New Facebook Ad Unit Signals the Future of the Social Network’s Ad Strategy

Facebook is filling the headlines as display advertising’s new behemoth, but the story that speaks to the future of the social platform’s advertising strategy seems to have mostly slipped through the cracks.

Yesterday Facebook launched a new agency designed ad unit called Comments. Designed by Leo Burnett as part of an agency contest to create Facebook’s eighth advertising offering, this addition to the roster is the platform’s most engaging ad unit to date.

With comments, a brand poses a question on its Facebook page, which in turn appears on the right rail of Facebook as an ad. When users choose to respond to the question the exchange shows up as a part of their newsfeed, thereby moving the conversation through individuals’ social graphs.

When the conversation builds friends’ comments can then appear as Sponsored Stories, transforming the formerly passive advertising experience into an active and participatory model. Hallmark and Allstate are first adopters with “How do you make summertime a special occasion?” and “What’s your mayhem?” respectively.

Although little has been said about the effectiveness of these new ad units in their first 24 hours of use, the addition of Comments marks the emergence of two important trends.

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1. Agencies and big brands represent significant growth opportunity for Facebook.

Facebook beat out other display advertisers with their easily accessible open platform. This successfully captured small and medium sized businesses, but if Facebook wants to continue their growth rate they will have to attract more significant spend from big brands and agencies.

This Leo Burnett designed ad unit and the fairly recent Facebook Studio are first steps in this direction and reflect this desire to woo agencies and big business for future spend.

2. The Comments ad unit could teach brands how to shape conversations without fearing loss of complete control.

The beauty of Comments (and just about any other social amplification technology based on user conversations) is in its ability to spread messages authentically throughout networks. When done correctly, this can be more meaningful than broadcast style brand communications but brands are almost always hesitant to lose control.

In some cases a marketer’s biggest fear is that consumers will hijack their brand message and mutate the message, but in a world driven by social, authentic engagement is a new reality. I already anticipate that many marketers will attempt to ignore the Comments ad unit, but those who leverage it effectively can teach others a lesson in the power of community engagement.

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