Should your business avoid Facebook’s new interactive ads?

Imagine seeing your Facebook friend’s face and name endorsing a brand such as Wal-Mart or Visa and a “like” button inviting you to do the same.

Two new Facebook ad features rolled out by the social networking site in Canada recently do just that and potentially turn your Facebook friend’s social net activity into an ad.

Facebook’s Comment Ad feature launched last month enables advertisers to “spark” conversations with consumers through a comment box in the ad. If viewers of the ad leave a comment, it can appear as a box labeled Sponsored Story on the right hand column of user’s Facebook page. Sponsored Stories was launched by Facebook back in January. The social site says the combination will drive additional views and clicks of a brand’s content at no additional cost.

A Canadian social media marketing specialist, however, cautions small and medium sized business against jumping on the bandwagon too quickly. “We don’t think these features will be ideal for every business on Facebook,” said Dev Basu, a search engine optimization specialist, and president of the Toronto-based social media marketing firm Powered by Search.

“The features will likely do well for larger more established brands rather than small and relatively unknown businesses,” he said.

An earlier launch of the products last month in the United States with the clients of the creative agency Leo Burnett Worldwide, as well as a pre-launch test by Facebook is producing encouraging results.

“Sponsored Stories led to increased ad recall, engagement and likeliness to be recommended,” according to Jim Squires, manager, product marketing, monetization marketing department at Facebook.

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TBG Digital Inc., A global marketing firm specializing in Facebook ads also said its research into Sponsored Stories shows that the feature garnered 46 per cent higher click through rate, 20 per cent lower cost per click and 18 per cent lower cost per fan than Facebook’s standard ads.

Simon Mansell, CEO, TBG Digital said his company saw “dramatic performance improvements” in Sponsored Stories.“Clearly, seeing your friend’s profile or picture next to an ad has a benefit for brands,” said Simon Mansell, CEO, TBG Digital, in an interview with New Media Age.

Michael Wartner of Webtrends Blog reported that while other Facebook ads are “lucky” to achieve a 0.50 per cent CTR, Sponsored Stories get 0.400 per cent and cost 18 cents per fan.

How it works

Comment Ad and Sponsored Stories are social ads that rely on the viral nature of user updates being posted on the social site said Squires or Facebook.

“The features were the result of a Facebook Ads program last year where we asked 10 top creative agencies to come up with ideas for an ad system for our site,” said Squires. He said Facebook users should “be on the lookout” for other features rolling out soon.

With Sponsored Stories, which was launched in January, brands can post a conversation starter to their page that also appears as an ad. “This way the prompt is seen by the brand’s fans and other Facebook users,” said Squires. “People start responding to the conversation starter, those responses to the brand’s prompt become News Feed stories and Sponsored Stories that appear on the right-hand column of a Facebook user’s page.”

When the user, responds to the Sponsored Story the actions creates another update and drives more brand engagement, said Squires.

Comment Ad, which was launched last month builds on this further he said. “The feature enables advertisers themselves to start the conversation with an ad featuring text designed to elicit a response from viewers.”

Comment Ads, said Squires, uses a Facebook Page’s post to generate a display ad that poses a question under that ad’s content. The question or prompt invites viewers to give their own opinion or take part in a conversation.

“If a viewer writes a comment, it becomes visible to their friends as a Sponsored Story and as a news feed story. News feeds get earned views and clicks for the brand’s content without additional cost to the advertiser,” Squires explained.

The viewer’s response can be ported by the advertiser as a Sponsored Story to drive additional exposure and conversation around the brand, said Squires.

Sponsored Stories and Comment Ads are run and paid for like other Facebook ad units in that they use the site’s ad targeting system where advertiser picks a demographic, location, age, group affiliation or likes and interest and pay a price per click. But rather than just a company logo, advertisers have greater control over the ad content, said Squires.

Not for everyone

Basu of Powered by Search said his company is trying out Sponsored Story feature for well-known Canadian real estate firm Remax Canada Inc.

He said Powered by Search is still primarily using traditional display ads on the real estate company’s Facebook page and the “display ads are still doing quiet well.”

“I can see how Comment Ads and Sponsored Stories can generate more views and engagement for some brands at a lower cost but it is not for every business,” he said.

Basu thinks the two Facebook features work best for bigger or well established brands because the larger pool of people familiar with its product or service will likely result more people commenting on each others opinion.

He said a global brand such as Coca Cola or Toyota Motors for example can draw on a huge number of customers and fan base to potentially generate a huge social media buzz.

“If you’re a company with a small number customers the odds are slim that many of those people would be on Facebook. Even if many of your customers are on Facebook, chances are the numbers would still result in limited brand engagement,” Basu said.

For this reason, he also believes that Comment Ads and Sponsored Stories would not work on short term marketing campaigns for smaller relatively unknown firms their would even be less opportunity to generate brand engagement.

Basu also said the new Facebook features lend themselves to products that allow their users to express brand loyalty or to tie their use of their consumption of the product with fun or note worthy activities.

For example a purchase of a new car or a recent vacation trip on one might lend itself to Comment Ads and Sponsored Stories. The momentous occasion of a home purchase or the process or count down leading to the acquisition might also make for an interesting post.

It would even be better if the consumer can make comments daily such as when they pop open a can of Coke. “Unfortunately daily comments might not reflect well on a consumer if the product were an alcoholic drink,” said Basu.

Businesses thinking of dipping their toes into Comment Ads and Sponsored Stories should keep the following in mind according to Basu:

  • Use eye catching logo or images and attention grabbing comments or conversation starters
  • Make full use of Facebook’s demographic targeting tools. Make sure you are aiming your ad at a very closely targeted group
  • Don’t stick with one ad. Rotate your ads to find out which works best with your target group. But remember even good ads become stale and consumers can be very fickle.


Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, read his blogs on Blogs, email nestor at [email protected] and join the Facebook Page.

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