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How Facebook Timeline Affects Sponsored Stories

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A guest post by Craig Robinson.

When Facebook first burst onto the scene, it was an advertiser’s dream: millions of unique visitors every day and endless potential to advertise on a site that was still in its infancy.

Facebook quickly changed, however, and it continues to do so. Every few months, there’s a new feature, a new layout, new parameters, and new struggles---or benefits, depending on how you view the situation---for advertisers.

Despite how much Facebook has changed, know this: The website relies on its advertisers. Things may seem to get worse or better per your particular perception, but Facebook’s goal is always to streamline the process and to keep things clean and professional. This is the case with Facebook’s Timeline feature.

Although Timeline is no longer really new, the Timeline feature has caused some advertisers to shy away from using Facebook. With the entire format changing based on a scrapbooking idea from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the way ads are displayed on the site has changed.

Timeline has affected how Sponsored Stories works and how basic ads are displayed. But is it affected in a positive or a negative way?

How Timeline Benefits Advertisers


One of the biggest complaints about Timeline is that a profile page is now only going to display two ads via the center of the page, as a user scrolls down, instead of having four ads plastered on the page. Facebook officials insist that this is better: “It’s much cleaner. And it ensures that only relative ads will be displayed, helping greatly with CTR.”

And to some extent, I agree. The benefit is that the entire page is no longer inundated with ads off on the sidebar. There’s no confusion, no clutter---everything is laid out in a more fluent manner.

The main difference from the old layout, however, is that ads now will show up in the regular mix of updates and posts in the timeline. With this, Facebook tries to shorten the gap between regular content and advertising. It doesn't even want to call it an ad anymore. It’s a (sponsored) story.

So, if you, as an advertiser, tie a sponsored story to any activity that happens around your brand---comments on fan page, likes, photo updates, check-ins, and so on---these updates will end up in the friends’ feeds. In the story, you can then see how many friends liked it (and which friends), and what the action was---basically like any other organic post. And with a sponsored story tied to the action, the ad will stay at the top of the feed for some time without getting pushed down by newly added posts.

Good for Some, Bad for Others


Businesses that adapt may see a positive effect from these changes, especially if they use Facebook advertising to strengthen brand value and raise brand awareness.

Think about it: If you see a sponsored story in your feed advertising a brand with positive attributes, a couple of your friends like it already and one of your friends has actually done something on the fan page (like tag an image). You then are more inclined to click on it and perhaps like or comment yourself.

The ad is more of a recommendation from a friend rather than traditional advertising.

However, if the business has no positive attributes or the product or service has no attributes at all (you don’t dislike it but it is nothing you want to be associated with it), then this type of social ad may not be a success.

For those businesses, ads fit better on the right side of the feed where you click, get directed to an online shop, make a purchase, and then don’t think about it until the next time you need this product or service.

So, even though sponsored stories may be great for businesses that successfully have managed to build a good image, others may suffer. Sometimes, you need something and buy it no matter what the brand's image, but you don’t want to be associated of the brand in any way.

These Are Dangerous Territories


Again, Facebook makes money from advertising and after the introduction on Nasdaq more and more people are going to push the site to bring in higher revenue from paid posts. But when this happens, it might clash with users’ incentives for being on Facebook in the first place.

We’re there to communicate with friends---real people---and not to click on ads.

But we’ve reached some sort of agreement. We tolerate a fair number of ads in our feeds, and when they’re around brands we accept, we might even like the brands. But when they stand in the way of our original purposes of being on Facebook, ads might become a problem.

If Facebook MySpaceifies, we’re going to see people look for a new network. Then the stocks will plummet and investors will cry all the way to the bank.

Craig Robinson works as an editor and is specialized in Facebook marketing. He also works with social context and engagement.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Time Spiral)


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