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DigitasLBi: Brands Should Pair Up with Publishers as Facebook Reduces Organic Reach

June 13, 2014 | Social Media

Alex Jacobs
Vice President and Group Director, Social.Content

As Facebook steadily reduces the organic reach of page posts, brands have new decisions to make about how to structure their marketing and advertising budgets as well as where and when branding goals make sense on the social network. Alex Jacobs, vice president and group director of social.content at DigitasLBi, spoke with eMarketer’s Danielle Drolet about Facebook’s increasing role in direct-response advertising and the implications for its clients.

eMarketer: What’s your take on Facebook’s advertising evolution?

Alex Jacobs: With the realization that a large fan base does not necessarily mean a large direct-to-consumer communication channel, many advertisers feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them. That said, though Facebook is no longer the earned media buzz engine it once was—like a Twitter or a Tumblr—it is still a very effective advertising platform that can deliver on reach, brand and direct goals.

eMarketer: What are the key ad products and types that appeal to your clients?

Jacobs: Today, we live in the era of mobile in a socially connected world. Nearly one-fifth of the time people are on a mobile device, they are on Facebook, and social networking and content consumption are the two most popular activities on the mobile device.

With the prioritization of mobile in a marketer’s strategy, your social strategy and content strategy are in many ways your mobile strategy and vice versa. For this reason, mobile products like the Facebook in-stream mobile ad unit, as well as the new video ad units, are of particular interest, while desktop “rail ads” are becoming less and less relevant.

“The industry may hear a lot of buzz about marketers pulling spend from the platform, but Facebook’s latest earnings report speaks for itself.”

eMarketer: How will Facebook’s decision to severely restrict organic reach affect brand ad spending on the site?

Jacobs: The knee-jerk reaction for some is to pull the plug on the platform entirely, but it’s important to separate the frustrations with declining organic reach from the valuable opportunity that the Facebook advertising platform offers. The industry may hear a lot of buzz about marketers pulling spend from the platform, but Facebook’s latest earnings report speaks for itself. The question isn’t whether spending will increase or decrease, but how the best marketers use the products most effectively.

eMarketer: How can marketers best move forward without organic reach?

Jacobs: One strategy we’ll be seeing more and more of from the savviest marketers will be those that use Facebook to amplify brand-content partnerships with publishers vs. amplifying their own. Despite the downward trend in organic reach for brands, Facebook is still the No. 1 source of social referral for the biggest publishers on the web, including The Huffington Post, The New York Times and BuzzFeed.

Facebook’s algorithm shift is recognizing the value of top publishers’ content for users. As brands integrate natively into publisher content and are pushed out through publisher social channels, they create an opportunity for social discovery of their content that is much more potent than pushing through their own channels.

Whether a consumer discovers brand content from a brand’s channel vs. a publisher’s is irrelevant—and sometimes even more impactful when borrowing equity from the trusted publisher. The brands that recognize this and “let go” will unearth entirely new ways to reach their audiences.

eMarketer: How do your clients feel about video ads on Facebook?

Jacobs: The jury is still out. Video in general is gaining steam, but until Facebook resolves the user experience for organic autoplay video, much less the paid counterpart, we’ll see more experimentation than larger shifts in spend.

eMarketer: A common viewpoint is that the newsfeed should be a branding opportunity, but instead it’s filling up with performance ads, which are frequently lower quality. How can clients be reassured that Facebook is still beneficial to them as an advertising platform?

Jacobs: “Performance ads” and “branding ads” are not mutually exclusive. Depending on the nature of the business, making an engaging, brand-centric ad that is also a performance driver may be an easier task for some than for others. For instance, mobile gaming companies have seen huge success with in-feed app download ads. The product itself is engaging and entertaining content that can also drive to download direct from the feed.

“We need to more clearly define what we mean by ‘performance,’ as lower-quality ads may perform for direct marketing metrics but do not perform for brand metrics.”

For other advertisers with products that are once removed from the click—quick-service restaurants (QSRs) or automotive, for instance—we need to redefine performance. Performance ads that are lower quality are not performance ads—they’re spam. Qualitative measures to temper quantitative definitions of performance are key.

eMarketer: What do you mean by performance and branding ads are not mutually exclusive?

Jacobs: We need to more clearly define what we mean by “performance,” as lower-quality ads may perform for direct marketing metrics but do not perform for brand metrics.

The way performance ads are positioned here is that they’re the hardworking, efficient direct marketing ads meant to drive direct quantitative results, such as low cost per click, cheap app downloads, directly attributable sales, etc. But for some businesses, specifically those that can’t sell their goods online, like a consumer packaged goods brand or a QSR, performance means brand lift, reappraisal, affinity and engagement, not necessarily cheap clicks. If we’re just looking at hardcore quantitative metrics, we’re overlooking half the picture.

Once we start using brand metrics as the indicators of success, we see that “lower-quality” ads aren’t actually “performing” by those standards.

eMarketer: What would you like to see changed or improved about brand ads on Facebook?

Jacobs: I’d like to see a greater focus on the content, not the platform. With a content-first strategy, Facebook becomes a valuable discovery and amplification platform—and, lets the content speak for itself.

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