Facebook has caused outrage, controversy and no little discussion about its gradual move towards brands paying for real estate on news feeds.
Given the average number of likes per UK and US Facebook user is heading north of 50, as research from Socialbakers last year showed, it’s a simple question of mathematics; if each brand is pushing regular content as they should, users aren’t going to see everything.
Naturally it’s even more pertinent on mobile. So what should brands do?
Declan Kennedy is the CEO of Facebook performance marketing tool provider StitcherAds. If you’ve not heard of that name then it might not be a huge surprise – the company was Betapond in a former life ending in May.
Having spent lots of close time in and around Facebook headquarters, as well as being named as an Ads Preferred Marketing Developer by the Menlo Park giant, Kennedy’s opinion is more informed than most. Hence why he describes the ‘pay to play’ phenomenon as “a story that’s two years old.”
“My view is Facebook has pivoted to mobile last year. As a result, news feed inventory is getting more and more scarce, therefore you need to pay to get into that news feed and brands shouldn’t just expect that for free,” Kennedy tells MarketingTech.
“It should be pay for play, but it shouldn’t be pay for play around fluffy objectives, it should be around hardcore objectives like on-site conversions.
“Facebook is not a social media company, it’s a direct marketing response platform in our world,” he adds. “Brands who don’t get that need to just get to speed a bit quicker.”
Search retargeting, whereby users see adverts based on topics they’ve already looked up, is starting to make a dent in the space. Kennedy contends that users don’t mind ads so long as they’re targeted properly.
“I think if the ad is relevant it doesn’t annoy the customer. If the ad isn’t relevant it does,” he says. “That’s our view. If you’re doing normal display prospecting and retargeting, and somebody views a can of soup on the Waitrose site, you get remarketed that can of soup even if you bought [it]. So you get annoyed because you’re being remarketed the product you already saw that you’ve just purchased.
“It is a worry,” Kennedy adds. “You can only put one ad into news feed a day, so a retailer has only one shot per day to influence a purchase. It’s not like a banner ad where an advertiser can pimp you ads on whatever site you end up on.”
This is where StitcherAds sees a gap in the market – taking search retargeting and putting it in a mobile context. As Kennedy puts it, he put two and two together: combining Facebook’s maturing mobile platform with innovative search retargeting functionality. StitcherAds “made a bet” that retargeting could be done across the device through being plugged into the Facebook Ads API, rather than through cookies.
Kennedy said his most recent encounter with Facebook was “really exciting” as it meant both sides were butting heads to solve a problem of strategic importance to the social network.
“Scaling out Facebook into [e-commerce] could generate a lot of revenue for Facebook,” he says. “This is also the problem we’re trying to solve. We’re trying to generate media spend, we’re trying to prove that Facebook works.
“If we’re right, that then accelerates Facebook’s position in the hardcore e-comm performance marketing market.”
Quip CEO and former Facebook executive Bret Taylor told MarketingTech that Facebook’s move towards mobile had been “awkward” during his stint as chief technical officer, which ended in 2012.
Yet Kennedy had nothing but praise. “Our developers were over there coding with their developers,” he adds. “From a company of that size they were acting like a small humble startup, and that just gave us a lot of confidence.”
As Facebook turns to StitcherAds for support, Kennedy argues brands should as well.
“They’re trying to walk a very fine line, and news feed inventory is a scarce resource, and therefore it’s in their interest to invest or support people like us who are really trying to micro-target these ads,” he explains.
“It’s expensive to put ads into the news feed, so you’ve got to be sure you’re putting the right ads in in the first place because otherwise you’re not going to get the return.”