The science and art of Facebook advertising: How to get it right

I’ve read a few articles lately (New York Times, Financial Review, NPR) about the misplacement of brand ads on Facebook and other social networks that have me thinking. While Facebook worked quickly to resolve the issues and get the advertisers back up on the platform, I feel that the whole issue could have been prevented altogether though better practices of Facebook campaigns.

The real power that Facebook puts in the hands of advertisers is the ability to target to a specific audience more accurately than any other mass media, both digital and offline. To quote the amazing Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  This is what advertisers need to recognize. The responsibility of targeting falls on their shoulders. Running a quality Facebook campaign is a mix of targeting science and the art of connecting audiences with messages that speak to them.

Gone are the days when a brand can create a single narrative and hope that it hits home with their target audience. We live in a “me generation,” where we expect customized content.  Nissan, one of the brands to temporarily pull their ads from Facebook, should have focused more at connecting with potential customers rather than spreading blanket ads across the Facebook network and wishing for the best.

Sticking with the Nissan example, here are some tactics that they could have used to better reach the right customers with the right messages.

  1. Sponsored Stories – Sponsored stories are an ad type on Facebook which turn word-of-mouth referrals into an ad that can be amplified across the referrer’s social network. We all know that buying a car is no simple decision and that we highly value the recommendations of our friends when making complex decisions like this. Sponsored stories are a great way to get included at the discovery stage of the purchase decision.
  2. Lookalike Audiences – Lookalike Audiences are a simple but effective way to leverage data from past campaigns. Lookalike audiences find new targeting audiences on Facebook based similarities and correlations to an audience that the advertiser defines. Nissan could have easily looked at their past campaigns to find successful targets and leveraged that data to find new customers on Facebook. They could even have used the same or similar messaging in the creatives as the new audience would be very closely related to the successful existing one. Internal data from Adotomi show us that Lookalike audiences on average have a CPA 52% less expensive than traditional targeting methods.
  3. A/B Testing – The famous Wanamaker quote, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half,” is no longer relevant on Facebook. Precise tracking and reporting lets us see every action and click that a customer makes on an ad. However, in order to discover the best possible messaging, advertisers need to A/B test. By using multiple images, landing pages, and creative messages, advertisers will know which connect best with which audiences. Data on Facebook can be collected in real-time, so it’s crucial to define A/B from the get-go.
  4. Focus on the News Feed – The problematic ads that started the issue were ads that appeared on the right-hand of Facebook and were showing up on pages with controversial messages. The prime ad real estate in Facebook is in the News Feed. The Facebook News Feed delivers great ad formats both for PC and mobile. For mobile especially, we see average clickthrough rate at Adotomi that are north of 5 percent, which is 8-10x higher than PC. Brands should be focusing on the newsfeed both because of the richer ad formats but also because of the higher response rates.

One of the biggest challenges that I hear from brand advertisers is the immense challenge in finding talented people. While Facebook Ads have been around since 2009, the rapidly evolving marketplace forces social media specialists to continually learn and adapt to new offerings from Facebook. A social advertising specialist needs to maintain skills that don’t translate into other media very well. Looking at paid search, we see that over the last 5 years there has not been much of a change when it comes to the core skills needed to run effective campaigns. This consistency had created a solid talent pool for search marketing. But Facebook, on the other hand, would not be recognizable to most marketers if they had to go back to 2009. Very few companies or marketers can say that they have focused solely on Facebook advertising for the last 5 years.

One of the smartest decisions Facebook has implemented was after the opening of their Ads API (Application Programming Interface), the creation of the Preferred Marketing Developers (PMD) program. The PMD program has created a vibrant ecosystem of companies that focus solely on Facebook Ads which helps bridge the talent and technology gap that most advertisers face.  Advertisers and brands can look to these PMD specialists who know how to walk the fine line between science and art to deliver targeted, effective messages on Facebook. The talent and technology to run quality Facebook campaigns is available to advertisers; they just need how to tap in.

Joe McCormack has more than a decade of digital marketing experience and currently serves as the CEO of Adotomi, a Facebook PMD. Joe sits on the board of directors at multiple technology companies and is a long-time expert on the advertising technology industry. Adotomi is a Social Advertising Technology company which works with some of the biggest brands, developers and agencies in the world including SodaStream, OMD, Konami, Playtika, and Wix.