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Facebook Newsfeed Advertising: Why We Won’t Do That Again

by Alyce Currier  |  
March 11, 2013

At Wistia, we've had great luck in the past with Facebook sidebar advertising.

We've even received messages from people who were happy they saw our ads.

They were happy enough to even write a post on our Facebook wall and share some of those positive feelings with us.

Here's an example of one such post that we received.

Then, it happened.

For the first time, we tried promoting a story (the launch of the Wistia Learning Center) directly into the Newsfeed.

And. All. Hell. Broke. Loose.

Well, not quite. There were no fiery pits to speak of. What we did find, however, was that people had strong feelings about seeing sponsored content in the space that's normally reserved for friends and family.

What did we learn from this? First and foremost, that we don't want to promote Facebook posts in the Timeline anymore.

Humans on the internet: They're territorial.

Some may have seen the Atlantic advertorial from the Church of Scientology last month. Many felt that this content brought the publication's credibility into question.

This type of advertising isn't uncommon in print; we wouldn't be surprised to see a full-page editorial ad in The New York Times. But on the Internet, we're still territorial.

We don’t like advertising that’s trying to trick us.

“What’s striking about contemporary youth is not that they are somehow brandproof, but that they take for granted the idea that a brand is as good a piece of raw identity material as anything else.” (Rob Walker, Buying In, 111)

Walker argues that contemporary youth have come to expect branded content everywhere they go, and consequently, use brands to construct their own identities.

This brand-savvy population likes their advertising blatant or tongue-in-cheek (think Snakes on a Plane-style product placement). We don’t like to feel like we’re being fooled. When advertising is styled exactly like a post from a friend, it feels tricky, but we’re not falling for it, so all it does is make us angry.

(Facebook has announced that they will start disclosing when ads are based on browsing behavior. Will giving users the ability to see how ads were targeted will have any effect on how we feel about the ads themselves?)

Your post doesn't have to be sales-y to get people riled up.

We made a point of focusing our first sponsored Newsfeed post on useful content that was available for free. But it's not about what you're posting, it's about where you post it and what people expected to see there.

Facebook's targeting works differently than you might expect.

We tried to target this post to people who "Liked" companies whose fan base was likely to overlap with ours.

As it turns out, Facebook targeted the post to people who had interacted with those companies. Few of the negative commentors had actually  "Liked" any of the companies that we targeted, and some had even left negative comments on those pages.

Likes aren't everything.

30,000 people saw the post and 200+ liked it, but many of those “Likes” came from profiles that looked… off. We're not accusing Facebook of using bots, but with many companies selling "Likes" and cultivating illegitimate profiles trained to "Like" everything they see, a bot presence wouldn’t be that surprising.

Limited Run did a more thorough investigation of their Facebook ad clicks last July, and both their findings and the related comment threads were pretty enlightening.

Having great fans will make you feel better when things get bad.

While we received a hefty dose of negativity on this post, some of our page's followers stepped in and defended us. If any of you are reading this, thank you!


In the name of transparency, we didn't delete any of the comments, except for one that we felt crossed profanity lines. We replied to all of the negative comments and admitted that, indeed, these posts do feel like spam and don't belong in the Timeline (even if Facebook lets us put them there).

We won't be advertising via the Timeline anymore: the post didn’t do enough good for us to make it worth making even a small number of people this angry.

What experiences have you had with Facebook advertising? Do you find sponsored posts in the Timeline intrusive?
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Alyce Currier is content strategist at Wistia, a provider of Web video hosting for businesses.

LinkedIn: Alyce Currier

Twitter: @notalyce

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  • by Erin Calvo-Bacci Mon Mar 11, 2013 via blog

    Our marketing budget is too small to pay for ads, but we have been creating some interesting case studies for our consulting division.

  • by Liz Mon Mar 11, 2013 via blog

    Oh. My. Gosh. We have experienced THE SAME THING with our marketing. I just felt that again today and wondered WHY is this promoted post getting so much negative feedback?! I LOVE this article - especially that people are territorial about their news feed. I LOVE IT! We are a religious organization, so it was expected that some people would automatically be upset no matter what we said - but what struck me is that several people specifically said they didn't want to see our ad in their NEWS FEED. Like you all, we've run ads before for special events, and did not get the same negative response for having an ad up --- but don't cross that line to the news feed! THANK YOU for your awesome article content!

