Facebook Holds Ads Up to the Light for Greater Transparency

Nov 06, 2017

Article ImageRecently, Facebook announced they will eliminate "dark posts" (a post that has been published for advertising use that is seen by select members of the public) in an effort to offer greater transparency in its advertising offerings, largely in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As this is a global initiative (many countries have encountered similar election meddling), rollout begins in Canada in mid-November as part of the Facebook Canadian Election Integrity Initiative, before implementation in America in the summer of 2018 (ahead of mid-term elections). While all political advertisers will be required to disclose their identities for their ads to run, this change impacts all advertisers, politically-focused or not.

First, Facebook users will be able to click on the brand profile name on any ad, taking them directly to the advertiser’s page and they will now see a tab showing all the ads active in campaigns at that moment in time. This way, Facebook users will have a clear understanding of the ads being run, as well as a better understanding of that brand’s goals for their current ads.

The first question for many advertisers is, “Will this change affect our advertising strategy on Facebook?” For some it may have a significant impact, but not for the vast majority. It will likely be nothing more than an adaptation to a new set of rules, many of which have been previously dealt with in other channels.

Facebook Catching Up to Other Tech Platforms

Facebook has grown immensely popular among advertisers, delivering high engagement rates through precise targeting and a host of ad types that appeal to consumers, rather than disrupt their native experience. But because Facebook is both an advertising platform and a social network, it functions a little differently than other ad platforms--like search engines, for example, which are steeped in user intent by the nature of searches. Due to its original purpose of connecting individuals, Facebook had to take a different path to advertising integration, creating an open platform where anyone could place ads with a low barrier to entry; therefore, transparency wasn’t built into the functionality of the ad platform from the beginning. While the election meddling fast-tracked its efforts, Facebook was making efforts to increase transparency long before this to make sure that they buttoned up their ad offerings.

Concerns for Advertisers

As with any significant change to a successful and popular platform, some advertisers are concerned about the potential impact. In this instance, the big concern is that this change opens advertisers’ creative and digital strategies up to be viewed by competitors, other brands and agencies, offering a full view of their social strategy – while it happens. Depending on how tailored an advertiser’s messaging and strategy are, a new level of insight will be available for anyone in the world to access quickly and easily. Anyone, including competitors, could know how often advertisers update their messages, what the promotions calendar looked like in the past, and a cluster of other information. In other words, a major ingredient in any advertiser’s “secret sauce” will be revealed.

Benefits for Advertisers

First and foremost, it is important to note that users viewing an advertiser’s ads will only see what has already been published, not what will be published in the future. Nor will advertisers’ performance data (clicks, click-through rate, costs) or targeting parameters be available for public consumption, meaning the other ingredients of their “secret sauce” remain a secret.

Of course, for those advertisers seeking insights into their competition’s approach, this new transparency offers them the ability to collect and make sense of the new competitive intelligence available to them. But again, to gain the performance and targeting data of their competitors, advertisers would need to invest in a competitive intelligence platform (which many advertisers already do).

While these changes from Facebook may be viewed by many as a detriment to advertisers, the reality is, it’s simply another change in the evolution of the social “world.” Since it impacts all advertisers (from big brands to small) equally, it’s a rather level playing field.

One thing this change should make apparent for all Facebook advertisers is the need to be cognizant of the fine details when setting up ad campaigns. For example, most advertisers use tagging systems in the URL they tie to their ads, so that they can track interactions for retargeting and attribution. With all published ads now available for public scrutiny, they’ll want to keep a close eye on what info they include in their URLs. Advertisers shouldn’t pass along any more information than necessary, so be sure to remove any targeting or bidding information in the published URL.

Transparency Serves the Greater Good

Because Facebook is an ad platform and also a social network, it has to provide value to users as well as advertisers. Its new emphasis on transparency ensures ads are credible, thereby adding credibility to the platform. If Facebook were to enable advertisers to continue misleading users and pushing ulterior motives, users would likely leave the platform in droves.

For credible advertisers with well-known brands, as long as the ads they publish are of high quality there shouldn’t be much of a difference in performance following the changes. For smaller advertisers who may not be as well known, they’ll need to be very scrupulous about the ads they publish as their ads will now be available for public scrutiny. If a user encounters an ad for a seemingly random or one-off product, they’ll simply be able click on the brand page to get more info, see the full suite of ads and gain a better understanding of who is targeting them and why.

Ultimately, while there may be an adjustment period for advertisers, this new level of transparency serves the greater good.

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