By Paul Morris
Facebook is in trouble.
I’m not just talking about the unsuccessful IPO but more specifically around its inability to monetise its mobile user base. Excluding Twitter this is the case with most Social Media mobile sites (whilst 10% of media is consumed on a mobile only 1% of ad revenue goes to mobile) and they need to figure out what to do now before the silly valuations and VC cash dries up. Oh and things are only going to get worse as mobile usage continues to grow and will take over desktop usage by 2020.
I wrote some free advice for Zuck a few months ago and in it I gave 3 areas Facebook needed to fix:
1/ Stop wasting your time on follies and do something useful like buying a browser
2/ Develop a search engine
3/ Improve your advertising formats
It’s the third one I’m going to focus on in this post.
Essentially they need to stop throwing ton’s (No American Tonne’s for me) of mud at the wall and hoping 1 pound sticks (I’m old skool; Kilos are for kids and the UFC).
Sites like Facebook are slowly killing themselves. As a user, receiving 100’s of updates each week from brands you have liked is not the way to go in the long run. Equally flooding my profile with ‘super targeted’ (the targeting is not particularly super) advertising is not cutting the mustard either.
Stop hitting me with quantity and start hitting me with low volume top quality.
Environmental factors alongside Like, keyword, profile and behavioural elements would see engagement rates improve; at least a tad.
To help with the above could you have a scale of ‘Like’ (colour coded or the thumb size perhaps?) or a ‘Love’ function for brands you truly loved? This might then lead to users tailoring and trusting this functionality more. Or what about applying the good things from the Filter Bubble principle and being really harsh on advertising/ Like feeds that do not engage? Penalties would include furthering the Facebook EdgeRank algorithm by penalising brands who do not engage users.
Social networks need to stop over targeting and disrupting user behaviour and instead entertain and/or inform them (we are generally not on social networks searching for something to buy). DSP tech could be used alongside HTML5 type technology to produce mobile ad units that entertain E.g. Several years ago Dulux did some great online versions of their colour range by creating an interplay between banner types on the same page (difficult to explain and just trust me on this one). Another innovation would be uber targeted image ads that serve ads based on algorithms that determine what is in the image and whether the ad placement would impair or enhance the message and then coupling it with DSP and magical Facebook fairy dust big data.
Next up is Native advertising adoption.
Companies such as Outbrain (they power the editorial content recommendations across leading publishers) and Twitter (Sponsored tweets) offer a glimmer of hope on how native ads can work on desktop and mobile respectively.
Surely sites such as Facebook can develop killer native ad formats? Yes they have already tried some but they always smack of an immediate cash grab that can leave a bitter taste in the advertiser’s mouth. How about helping the customer help themselves? What about a user being able to easily state their needs e.g. an evening meal, massage, car, trainers, etc. The user then fills in a form and receives quotes back or ‘simply’ more uber targeted ads for a period of X days. Clearly the vast majority of users will not do this however for those that do how valuable will those ads be!?
Content and Choice, not banners and interruption, should rule the roost. 15-30 second uber targeted videos, LinkedIn’s personalised recruitment ads, Facebooks in feed offers, Pinterest promoted Pins and Google+ promoted discovery ads are, in part, the future of native ads.
Let’s not undermine the huge task at hand though as there are major problems with this strategy. There’s the lack of reach, too much choice/ ad proliferation/ supply & demand issues and having to rely on great ideas/ creative (and there are not copious amounts of those washing around ad-land!), however what’s the other option? Companies like Facebook have been searching for years for THE answer and have so far been found wanting. Your advertising either dies on the mobile as the Guardian foresees or you rely less on marketing mudslinging and more on truly innovative formats, great content, great creative and great relevance that leads to the best marketing technique of them all; friend referral.