Facebook ads are key for publishers but for how long?

Between them, Facebook and Google account for over half the UK's digital revenue spend. To the uninitiated this might seem somewhat of a surprise.  There can't be anyone who isn't aware of the large-scale dominance of these giants across the digital sphere, but many still view Facebook as a user driven networking platform, synonymous with family pictures, quick personal updates and funny videos of cats.

That's probably testimony to how well Facebook has blended commercial content into its offer. And also reflects how advertisers have worked out how to make promotions work in the environment. In fact there are a lot more commercials on it than it might seem.

Facebook adverts offer publishers and authors three golden tenets of any promotional channel. Reach that is cost effective to an engaged and targeted audience. Promotions can appear merged with factual content on the ‘news feed’ of an individual in a very personalised way, which is one to the very special features.

The rise of the medium is linked to near ubiquity of the smartphone, which has allowed social media, a phenomenon virtually no one can be unaware of, to be ever available to audiences on hand 24/7.

How it works

Facebook works by not only allowing others to share their own content and interact (yes those cute pictures of a young niece or nephew or of a summer holiday) but by using the gathered preferences of the user, job, age, interests, as well as using algorithms to see increasingly relevant content based on what he or she does along the way. A simple example would be a person who joins and after a few weeks has liked three articles from the Guardian as it is their favourite newspaper. Subsequently they will receive more Guardian articles to suit their taste.

It is easy to see how the publishing giants are benefiting, they have well established audiences and can get the 'air time' on Facebook which then drives browsers to their site. What about smaller, more niche authors? Well there is good news here too, because it is still relatively cheap to get your message across.

Is it for you?

The key thing here, as ever, is audience. Yes Facebook is likely to help you if you are trying to reach a large swathe of people but let's eliminate what it isn't first.

Primarily of course social media is entertainment and information. It's not a professional network.
It is really not advisable to post dense, in depth business to business content. That is for your site or LinkedIn.

But for authors looking to get a message across it can still be done in a different way.

Secondly, a recent trend that is likely to continue is the migration away from the brand by young people. If your message is educational, vocational, etc aimed at the 25 and under age profile, this isn't the place that will work best. That would be Instagram and messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

Facebook's most regular users who engage the most are the 30-60 year-olds.

Features and Targeting

Now you've worked out that it is for you, you can take advantage of the features it offers. The types of promotion you could do are numerous – perhaps the most common are:

- Served adverts on timelines – photo or video.
- Organic posts that are then ‘boosted' posts.
- Marketplace (Facebook Carousel).

You can read some best practice tips about them here.

Explaining the where's and whyfores of the mechanics is another piece entirely.

The focus here is on why Facebook is so useful. Let's go back to reach and targeting. With very precise user demographics, publishers can narrow down the massive audience really precisely.
There are hundreds of choices of 'filters' to use for targeting but here are just a few:

- Profession.
- Interests (information based on browsing history in Facebook).
- Hobbies (A range here like walking, charitable causes, animals, sports etc).
- Education.
- Country of origin - for international titles.

Facebook offers a relatively new feature: ‘match my audience’. If you have an email list of your best customers you can upload it to the platform and it will look at its database and 'find' new to you Facebook users whom it think match that profile. Sounds too good to be true? Well it is very effective.

Cost vs Result

What results you get depend on a massive number of variables of course, but typically with around £200-£250 you could run a Facebook ad to an audience of, say, teachers in Greater London for around a month. With that you would hope to get many hundreds of clicks.

Compared to traditional media, there are very few reputable print trade magazines in the country that would allow you to have a half page in a monthly edition for less than double that.

Even when one starts to look at other digital options, it is very hard to match that. Other mediums either lack reach (Pinterest), advertising options (Twitter) or responsiveness (LinkedIn, certainly in terms of banner ads at least).

Google AdWords and Ad Network are heavily promoted by the tech giant as aids to small businesses and it is certainly true that any self-respecting small business selling information online should have accounts for these. Google advertising ranks second in overall digital spend worldwide. However here you are ‘bidding’ for words or banners on Google network sites, so you are not working on the basis of users as people, but as search traffic.

In commercial fields, for example, ‘legal advice for divorce’, it is not uncommon for business to have to bid well over $5 per click to appear on the top of Google ads to encourage visits to the  website. From experience, that ends up being a way less controllable investment – as of course you don’t know how many clicks you are going to get – and just more expensive for a variable quality audience.

Of course there are many other ways of promoting books or websites, but for now Facebook appears to be the lead digital option, considering the audience factors above.

Facebook and the future

The future may hold challenges. Facebook is very often changing the algorithm, meaning it is getting harder to predict who will see what advert in the future.

Additionally young people may turn away from it, favouring more instant messaging services, such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, it remains to be seen whether they will move across to Facebook in the future.

But that in itself sums up the new trend in online adverting that all advertisers, large and small, should be aware of. The growth of the use of graphical and multimedia adverts is spreading like wildfire. Much of the cutting edge practice is already taking place in the rapidly moving Asian social media market. Facebook's South East Asia client partner, Rahul Gupta, has declared picture based, targeted and personalised messaging to be the way ahead for the advertising world;

‘In future, advertising will all be visual,’ said Gupta. ‘We won’t rely on long copy anymore because the human brain only takes 13 milliseconds to recognise an image and it processes images 60,000 times faster than words.’

We should expect Facebook to rise to this challenge – remember it’s a visual platform itself – there are already major restrictions on how much text you can put in your advert. But it seems that, with a stream of new services being launched and developed, such as the relatively recent eBay style ‘Carousel’ marketplace and innovations like a voice recognition service, there will be new avenues that advertisers will want to explore.

With 61% of online marketers in a major survey saying that the social media world would continue to be dominated by Facebook, voting it the most likely channel to increase its revenues, publishers would in fact be advised to get on board now, as we should expect costs to rise, the first thing that happens to any marketing source that delivers results.

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