Sep 04, 2013

Facebook Ads Come From More Than Just Your Social Activity

If you’re on Facebook regularly, I’m sure you’ve noticed the sponsored stories in your newsfeed and the site display ads on the right hand side of your profile and newsfeed. For quite some time, I was under the assumption that those display ads were generated through the Facebook Ad Center and were targeted based on basic characteristics – age, gender, geographic location, interest, etc. Then, the other day, I noticed that two of the display ads appear alongside my feed directly correlated to recent searches I had made via Google. That made me think… “Is Facebook using some type of retargeting tool or display ad network to serve these ads? Are they no longer run through the Facebook Ad Center?” So, being the fact finder that I am, I decided to dig a little deeper.

Facebook ads - search retargeting

It does in-fact appear that Facebook is currently connected to no less than four retargeting or display ad networks including
Sociomantic, Criteo, Appnexus and AdRoll (these were the ones displaying ads in my feed). Of those, I’ve only heard of one – AdRoll. However, I am not what you would consider a display ad connoisseur, so once again I wanted to know more. It seems that there is complete list of advertising providers on the Facebook platform (interestingly, two the of those listed above are not included in this list). Additionally, it appears in November 2012, reports began to surface that Facebook was intending to build an external ad network. This network would allow Facebook to serve adds outside of the social media platform. While this is not directly related to the search retargeting ads being served within the social platform, it did peak my interest in terms of the amount of display ad business Facebook seems to be pursuing.

In continuing my pursuit to find the answer to my original question, “Is Facebook using some type of retargeting tool or display ad network to serve these ads?” I ran across an article pointing to the Facebook Exchange. Upon further discovery, I realized that this is merely another name for what many social media marketers call sponsored stories. Facebook Exchange was created so that rather than ads only appearing to the right of the newsfeed before, were now able to appear within the newsfeed...what we now know as sponsored stories.

While none of this information really provided me with the answer I was looking for, it did help me think more about how social media is changing. In the past, search retargeting was generally considered something display networks used to serve ads on sites like Yahoo!, CNN, ABC, NBC and the list goes on based on a users search via Google or another search engine. However, it appears that those same search retargeting methods are being integrated into Facebook. How? I’m not 100% sure, but based on how search retargeting works in general, my best guess would be that if you are logged into Facebook when you search, it is likely that Facebook is tracking your searching habits and serving you ads which directly relate to those searchers. As a digital marketer, these revelations and changes force me to think of Facebook as more than just a social media network used to connect brands to consumers. And with that, allows me to provide clients with additional potential opportunities to reach consumers through a variety of ways of advertising through Facebook. This increases our agency’s possibilities in combining display advertising campaigns with social media marketing campaigns.

Facebook display ads - traditional vs. retargetedSo…how do I tell the difference between a Facebook Ad Center ad and a display network ad. When you click the “x” in the upper right hand corner of the ad, there is an option – About This Ad. If there is a blue triangle, it means the ad is being served via an ad network and not through the Facebook Ad Center, at least how we have come to know it. There is also generally not a “Like Page” link on the ad. Those ads with “Like Page” are the more common Facebook ads we are used to seeing.