Facebook To Sunset Sponsored Stories April 9

Facebook’s sponsored stories have seen their highs and lows, with the lowest low occurring when the ad unit became the subject of a class-action lawsuit, but sponsored stories will be history after April 9, according to a list of breaking changes to Facebook’s ads application-programming interface published on the social network’s platform roadmap.

SponsoredStoriesGraphic650Facebook’s sponsored stories have seen their highs and lows, with the lowest low occurring when the ad unit became the subject of a class-action lawsuit, but sponsored stories will be history after April 9, according to a list of breaking changes to Facebook’s ads application-programming interface published on the social network’s platform roadmap.

Facebook said of sponsored stories in its Ads API Breaking Changes post:

Facebook will sunset the creation of sponsored stories.

Page post and page like ads already automatically have the best social context (likes and comments) added. You may choose to add share social context by specifying social_prefs=[‘allow_shares’] on the adgroup. Existing page post and page like sponsored stories will continue to deliver, so you must support fetching them.

Domain and open graph sponsored stories will no longer be allowed to be created. Existing domain and open graph sponsored stories will cease to have delivery after April 9.

UPDATE: Facebook first mentioned the elimination of sponsored stories when it announced in June that it was streamlining its advertising offerings, saying at the time in a Newsroom post:

Include the best of sponsored stories in all ads: Previously, to get the best social context available, advertisers had to purchase sponsored stories in addition to ads. In the future, for example, when you create a page post photo ad, we will automatically add social context to boost performance and eliminate the extra step of creating sponsored stories. We know social enhances ad resonance; people are influenced by this type of word-of-mouth marketing. Research from Nielsen, comScore, and Datalogix shows that social context can drive awareness and return on ad spend, so we want to make it easier to add it to our ads. These changes will happen in the fall.

The social network said in a statement Thursday:

As announced in June of last year, we’re bringing the best of sponsored stories — social context — to all ads. Since this update makes sponsored stories redundant, we will no longer offer them as a stand-alone ad unit for marketers. Social context will continue to appear with all ads where eligible. Our social advertising honors the audience that people choose, so nobody will see information in social context for an ad that they couldn’t already see.

UPDATE NO. 2: Facebook addressed the changes in a note on its Facebook and Privacy page, saying:

Last year, we announced some changes to simplify Facebook ads, including eliminating different types of ads that had the same purpose and making our ads look more consistent. We also announced that marketers will no longer be able to purchase sponsored stories separately; instead, social context — stories about social actions your friends have taken, such as liking a page or checking in to a restaurant — is now eligible to appear next to all ads shown to friends on Facebook.

This week, we gave notice to our ad partners that this change relating to sponsored stories will start in the first quarter of this year so that they can update their tools and continue supporting the marketers they work with.

So what does this mean for people on Facebook? As before, you are in control of who sees what you post on Facebook, whether it appears in News Feed, next to ads, or elsewhere on Facebook. You can visit your Activity Log to see who can see stories about your social actions and change the audience or unlike or delete the content at any time.

In addition, you can visit your ads and friends setting to limit when stories about your social actions are paired with ads shown to friends.

The platform roadmap post also described several refinements to ad targeting, changes to the way images in ads are cropped, and a host of other technical changes.

Highlights from the social network’s upcoming enhancements to ad targeting included:

The overall concept of targeting has been redefined as having four key areas (locations, demographics, interests, behaviors). This organization creates more flexibility and precision in audience creation in terms of the and/or logic between groups.

Example: Historically, if you selected “parents,” “photography,” and “photo uploader” within interests, the audience constructed was “people who are parents OR interested in photography OR people who upload [many] photos.” However, the intended audience was: “Parents who are interested in photography and upload pictures.” Now, the specific audience will be targeted as intended.

Interest targeting has been redefined to create a unified definition for what indicates interest in a particular topic. Legacy targeting concepts such as precise interests (keywords, #topics) and broad categories have been unified, and, as a result, have only one targeting segment for each term (no duplicate “baseball” and “#baseball”). The result is one, clear definition for each targeting segment.

The new geo-targeting API adds targeting flexibility and incorporates inclusion/exclusion logic.

  • Select any combination of country, region, city, or ZIP code, without restrictions.
  • Exclude locations from your targeting parameters.
  • All previous capabilities, such as radius targeting on cities, continue to exist.

Advanced demographic targeting options will now be available. Key features include better coverage of workplace, education, and job title types, as well as expanded relationship status types. There is also the added functionality of selecting the recency of change of a life event (three months, six months, one year).

A new targeting type, behaviors, has been added. These categories are specific to a user’s particular actions or past purchase behavior, past purchase behavior, or purchase propensity. This category is made up of some targeting segments previously categorized as Interests.

Facebook will begin alpha-testing, in the U.S., of advanced demographic and some behavioral targets in early February. The new user interface with these features will not be widely available until we have finished general availability release in the mid- to late-first quarter.

And on image cropping, Facebook said:

Facebook has added the option to specify image crops through the ads API. Image crops are used to describe the way that an image should be displayed in each aspect ratio of the different ad placements. During rendering, the image will be cropped according to the specifications given, and, if no specification is provided for a certain aspect ratio, the image will be displayed in the default way.

This is optional, but if you choose to specify an image crop, you should provide information for all possible aspect ratios in our platform. For more information, please check the docs.

You should also support passing through image crops for ads created outside of your tool. After the migration, if you do not pass through the image crop value, any image crops will be removed.

Readers: Are you surprised at the demise of sponsored stories?

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.