Sheryl Sandburg, Facebook's chief operating officer, opened with inspiring stories: The couple who found a baby on Facebook after building a page highlighting all they could offer as parents, Facebook's role is supporting the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square, and the child whose life was saved when a friend recognized symptoms of its illness in a photo posted by its mother.
"So many people can have a voice at scale," Sandburg said, exhorting brands to do the same thing people do on Facebook: tell stories, have conversations. "You have an identity," said Sandberg, to the 900 household-name brands assembled in New York's massive and imposing Museum of Natural History. "Use it."
It's a very big museum, and it was very, very full of senior marketers and agency executives from brands like Nestlé, P&G, Walmart, American Express, Ford Motors, Random House, Tiffany's, American Apparel, and Subway. If someone had planted a bomb on Central Park West last week, it would have been the end of brand advertising as we know it.
And that was the point. Yes, Facebook made announcements (more on those in a moment). But the most important part of Facebook's fMC event, was the event itself. It was immense, splashy, over-the-top, and in a unique venue. A 900-marketer A-list was in attendance, all household-name brands. Facebook had never before hosted a major event for advertisers and marketers, nor exerted a presence in New York, the center of advertising and media, not technology.
With fMC, Facebook was on a mission to drive a stake in the ground on Madison Avenue. In that, they succeeded.
Stories to ads; ads to stories
Many of the attendees were familiar, at least in part, with most of the announcements and new products rolled out at fMC. Many of the brand advertisers present had conducted beta trials of the new ad units. Others had been briefed, otherwise introduced to the new products and features.
In a nutshell, Facebook's new ad units for brand advertisers place paid advertising on top of content marketing. Owned media flows into paid. Essentially, the new ads "freeze" posts in a brand's news stream in an ad unit, anchoring it in the stream rather than letting it slip away.
At a meeting at Facebook HQ recently, I was told that on average, a brand page fan on Facebook sees only 20 percent of newsfeed updates. At fMC, that number was cited as 16 percent, but you get the idea. The new units allow brands to select the messages they don't want to slip away in the stream and turn them into ads.
These "pinned" stories, said Facebook's director of global business marketing Mike Hoefflinger, allow marketers to reach their fans at a significantly higher rate: 50 percent per week, and 75 percent per month. Hoefflinger termed them a "reach generator." "If you reach more fans," goes the logic, "they'll engage more with you. They'll create little stories on top of your stories."
These ads also capitalize on the social graph. They're shown to friends of fans (there can be only one degree of separation) and feature the friend's Facebook profile picture. It's a smart, attention-getting approach. To date, I've seen only one of these in the wild: My friend David likes a local cupcake shop, so the company's news-stream ad appeared on my Facebook page with David's photo, disclosure of why I was seeing the ad, and inherent contextual relevance. David and I both live in the same city. There's not much of a point in exposing his far-flung friends to an ad for this local business.
The introduction of mobile newsfeed ads was by far the most noteworthy announcement at fMC. By its own admission in its S-1 filing, Facebook is handily challenged to monetize mobile channels, a significant and rapidly growing source of its traffic. By bundling mobile ads with the overall premium brand product package, Facebook will induce more marketers to experiment with mobile advertising. Mobile isn't an "extra," which is clearly not an accident.
Premium brand pages do come with extras marketers will appreciate. The ability to create offers (e.g., buy one, get one free) is part and parcel of brand pages. So is a message button on brand timelines. This latter feature has attracted scant notice, but it matters a great deal on two fronts. First, it builds customer service into brand pages by enabling consumers to communicate with brands at the touch of a button. Secondly, it is reputation management, clearly intended to guide disgruntled customers away from airing their views publicly on a brands wall for all to see.
On the cusp of its very high profile IPO, Facebook is on a mission to attract brand dollars, and to do so in a way brands do not have much experience in, much less best practices for: creating a virtuous circle out of paid, owned, and earned media. They want marketers to turn content marketing into paid advertising.
It's ambitious, and with a global audience of close to 1 billion people, Facebook's the one company positioned to pull this off at scale.
Rebecca Lieb is analyst of digital advertising/media of Altimeter Group.
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