The State of Facebook Self- Serve Ads: Social Media Marketing is Growing Up…

By Michelle Doty | Nov 30, 2012
More Articles by Michelle

Something to mull over as you undoubtedly check in with friends and family (or brands perhaps) on myriad social platforms this weekend: social media marketing is growing up. As we’ve written in recent blog posts (here and here and here), we’ve been seeing incredible success with LinkedIn advertising across the board with our B2B clients. And with all of Facebook’s new offerings for companies (especially Facebook Exchange and its new conversion measurement tool), talks of retargeting coming to Twitter,  and Pinterest offering new tools for businesses it’s apparent that this is a steady trend on social networking platforms across the interwebs.

Prior to the Facebook IPO (May 18, 2012), there was rampant speculation regarding what a publicly traded Facebook would mean for the Facebook experience moving forward, for individual users and organizations alike. It was obvious from the outset that Facebook would become a much more business-friendly platform, even if it now costs organizations more marketing dollars to use it. For example, Facebook tweaked its EdgeRank algorithm back in September, 2012, sparking heat from page administrators site-wide when they learned that users weren’t seeing organic branded posts as often as they had before. The reason given for this algorithm change was to defend against “spam complaints from users,” (as reported to TechCrunch), and to ensure that users would only see posts relevant to them. With that said, Facebook clearly had an economic incentive to change its algorithm and have businesses pay to get in front of consumers… which could still be considered spammy.

Regardless, Facebook is an undeniable goldmine for marketers. The information users willingly share with Facebook every time they use the site (by filling out their profiles, liking something, etc.) is the sort of information that every marketer dreams of having access to. The ability to highly target ad dollars is something that was never possible in the way it is now with social networking. I’m not going to go into all of the targeting options available in this post, but there are A LOT, and they are awesome, and will likely continue to grow.

The main focus of this post is to explain the current options available to page administrators and marketers alike with Facebook’s self-serve ads. As I’ve already mentioned, expect these to change often and quickly as Facebook continues to age. The good news:  these options are continually becoming more advertiser-friendly as well as more socially-based, and with Facebook’s new e-commerce conversion measurement tool, it’s becoming easier to see what works and what doesn’t (see Adweek’s recent overview of the new offering).  Social media advertising has long been lauded for its low cost and its ability to reach people where they play, but castigated for its low (or undefinable) ROI (likes, comments and engagement do not equal revenue—at least not directly), but hopefully this is now changing.

So on to the layout of the Self-Serve Advertising Land, from your Company Page and Facebook Ads Manager…

Standard Facebook Ad to Website:

This has been around the longest. Traditional Facebook ads take users off of Facebook to a landing page of the advertiser’s creation. Facebook users don’t exactly love to leave Facebook, but even so, clicks to these ads may have latent effects and users might act when they’re ready to leave the party. I like to think of Facebook as a social event in which someone might show you this really cool thing that you DO want to buy (or try, or do, etc.), but you don’t want to leave the party right that second to do it, so you wait until the party is over (when you leave Facebook) to go check out that thing that person showed you earlier. Here’s an example of a standard ad (for a gift).


Like Ads:

These are similar to Standard Ads, and appear in the right-hand column of Facebook, but are designed to gain more Likes for a specific page or product. Users are able to like the advertised page, app, event or product directly from the ad. Since these ads are likely to draw people to your page, make sure your company page is updated often with engaging content, to drive earned impressions, likes and engagement.

Like Ad

Page Post Ads:

These ads are used to highlight a specific page post and thus drive engagement on that post and on the page generally. This is a great tool to have more people see your posts, especially after the new EdgeRank algorithm I mentioned earlier. Like Standard Ads, these appear in the right hand column of Facebook. These are best used to drive engagement and awareness to a specific post, and if the content is good enough, hopefully to the company page and company itself.


Sponsored Story:

These are the most social ad type, and include the information that users are already sharing with their friends, but now it can be highlighted in an ad if the brand chooses to do so. Sponsored stories, in our experience with clients, have been the most effective at reaching ‘friends of fans’ and growing engagement on pages. They can be used for driving a variety of actions, but the signifying feature is the social aspect that displays “X Friend” did “X Action” (e.g. likes X, played X, checked-in X, etc.). These ads take advantage of the beauty of social networking—everything is social. An ad that says so-and-so (person that you know, or at least are friends with on Facebook) likes this page is much more likely to draw your attention than traditional ads.  This is also built on the reasoning that things your friends like are likely to be things you like (or at least might be interested enough in to check out). With this said, sometimes, highly targeted ads (based on demographics, interests, etc.) might be more successful depending on the organization’s particular offering.

Sponsored Stories are great from a marketing perspective as they often appear in a user’s news feed, and are incredibly subtle. Sponsored stories a user might see in their news feed include:

  • When a page the user likes post something new
  • When a friend like something (such as a Facebook page)
  • When a friend checks-in somewhere
  • When a friend uses and app or plays a game

A few examples:

Like Sponsored Story, News Feed:



Like Sponsored Story, Right Hand Column:


Sponsored Story

Related Posts:

These leverage sponsored stories like the ones above to include a Promoted Post (described below).


Promoted Posts:

This is one of the least intrusive ways to have people see anything you share on your page and is available directly from the sharing interface to all pages with more than 400 Likes. You can choose the dollar amount you want to spend, starting at $5, to increase the reach of any shared item on your page. These ads appear in the News feed of users, as opposed to the right-hand column, and are thus incredibly unobtrusive from a user-experience standpoint and are often missed as being a paid story (we’ve only done small tests with users, but in almost every instance when we asked them to pick out the advertisement, those that appeared in the news feed were overlooked). With social media marketing, and advertising generally, it’s the subtlety that matters, and these posts are definitely subtle. Another great thing about these ads, are the ability to be seen by mobile site users (which continues to grow daily) since they do appear in the news feed.


Suggested Posts:

These are ads similar to Promoted Posts or Sponsored Stories, that show up in a user’s news feed if she has personally liked the Page, or if her friend has liked the Page; however, the major difference is that these ads are by brands that have no connection to the user targeted. These are a bit more conspicuous to users, as the “Suggested Post” tag appears next to the brand’s name at the top of the post, but are still mixed in with organic results and were also often missed in our user tests. Suggested Posts are the first non-social story to appear in a user’s news feed.


This is definitely not an exhaustive list of Facebook Ad Options (especially when you move to the API or FBX), and we suggest taking a deeper look to see what works for your specific needs. Facebook is consistently testing inventive and benign ways to get users to share invaluable information with them to then sell to marketers. For example, one of my new favorite features is the “Rate these places” feature. I can see this being used in the near future to provide local businesses a relatively low cost solution to create VERY highly targeted campaigns, above and beyond those of the existing targeting options (which is saying a lot). Let’s say you’re a local craft beer brewery; it might be in your best interest, with your small advertising budget, to target only those users most likely to convert. Instead of just targeting people that like ‘craft beer’ or your particular craft beer in the New Haven area, you might be able to target those that have ‘close friends’ that have rated your particular beer at a 3 or above… I’m sure you can imagine a variety of ways this information might be utilized to continually improve the ad experience for marketers and users alike (as long as users don’t get too concerned about their privacy within the network anytime soon).

Needless to say, it’s clear that Facebook (and social media marketing generally) will continue to innovate and come up with new ways to appease users and investors alike… we’ll keep you updated as these innovations come along.

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