This question might seem a bit odd at first. An ad is an ad, right? Well, the way Facebook’s ad offering is structured, the border between paid, owned and earned media becomes a bit blurred.
Last week we published a blog post discussing Facebook ads from a high level perspective. The main point being that an ad on Facebook is one of two things: it’s an Ad or a Sponsored story.
That’s a categorization of ad formats and is hopefully helpful when thinking about how to pick the right ad types before the launch of a campaign.
But what if we take another step back and think about what a Facebook ad is from a more conceptual point of view?
Marketing in context
Advertising on Facebook is changing. Or maybe Facebook is changing advertising.
Either way, from a high-level perspective, advertising on Facebook is moving quickly towards what can be called contextual format and delivery. This is the way search advertising on Google works: ads look like the organic content, and are delivered in context.
Or put simply: the sponsored links, just like the organic search results, are answers to search queries.
In the world of Facebook this is equivalent to ads being delivered in the News feed in the same format as organic content. An organic page post from a brand can be turned into a page post ad, and an organic story about a brand can be turned into a sponsored story.
The format and content of an organic post or story is not changed by sponsoring it. The only thing affected is the distribution.
So why is contextual format and delivery important? It means that the marketing message is delivered exactly where the audience’s attention is, and in the format they’re geared towards consuming at that point in time.
This changes how advertisers (or rather, marketers) must think about Facebook as a marketing channel. With their message in the same feed as the organic Facebook content, the content the marketer puts out there must provide value equal to the organic content. Otherwise it will be perceived as spam.
This is a huge challenge for many companies, since it’s quite hard to compete with posts from people’s friends in terms of relevancy and their innate ability to intrigue. I don’t think there are any shortcuts though. As more and more brands become publishers of sorts it comes down to figuring out what kind of content resonates with the target audience.
Of course, sponsored stories are posts from people’s friends and thereby come with a degree of relevancy by default. But how are they created in the first place? Via content from the brand.
Facebook ads are sponsored content
What is a Facebook ad then? As far as advertising in the News feed goes, a Facebook ad is sponsored content. It can be content created by brands (ads), or content created through the interaction of a person and a brand (sponsored stories).
This change will take some time for both people and brands to get used to, but I really believe it’s for the better. Brands are punished for distributing bad content, and the only sustainable strategy will be to create and share with the preferences of the audience in mind. As the saying goes:
People don’t hate advertising. They hate bad advertising.
So as a marketer, ask yourself:
How can I create content that’s valuable for my audience?
How do I ensure to deliver that value to them?
By nailing that process on Facebook, higher business values will follow.