With much fanfare, Facebook last week introduced a pretty darn revolutionary new advertising platform, which allows advertisers to tap into the much-coveted and rapidly expanding Facebook audience. In a nutshell, the new Facebook Ads system allows advertisers several methods to tap into the Facebook audience:
- Advertisers can now have company pages on Facebook. Coca-Cola can now have a Facebook presence, and I can be friends with Coca-Cola. Unless this is done in truly exciting viral ways, this is quite unexciting, though I suppose is designed more as an obvious complement to the other ad options (to keep interactions with advertisers within Facebook and not linking to eternal web sites).
- Demographic targeting. This is an extension of the Flyers Pro program Facebook has been quietly testing for a few months. Basically, from the audience of 20 or so million Facebook users 18 years old and up, you can — fantastically easily — target specific groups of people (with segmentation available by gender, age, education level, political leaning, relationship status, and hobbies or interests). For example, in just a few clicks I can place an ad that is shown to the 93,000 men on Facebook with a college education over 24 years old who specifically like music. This is by far the easiest and most straight-forward demographic targeting system I have ever seen.
- Social Ads. This is the one raising all sorts of privacy concerns, with some pundits claiming that these sorts of ads are flat-out illegal in some states. I won’t weight in on the legal aspect, but I imagine that Facebook will overcome this challenge, if only by updating their Terms and Conditions to some degree. Basically, what these ads do is connect the interactions and purchases that users have with businesses with their social network (the Facebook ‘mini-feed’ to the uninitiated). For example, if I go sign add a new movie to my Netflix Queue using the upcoming Netflix Facebook App, my friends will see an update that “Michael Mothner just added Superbad to his queue” along with a link to Netflix for my friends to sign up for the service as well. Basically the concept is that a friend’s recommendation is the most powerful form of advertising, and this would attach marketing potential to the core of Facebook. A very powerful concept!
We have been running tests with Facebook Flyers for the last month or so, very excited about the demographic targeting ability. What have we found so far? Bottom line: people don’t click the ads. This is a fundamental paradigm in what users seek when at certain places online. When I am at Google, I am seeking something out; information, products, services. So the highly targeted ads that Google serves up fulfill that need. When I am on Facebook, my goal is fundamentally different; I am seeking networking and communication with friends or colleagues. Since I am not in the mindset to seek and buy, even highly targeted ads by demographic are going to be a tough sell for me.
It is my belief that the success of the Facebook advertising platform is highly contingent on whether or not users start accepting the combination of social interaction and commercial interaction. We are not there yet. But as users start integrating these until-now disparate “goals” online, this platform represents a powerful and well-executed new advertising paradigm.
In introducing Facebook Ads, Mark Zuckerberg declared that “the next hundred years will be different for advertising, and it starts today.” Modest he is not, but Facebook has executed too well in too may areas for me to not be very, very intrigued.