Facebook knows that its future lies in creating new and compelling ways for brands to advertise on its platform. That’s why in the past year it’s launched innovative new formats, like Sponsored Stories and "Ads with Friends."
But next week Facebook will launch a new kind of unit that’s innovative not just for its format, but for how it was conceived. That’s because Facebook didn’t come up with the idea itself—it crowdsourced it.
The new unit is called the "Comment" ad. It will appear in the right-hand column, like other ads. But it will be formatted like a conversation (or, as Facebook calls them, "a story"). The brand will make a statement or pose a question, and below that will be a comment box where the user can enter a response (see top right).
If the user does enter a response, the conversation then appears in the user’s News Feed, where the brand starts to reap "earned" impressions among that user’s friends. And if some of the user’s friends comment themselves, those comments can be turned into Sponsored Stories (see bottom right).
In other words, it’s the ad that keeps on giving.
The idea for the ad was the result of a competition Facebook held last year among creative agencies it works with regularly. The agencies regularly bring Facebook ideas for new ways for brands to promote themselves on the social network, Grady Burnett, Vice President of Global Sales and Operations, tells Fast Company. "So we decided to tap into that community to see if they could come up with something that would work for at least a slice of our advertisers," he says.
Ten agencies submitted about 100 ideas, which were whittled down to the best five and voted on by a panel. The winner was the "Comment" ad, submitted by Chicago agency Leo Burnett.
The new format launches June 28. Leo Burnett will have exclusive use of it for two months, and then Facebook will open it up to other premium advertisers.
The idea makes sense for Facebook, which doesn’t see itself as a conventional media site, where ads are one-way broadcast. Instead, Facebook sees its value as being able to create connections and relationships between consumers and brands. Conversations are one way to do that, and the "Comment" ad format is a way to jumpstart conversations.
Burnett, the Facebook VP, says the social network will soon run another such competition, even as its internal team continues to work on their own ideas. But he also says Facebook hasn’t decided yet whether to make this a regular thing. They’ll first have to see how well the new formats perform in the market.