Facebook's New, Entirely Social Ads Will Recreate Marketing

Leaked documents show Facebook making a radical departure from traditional online display advertising into a world where ads are conversations and brands automatically tell you which of your friends are already on their side.

Facebook appears ready to launch a new set of premium ad units, and, based on a review of documents which purport to describe them, the social network would seem to be doubling down on two core principles that mark fundamental departures from traditional advertising.

First, Facebook is making the new ads social by default, meaning they will automatically show users when their friends have already Liked the advertiser. And the new formats will draw their content exclusively from posts to brands' Facebook Pages, rather from advertising copy written independently.

Combined, these features make two statements about where Facebook believes the future of online advertising lies—at least in its particular universe. It is saying that ads based on content, rather than messaging, have a better chance of hitting home, and that ads involving tacit endorsements from the people you know have a better chance of capturing your attention.

"When people hear about you from friends, they listen," the Facebook materials say. "We'll expand your ad with stories from friends who have already connected." ("Stories" is Facebook's shorthand for a wide varitey of interactions on the site. In the case of ads, it seems to refer to the fact that the ads will display which of a viewer's friends have Liked the brand.)

Facebook has not commented publicly on the new ads (presumably they will discuss them at a marketing launch event in New York next week). But the materials describing the new units were posted to Scribd earlier this week. The news was first reported on GigaOm. The documents are below.

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In the documents, Facebook says it is scrapping most of the display ad units it has offered until now, replacing them with the new formats. The previous ad units incorporated some of the social and interactive elements, but the new ones are implementing those features in a more comprehensive way.

Each of the new units will include Like buttons and places for viewers to comment on the ads. When viewers click the Like button or enter a comment, those activities will be posted to the user's  friends' News Feeds. They will also be posted to the brand's Page. 

Similarly, each ad will include pictures of friends who have already Liked the brand. The Facebook documents say this will happen automatically, instead of as an add-on.

While Facebook had already been moving in these directions with its previous ad units, the decision to draw ad content from Page posts is the most significant new feature—and a potentially radical departure from conventional notions of advertising.

The ads don't simply repurpose content from brands' Pages. By giving users the ability to respond to the content inside the ad, just as if they had seen the content on the brand Page itself, and then by posting those responses to the user's friends' News Feeds, as well as on the brand's Page itself, the ads are acting less like traditional broadcast advertisements and more like viral mechanisms to expand and perpetuate the conversation off into the far corners of the social network, effectively giving the brand visibility in places it might not otherwise have reached and in a much more organic way than if it had simply plastered the site with a bunch of banner ads.

"Everything starts with great content from the Page," says one of the Facebook documents. "Paid, owned, and earned work seamlessly together."

Facebook believes that this ultimately will pay greater dividends for brands than conventional advertising. According to tests the company said it performed internally, the new ads produce 40 percent more engagement (usually meaning they get more Likes, comments, and clicks) and are 80 percent more likely to be remembered.

The company documents also claim the ads produce "signficant increases" in purchase intent, and it claims that viewers of an ad are four times more likely to purchase when they "see friends interact with a brand."

If the ads truly do deliver the results Facebook claims, that could mean the social network is slowly but surely finding the marketing holy grail of "word of mouth"—at scale. And if that's the case, it could have profound implications for the advertising industry as a whole.

The six new units are based on the type of content a brand would post to their Page. The Facebook documents label them as Status (a text comment), Photo, Video, Question (which replaces the old "Poll" ad format and which allows viewers to answer the question right in the ad), Event (ad viewers will similarly be able to sign up for the event right in the ad itself), and Link (which points viewers to content outside of Facebook).

The Facebook documents say that brands will continue to be able to target their ads as they do today, choosing to place their ads in front of any of Facebook's 845 million users who fit demographic and interest criteria selected by the advertiser.

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

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21 Comments

  • $4390829

    What i like to do is click the X on all ads and then choose some random choice like offensive or sexually explicit.  I randomly like what ever because most of those are private, i fill out my profile with random information because people that know me know that all of that info is bogus.

    If i see an ad for something i actually want, i will first Google the product and then open a new browser and go directly to the  mfg link or the site i can buy it from just so i can bypass the referral code.

