Facebook’s best advertising format is free. Maybe that’s why it isn’t used by most brands.

This entry was originally posted on March 30, 2013 on www.ulliappelbaum.com.

Facebook is slowly but surely adopting the more traditional media model in which advertisers have to pay to reach eyeballs. In the process, it is slowly but surely bursting the bubble of social and viral marketing.

Meanwhile the most engaging advertising “format” on Facebook is still free. It is already used by thousands of small fan pages, and special interest and political groups to engage users and grow their fan base with no budgets, and yet is completely ignored by the majority of brands and advertisers on Facebook.

I am referring to what I call “digital posters”, pictures that include a message, a sentiment, a quote, an opinion, a point of view, a truth or a factoid. You all know them. You all see them every day in your newsfeed, like them, share them and respond to them. They convey inspiring quotes, life truths, promote political agendas or simply jokes. A quick survey amongst my expert friends seems to confirm that this format doesn’t even have a formal name yet, so let’s call them “digital posters”. Digital posters are more than just pictures, a format that is already used by many brands. Their power to engage comes from the actual message they convey and the combination of message and picture (so maybe messaging isn’t dead after all in the digital space).

digital-posters

A random survey of some of the biggest brands on Facebook* reveals that none of them is actually using this format and therefore missing out on a tremendous (and free) opportunity to bond with consumers and increase their social reach.

So why is this format so powerful? The main advantages of this format are that it creates above average engagement levels, enables a brand to actually “bond” with its fans and is native to Facebook and a more visual web.

<strong>Above average Engagement:</strong> Digital posters are the ideal format for Facebook. They work fast, can be interacted with in a fraction of second, don’t require the user to leave his/her page or newsfeed, can be viewed and responded to by the growing number of people who access Facebook and the web via a mobile device, and enable users to satisfy their self-expressive needs (through liking and sharing). And while it is difficult to find studies and actual data about this format, I know from my own experience managing a Facebook community of ca. 7000 fans (www.facebook.com/wemothers), and from the experience of other community managers that these digital posters create the highest level of engagement, or numbers of stories as Facebook would put it (compared to other “formats” such as posts, links, videos, etc.).

<strong>Consumer bonding:</strong> By sharing category truths or insights and inspiring messages that tie back to the brand purpose, brand values and beliefs or the brand positioning statement, brands can create a unique bond with their consumers. They can basically demonstrate that they understand what it means to be a consumer in a specific category and identify with their aspirations, whether a dog or cat owner, a mom or parents, a single, a rider or sports fanatic or any other consumer group really.

imagine-the-category

Each brand should obviously experiment which “messaging” work best for them. But the secret seems to be to emphasize the sentiment, not the brand. The brands presence on these digital posters should be minimal for this media to work the hardest.

bonding-with-moms

Other benefits of this format include:

<strong>ROI:</strong> producing and placing digital posters is basically free. Most companies have plenty of stock pictures they can use, and the quotes, insights and sentiments can be googled or found on Pinterest or in market research reports. The only costs involved might be for a bottle of wine for the team generating the ideas.

<strong>Increased fan exposure by outsmarting Edgerank</strong>: digital posters increase fan exposure. In fact, one of the factors influencing Edgerank, Facebook’s algorithm which determines who sees a post, is determined by the level of engagement a fan has with a page. Basically, the more stories a fan creates (i.e. likes, shares or comments on posts) the more likely he/she is to see posts from this page. Facebook claims that an average of 17% of your fans will get exposed to your post. Because digital posters are such a great and effective way to generate Facebook stories, they provide an easy way to exceed this average exposure rate of 17%. This in turn will be really useful when the brand has some real news to share and wants to reach the highest possible number of its fans (without paying).

<strong>Complement to the social media content calendar:</strong> Many of the companies I talk to find it challenging to maintain an engaging content strategy and continuous agenda on Facebook. In fact, even if a brand posts only three updates a week, that’s still 156 pieces of share-worthy content a brand needs to provide in a year. And let’s face it, not many brands have that much interesting content (product news, promotions, etc.) to share. As a result, most companies will face the inevitable content gap phase in their calendar. Digital posters are perfect in that context to fill these gaps while ensuring an ongoing relevant and engaging content stream.

<strong>Truly understanding fans:</strong> Last but not least, this format enables a brand to truly understand what resonates with its consumers, what sentiments generate the most “likes”, what sentiments generate the most controversy and what sentiments create the most self-identification, and therefore “shares.” With a bit of creativity and exploration, digital posters become a free form of market research and probably the most useful type of market research to really understand what triggers an immediate and emotive response amongst a specific audience.

To conclude:

Ironically, while Facebook is slowly turning into just another advertising platform, its most powerful format is still free. It doesn’t require big production budgets, it doesn’t require expensive media buys and it doesn’t require the payment of expensive commissions or fees. And those may be the very reason why digital posters are completely ignored by most marketers and their agencies.

*For the purpose of this article I randomly looked at Coke &amp; Pepsi, Starbucks and Caribou coffee, Target, Sears, Pampers and Huggies, Budweiser, Purina Dog Chow, Pedigree Pal and Kraft.

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