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?