Making ads more relevant on Facebook


The Wall recently published this article by me about how advertisers can be more relevant on Facebook. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below. 

facebook conf

For the Mark Zuckerburgs of this world, there has always been an uncomfortable friction between connecting the world and getting paid to do it.

In order to exploit the vast amount of data they own, platforms turn to marketers, offering them the opportunity to engage with their customers in ever-more meaningful ways. Ad revenue is invariably the means for social networks to justify the billion dollar valuations placed on them by investors.

While ad revenue gives short-term value to a social network, in an ever-competitive market, stock prices are increasingly dependent on active user figures. For a social network to prosper, audiences need to remain genuinely engaged with content on the platform – particularly content from brands, who are providing the revenue.

For this to happen, advertising needs to be made relevant to consumers. Everything a brand promotes needs to combine engaging content with a media strategy that is tailored to serve its purpose. When content and media are planned and executed in unison, brands, platforms and users can all be happy.

The efforts that social networks go to in order to make advertising on their platform attractive to consumers are there for all to see. The early moves into the advertising arena from Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat are heavily focused on quality over quantity. They are going to great lengths to enforce high quality content through strict control measures. For example, it’s been rumoured that Instagram’s initial process involved passing all promoted content under the nose of the Kevin Systrom, its CEO and founder before it went live.

A Catch-22 situation arises when successful platforms scale-up their offering; this inevitably means self-serve advertising and lack of control on content and targeting, resulting in more revenue – but also in potentially losing the patience of an audience served bad or irrelevant ads.

Because of this, companies like Facebook have strict rules as to what can and can’t be promoted, and how many ads people see. Constant algorithm tweaks mean that the best content is given an advantage when being served to people, gaining higher reach, efficiency and engagement.

Ad relevance score 
Of course, it’s in Facebook’s best interests to see the most effective advertising possible on the platform. Relevant ads will keep its users happy as well as its advertisers, who’ll see better results. As such, the platform has recently taken steps to boost advertiser relevance by introducing a quantifiable measure. Its new Ad Relevance Score will give brands and agencies a deeper understanding of how promoted content is resonating. Similar to the way that Google’s ‘Quality Score’ works, each ad will receive a score out of 10 (the higher it is, the better it’s judged to be), based on the positive and negative engagement and feedback associated with it.

relevance score

Not only will it aid understanding, but it will help advertisers drive down the cost of reaching people. Because Facebook’s ad delivery system is designed “to show the right content to the right people” a high relevance score is taken into account and interpreted positively by Facebook’s algorithm. Facebook does, however, caveat that the ‘bidding’ process (i.e. how much the advertiser is willing to pay for inventory) will still come into play – there’s no guarantee that an ad with a high relevance score and a low bid will beat one with a higher bid, and lower score. But it put those with lower bids and higher quality content in a better position to compete for eyeballs than they would have been in previously.

But cost effectiveness and reaching a wider audience isn’t the only advantage. Relevance scoring will also allow for easier optimisation. Because the score is updated as people interact and provide feedback on the ad, if an ad’s relevance score falls, that may suggest to the advertiser that it’s time to refresh the creative in order to improve efficiency.

Facebook is keen to emphasise that the new relevance score is not a success metric in itself, but a tool we can use to optimize messaging and creative to the relevant audience.  We aren’t shifting our perceptions of success with this tool specifically, but deepening our understanding of how content resonates with the online audience.

How can brands ensure relevance? 
The answer boils down to creative and paid media working with each other and for each other.

The new set of relevance metrics make it ever more important to have a robust test-and-learn methodology, which is thoroughly planned out by creative, editorial and media teams. For us, this means A/B tests on the post level, as well as an on-going testing strategy over the month or quarter, with media results being fed back into our creative and editorial teams on a regular basis. Continuous observation and refinement is made easier when the creative, editorial and media teams are under the same roof, working collaboratively and closely.

This allows us to get very specific about what works and what doesn’t for each client. Speaking very broadly, we’ve noticed that successful ads possess some key traits. They look native to their respective platform; they feel at home with the surrounding content in people’s feeds they are engaging to their audience. This is all down to the creative being carefully considered and the targeting being tailored to the content, purpose and audience.

Measuring success
Marketers should be shifting attention away from simple measures of reach, frequency and engagement to gain a more meaningful understanding of their work. The focus should be on measuring things that are relevant to the CFO, such as brand-uplift or sales.

It’s now fairly standard for us to run brand-effect studies for larger campaigns, which measure brand perception amongst an audience who were exposed to ads vs. those who weren’t. This is similar to the measures of success used in traditional media like TV, with platforms now fully set-up to cater for those TV budgets. With some platforms and audiences, it’s also possible to  measure offline sales from those who have been exposed to social ads.

These are significant advancements in how we look at the effectiveness of social ads. Brands need move away from scrutinising the traditional success measures of reach and frequency, and make use these new methods that directly relate to a brand’s bottom-line, so that social media’s return on investment can be properly proven.

As we know, the harsh reduction in brand’s organic reach last year means that it’s now more important than ever to pay to reach people on Facebook. In reality, advertisers who succeed on the platform will be the ones who fully embrace these new measures of success and continuously strive to better them.