  • Brown Smith

    Hope so that it will .In recent study it's been said that Facebook contains more than 70 % of adds only addressing youth .

  • products spa

    Actually I like Facebook, so maximum time I am something
    updating, sharing and chatting in Facebook, but I am feeling very unhappy too
    late for reading this post. Really I know that Facebook is a social media site
    and maximum time this is increasing their strategies.

  • church websites

    It is very true that you can build a brand easier through display (image) advertising on Facebook rather than on Google's Display Network. 

  • Hanna Mike

    Facebook is a much demanded social media website and
    maximum persons are using Facebook for increasing their business communication.
    I am also using this for my friend’s communication and sharing or updating
    something. So thanks for posting this great stuff and I will definitely visit
    again this website.

  • marian@simpatico.co.nz

    I'm with Amit on this.  The more often we get automated product recommendations from our friends on our Wall, the more likely it will be that we don't look at them anymore.  

  • Amit J

    A word of caution for facebook. Products and brands should not forget what they stand for and what made them click in the market. I use facebook to reach and communicate to my friends. I dont want a large portion of my home page covered with ads and recommendations about products that I am not actively thinking of buying or consuming. I am not keen on a sales pitch from advertizers disguised as a recommendations from friends. It would help to remember that viewers switch on to a different channel every time there is a commercial break on TV.

  • Amy Hall

    This is so interesting. It occurs to me like there are trying to emulate the Google/Google+/Search+ model. We'll see if people like it or if people perceive it as big brother watching over their shoulder.

  • Phil Adams

    The quality of the new formats is good. But the increasing quantity of ads is an annoyance for users. And increasingly forcing small and medium sized brands to pay for reach, whilst making it harder for them to earn it will lose Facebook friends in that area too. I think we're about to find out just how strong, or fragile, Facebook actually is.

  • mbrewer

    Just an opinion - I think recommendations from friends might be a bit overstated as it relates to trying/using new or even seasoned products. Chief reason being that even the smallest of nuances in our personalities would give cause for large variations in our experiences. I can think of several occasions that my friend(s) gave adverse recommendations to things I ended up loving and vice versa. 
    I'm not suggesting they have no level of influence but it's not the end all be all to brand/product trumpeting. 

    Love the post - great information. 

  • atimoshenko

    People listen to product recommendations from friends because friends do not often recommend products (so things they do choose to recommend must really be something special). Displaying everyone's Likes is neither special nor rare, and so will achieve little apart from discouraging people from Liking things.

  • raj mohan

    Very interesting, Agree friends can be the best influencers esp when it comes to dining, entertainment, books, music etc.

    But how much more will the advertising cost and how will one measure conversions?

  • Amarinder Singh

    I think Facebook is trying to incorporate Apple's iAd concept and "cogeneration" with this new idea. I agree with Kirsten Gronberg's comment, Facebook must allow its users to stay anonymous when liking or commenting on these ads. 

  • Brendon Chrus

    I am sure that the quality of advertising is going to get better and more thoughtful. If not, it opens up the possibility for #McStories types of backlash. 
    I am also curious to know what kind of edgerank adjustments will be made for brand posts that aren't being advertised.Interesting stuff that should benefit the end user.

  • Kirsten Gronberg

    This advertising update begs for two privacy updates: a disclaimer regarding how user data will be used in this context with an option to cancel a like, and an easy method for unliking brand pages. Users should be allowed to protect their identities from being leaked into advertisements on a like by like basis.

  • Sherry Nouraini

    Totally smart move.  In my experience with Facebook advertising, the click through rate is always substantially higher when I use my page posts.  The personalization is also a definite added benefit.  I like the direction that advertising is heading!

  • Jeffrey Cima

    I'm curious how this will handle critical viewer comments. Can I see if on top of my three friends who liked something, there were 7 who thought it wasn't worth it?  Or can I see it if someone writes a negative comment on the product page?  I assume the answer to both questions is no (there is no "dislike" button).  Seems like this will push FB and advertisers further to "encourage" us to like things by making the content more guided and annoying.  This may quickly get some folks to ignore every such request, and to discout ads based on this.  Just looking for some critical thought here...