The dust is still settling on the Facebook IPO and while it looks like the bankers will take the brunt of the blame, criticism from big advertisers seems to have moved the Facebook team into action. Who knows what is going on behind the scenes but it’s not a stretch to think that, yet again, Mark Zuckerberg is being bogged down with legal matters. It’s also safe to think that he must be getting sick of this crap. Shareholders must be wondering how attached is he to the company now – why doesn’t he just go on a honeymoon kayak cruise around the world?
You could also cynically think that this is all just part of a bigger plot to loosen Zuckerberg’s grip on the company so that current management can turn this into the targeted advertising vehicle that they know it can be. Recent signs indicate that this might be the case. First came a change to give posts from pages, including those managed by brands, equal footing in user’s news feeds. Then last week Facebook gave pages the ability to schedule posts to appear at a future date. Up until last week, companies had to rely on products like Hootsuite and Conversocial to schedule posts during working and non-working hours so they could ensure a constant stream of information was being published on their page. Some companies, like Conversocial, do much more than this but I’ll save it for another post. While Facebook insists this has not been the case, marketers have long acknowledged that the magical Facebook algorithm penalized posts scheduled with such tools meaning that many brands were not getting their messages in front of their fans.
All of this is going to change now and you can’t help but think that the Sheryl Sandberg-era has begun in earnest. Perhaps her appointment to the board is the final indication that she’s been able to make Facebook an advertiser first platform. Investors are right to move the company in this direction because whether or not it was Zuckerberg’s intention, Facebook is an incredible advertising platform, enabling highly targeted advertising at a reasonable cost.
I thought instead of writing about why I think it’s a great advertising platform, it might be better to point out its current faults and how it could vastly improve the ad-buying customer experience. I write this from the viewpoint of a brand that has used Facebook ads to find fans so not all of the following points apply if you are driving traffic from Facebook to your web page.
So here are ten ways in which Facebook can improve its advertising platform and drive more revenue.
1. Come clean with advertisers from the very start. All major brands have spent money on buying an audience on Facebook and they were promised that this legion of fans would share product messages with their personal networks but it has never really worked like that. Zuckerberg has always said it is about the user experience first and maybe senior management won’t get around to changing that mission statement anytime soon but they do need to be honest with brands in another way. Brands now know that their posts are not showing up in their fans’ news feeds. Facebook has taken recent steps to improve this but they should also come clean and tell advertisers that they should be prepared to spend on two waves of ads – one wave to acquire fans and another wave to advertise your content to your current fans so it shows up prominently in their news feed.
2. When you do choose to advertise your content to your fans, advertisers often fail to understand that what they post on their page may not be optimized for a Facebook ad. Your beautiful photo’s smart tagline will appear in miniscule print as an ad on Facebook. It’s also hard to go back and change the content of previous posts so that you can optimize them for ads. It’s possible but there’s a delay in the system making it a frustrating experience to actually optimize ad creation.
3. Facebook prevents advertisers from reaching too far back in their news feeds to draw out old content that may have resonated with fans. I see no reason why Facebook should limit the content that advertisers can share from their page to only the most recent stories.
4. The ad platform is super buggy – sometimes changes just don’t seem to register. I’ve had to refresh the page and log off and log back in to get the platform to work. Maybe this is an indication of activity on the platform or maybe they it is user experience first, advertisers later?
5. Two people can be sitting next to each other planning exactly the same advertising campaign yet they get vastly different prices – it’s not clear if this is a bug or if there is a built in, unstated discount for old customers.
6. Prices can change day to day. This is understandable as advertising is scheduled on demand. But it doesn’t make sense that a 17 cent click today suddenly becomes a 51 cent click tomorrow. As advertising can be bid on, advertisers are not obliged to bid this price and if they had paid 17 cents per click yesterday, they could probably bid the same price today and generate the same traffic levels. But these drastic changes must make it troublesome for marketing managers who have to ask for budgets to place ads and then who have to suddenly go back to marketing directors to ask for bigger budgets or lowered expectations. Or is this a cheap attempt to drive bigger spend?
7. The Facebook ad approval process is not very transparent. I doubt that a human being is actually looking at these ads so if my ad copy does not contain a list of banned keywords, why don’t my ads get posted immediately?
8. While Facebook has improved page analytics, advertising analytics are still poor. My biggest beef is that Facebook does not give advertisers a number showing exactly how many likes were generated by an ad. Advertisers can do their own calculations but why not just include this data in the first place?
9. Frequent advertisers will notice that things change on the platform with nary a notification. Facebook is getting hammered on this now with their @facebook email change but it strikes me as slightly devious when they don’t highlight changes to the advertising platform that could make a big difference to your campaign.
10. Sometimes notifications do appear at the top of the page informing advertisers that changes have been made with a link to the Facebook help section. But I find it annoying that these posts are undated. I never know if the change is new or if I am reading about a change that happened ages ago.