Almost every week since its IPO, Facebook has announced a new development within its advertising strategy. The most important news to come out so far is that Facebook will enter the real-time bidding (RTB) world. Real-time bidding is the process where advertisers and agencies buy highly targeted digital ad inventory in real time, either working with media-buying partners who do the bidding for them, or using self-service technology platforms like demand-side platforms (DSPs) to do the buying themselves.
While details of the Facebook RTB exchange are still scarce, the bottom line is that advertisers will now be able to buy ads on Facebook in real time, targeting users based on information collected outside of Facebook and stored in cookies. For example, a user who visits a website outside of Facebook and "almost" signs up for a product or service could later be targeted on Facebook to encourage him to complete the registration process. To make this possible, Facebook is working with several DSPs, allowing advertisers to better target ads within Facebook. Advertisers that want to test these capabilities will have to work through one of the DSPs in the program.
Brand advertisers are excited about the prospect of using more complete, third-party data to target the 900 million consumers on Facebook -- anything that makes targeting more precise on the world's largest social network is a boon for consumer brands hoping to increase reach and acquire new advocates and customers. But what about B2B advertisers -- do they get in on the goods, too?
In short, the answer is yes. Many B2B marketers use Facebook to connect with potential customers and boost leads, so the shift to RTB impacts them as much as it does B2C advertisers -- and perhaps even more so. Most of the DSPs that "plug into" the Facebook RTB exchange have access to extensive third-party business demographic data. Advertisers that use these DSPs can more accurately target business-focused users on Facebook -- separating the users who only check photos of their high-school crushes from the business professionals who use the platform to research products, network with other professionals, and learn about their sectors.
Until now, the ability to target high-quality business users on Facebook has been limited at best, so the new Facebook RTB exchange could be a boon for B2B marketers. Given this development, what should B2B marketers know about the new Facebook RTB exchange and which steps should they take to get the most out of this new tool? Again, early details are scarce, but here is a first look at what B2B marketers should know about the Facebook RTB exchange.
It's a walled garden -- for now
In its first phase, Facebook RTB will work only within Facebook's ecosystem. That means DSPs can use third-party data to better target high-quality business users within Facebook. No plans have been announced to allow DSPs to use Facebook data to better target ads outside of the Facebook ecosystem, but that may be possible in the future. For the time being, B2B marketers should work with a DSP partner that combines first- and third-party data with Facebook's available data. For most B2B marketers, that means working with a company that has access to a huge set of targeting business demographic data. There are enough business users on Facebook to potentially make this closed ecosystem model valuable to B2B marketers.
Measure, measure, measure
Facebook RTB holds the promise of better ROI; targeting business users via third-party data clearly gives B2B marketers increased control to reach their target audiences. And Facebook is a high-quality, brand-safe environment, so marketers don't run the risk of having their ads show up on questionable sites -- which often happens when using RTB exchanges on the wider web. However, Facebook RTB is also a new, yet unproven business marketing channel, and B2B marketers should ensure their DSP partners measure every aspect of their campaigns -- from clicks to impressions to interactions and leads. In particular, B2B marketers should also keep a close eye on how their Facebook RTB campaigns perform relative to their other B2B advertising channels, paying special attention to the quality of leads the ads deliver.
Keep an eye on other social sites
Facebook is the first closed-ecosystem social publisher to offer RTB, but surely all the social giants are thinking about it. Twitter and YouTube may soon join the RTB fray, allowing marketers to target high-quality business audiences on these platforms as well. LinkedIn -- a favorite of B2B marketers -- may begin to allow not only RTB bidding, but also retargeting based on its cookies across the wider web. Though none of this has happened yet, savvy B2B marketers should keep close watch and pounce quickly if these sites announce RTB capabilities.
The advent of RTB as a vehicle for buying and selling ad inventory has injected substantial efficiencies into the online advertising ecosystem and is creating tremendous value for both advertisers and publishers alike. Facebook's move toward RTB is thus unsurprising. Only time will tell if Facebook RTB will drive high-quality, qualified leads for B2B marketers -- but those who take steps now to test-drive the new platform will gain an advantage over slow adopters. As long as marketers approach Facebook RTB with the same standards they do their other digital advertising programs and measure the quality of leads they receive from the platform, there's no reason to not jump on the Facebook RTB bandwagon.
Chris Mann is vice president of product management at Bizo.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Homepage of Facebook.com" image via Shutterstock.