You log into your Facebook account and start scrolling through your feed. You see the usual family update from aunt Petunia, followed by a few concerts your friends are going to this week. You chuckle at an amusing cat that’s far too grumpy before stumbling upon an article about burger consumption in Canada—posted by McDonald’s. That’s strange, you think. Why would that one pop up in my feed?
It’s a Facebook ad. These are the ads Facebook spreads across its platform. In the last few months, the company has come under heat for how its ads are used, but Facebook’s ability to take a company’s content and stretch it across the platform shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here’s how Facebook ads work and the impact they can have on consumers.
What Is a Facebook Ad?
In short, these ads are created by companies on the Facebook platform. These ads are then shown to potentially interested Facebook users, without requiring any sort of connection.
People are then able to like and share the ad, just as you would that cute dog pic from your Grandpa, which in turn can spread the ad to your Facebook friends’ feeds as well as directing similar content to your feed in the future.
The reason this works so effectively is that Facebook has huge amounts of data on you (that you willingly gave the company). This is a wealth of information about your habits, your (dis)likes, your interests, and the kind of stuff you find amusing, informative, or helpful. Using this data, Facebook can target different companies’ ads to you.
When companies want to purchase a Facebook ad, they will come with a specific buyer persona. This persona is filtered into the Facebook ad machine, and the company’s content is then displayed to people who fit the persona criteria.
Facebook can help companies target geographic locations, interests, and behaviours. You could be targeted for political affiliation, your hobbies, the kind of chips you like, and so on. If a company can provide an email list of users (from its own website), Facebook ads can be placed in front of these same people as well.
The Separation of Organic and Sponsored
It may seem underhanded, but Facebook ads are always labelled as “sponsored” or “promoted.” The power they have is that they wind up in your feed just as any other piece of content from your colleagues, family, and friends. Once there, if engaged with, these ads can spread just like the “organic” content—stuff your Facebook friends post—reaching your friends and friends of friends, depending on your settings.
It Has to Be Real Content
To be the most effective, these ads need to be actual content. Their power to reach people comes from being a page that can be liked and shared—but just because a McDonald’s ad shows up in a feed doesn’t mean you’re going to click on it. If the ad isn’t also a good piece of content, people will scroll on by. That’s why using Facebook ads as a part of a larger inbound marketing strategy is key to making it effective.
The digital age provides many new avenues to place your content in front of the right consumers. Facebook ads are a powerful tool in this ever-evolving toolbox.