Since being introduced in 2011, the format – which suggests pages a user might Like based on their friends' interactions with a sponsored page – have come under a lot of scrutiny.
It’s been a bumpy ride, from general user criticism to last year’s much-hyped lawsuit, following accusations that Facebook was misappropriating users’ likes and content without consent, resulting in Facebook having to fork out a $20 million settlement.
So, as part of a list of changes to its API ads, Facebook announced plans to scrap the controversial ad format. As the format was widely known to be a top performer, this might come as a shock to some marketers. However, this isn’t the end of ads with social context.
Facebook has also announced, that from April, the social context used in Sponsored Stories will become commonplace in all ad units on the platform. So while Sponsored Stories are disappearing, the social concept behind them will be present across the site.
Of course, that social endorsements will continue in the form of different ads doesn’t mean that the termination of Sponsored Stories won’t have a significant impact for brands.
Despite criticism, Sponsored Stories are generally regarded as one of the most effective Facebook formats. They are efficient to run and simple to set up; the only format currently that doesn’t require custom-made content.
This makes them a popular choice for both novice and experienced marketers alike. Without them, brands are going to need to think more carefully, and be more creative about the way their paid media campaigns are set up.
Getting rid of Sponsored Stories is part of Facebook’s on-going effort to streamline its ad opportunities. The majority of Facebook’s recent updates are geared towards simplifying ad units so that they are more readily understandable to Facebook’s wide variety of advertisers.
From this respect, removing the simplest format is somewhat surprising, though it is expected that other formats will now see more uplift from social context across the board.
While this means we’re going to see some new opportunities emerge for brands on Facebook, it also means brands will have to work that bit harder to get their ads noticed. As always, creativity is key.