” is the actual time spent with the ad.  This is similar to the analytics concept “average time on site”.  “Interaction rate” is a term that was created by the rich media advertising providers to describe the frequency of interactions users have with an ad during a given period of engagement.

Engagement time and Interaction rate — when paired together — allow us to evaluate the interest of the user and the value of the time spent with a rich media ad.  If this language is employed when discussing applications as well as ads served within an app, it will help savvy media buyers conceptualize the effectiveness and attractiveness of both.

Much of today’s interactive ad space is sold based on a CPM, or Cost Per Thousand impressions, basis.  As a result, some of the most trafficked sites are getting all of today’s ad budgets, even though the average user spends most of their time off the beaten track.  There are increasing rumblings, however, that a better measurement for online ads must include engagement and interaction rather than just “eyeballs.”

Looking at an Example Facebook App

Take, for example, SuperPoke. SuperPoke starts with a basic CTA in notifications and feed stories that pull users in. Once enticed to enter SuperPoke, the user is given a screen with poke options.  Here, the user is engaged and interacting with the app.  This is an excellent context for small, relevant ads.  It’s also an important place to measure interactions, and where the user spends the bulk of his/her engagement time.

SuperPoke is great at generating page views and visits.  In fact, the app does a great job drawing users back on a regular basis.  When selling to those that only look at traditional metrics like impressions and visits, this is about as much as they care to know.

However, selling advertising in an app should employ the same concepts and language associated with rich media advertising. Interactive advertising is becoming less about visits or impressions, and more about engaged time spent. Savvy media buyers will expect the same from an app based purchase.

Going Forward

The challenge for developers in the near term is to sell to less advanced media planners that seek to buy on a CPM basis.  You can’t blame or argue with them – it’s what they’re used to for buys in other media.

However, more advanced planners will ask tough questions about engagement, and will put their plan and money behind placements that drive both user engagement and “eyeballs.”  Over time, this will become the standard (it already is for the leaders in the industry) – which is great news, because engagement is an area in which many Facebook applications can excel over other forms of media.

In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss some of the challenges inherent in integrating ads in apps, like balancing user experience and brand interaction. In the third article, we’ll discuss advanced targeting and metrics that take full advantage of an app platform such as network and cohort effects.

Please be sure to comment if you have questions or a different viewpoint!