  • by Amanda Mon Mar 11, 2013 via blog

    Great post!

    I don't personally find those posts intrusive at all, how much space do they take up on my screen, an inch?

    Don't feel bad though because I see those same angry responses on almost every sponsored post I see. Contest ones seem to do fairly well but anything slightly resembling a "sell" brings all the "OMGTHISISMYYYYFACEBOOK" folks to the yard.

    Facebook bots though, never thought of how those could skew things. Great analysis!

  • by Michael Knorr Mon Mar 11, 2013 via blog

    In my opinion Promoting Posts isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as you don't promote it to everyone like they allow you to do! Simply promote it to your existing fan base so more people get to see it.

  • by Jamie M Mon Mar 11, 2013 via blog

    I haven't run promoted posts in the timeline, mainly because I've made a point of looking at the posts that show in my timeline & comments on each ranging from Hubspot to Amazon & I've seen the same reaction to the posts.

    Separately, I'm running sidebar ads & I'm sceptical of the stats, while not yet significant, my (two) analytics platforms report lower visits than FB does. I'm not really concerned as the campaigns are running as CPMs, but there is something irregular going on.

  • by Alyce Currier Mon Mar 11, 2013 via blog

    Yes! This is just what we've been discovering. It's nice to be able to expand our reach to people who we already have a relationship with because they've opted in in a sense, but for anyone else, it seems to strike an unpleasant chord.

  • by Scotty the Menace Mon Mar 11, 2013 via blog

    Awesome stuff. I can sympathize with those people. I'm rarely ever on Facebook (over a year now since my last visit) but I can see how this would be infuriating. That is a primary contdnt area and one of the reasons people go on Facebook. While that makes it tempting for advertisers, it also makes users very protective of it, territorial as you astutely call it.

    It's like pop-up ads and the now more prevalent overlay ads. They invade the content area and intrude on the user's experience with the site. The content area is for site visitors only. Mess with it at your own peril. Put an overlay ad (even if it's highlighting something else on your site) and you tell me you don't want me to read your content. I will happily oblige.

    The primary content areas of a web site ought be reserved for the stuff people actually come to our sites to see. Ads have their place, but not there.

  • by Scott Baradell Wed Mar 13, 2013 via blog

    Very interesting post, Alyce. Thanks for sharing this. Where we have had success is in promoting non-branded content that is no different from other news in their feed. Everyone likes/subscribes to news/information sources so if the content fits into that mix, it can be an unobtrusive, useful addition to their feeds.

  • by Little Blue Ninja Thu Mar 14, 2013 via blog

    Hi Guys,

    We have also been experimenting with Facebook ads and promoted posts, we have yet to try sponsored posts but from reading this I think we might give it a miss!!

    While we have had some success with Facebook Ads, we have found promoted posts to be a real waste of time....and money!! We had hoped to gain a better Facebook FanBase for our clients but mostly the extra page likes were from "Argentina and Ecuador" and from very suspicious looking Facebook accounts..

    We also think it is wrong how small businesses owners are almost being forced to promote their posts to get any engagement from their own fans!!

    We are now recommending that most of our clients stick with Google Adwords!!

    Thanks for reading....

    Little Blue Ninja

  • by Ben Harper Tue Mar 19, 2013 via blog


    Interesting post. Promoting posts in the Newsfeed to people who aren't fans of our client pages has worked really well for us - we get the occasional negative comment, but on the whole we receive positive engagement and strong results in terms of ROI.

    Users need to accept that this is one of the ways Facebook is monetising, and advertisers need to start putting some science behind their targeting to ensure you hit the right people who won't be offended by their ads.

  • by Sandy Gerber Mon Mar 25, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for sharing your experience so we can learn from your mistake. Social media has evolved so much in the past few years and is used as a marketing tool for most businesses, but there is a fine line that we as marketers have to be careful not to cross.

    It will be interesting to see if peoples' responses will change over time. The more ads start appearing in news feeds it may become more acceptable to facebook users.

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