On the heels of a raft of changes for consumers, Facebook is unveiling a new type of advertising unit and measurement tool to help brands communicate better with users.
The new ads resemble sponsored stories and are constructed around engagement with a piece of branded content, but in this case the brand's messaging is integrated into the ad. The new ad will appear on the right side of a user's home page with no other ads present.
In an example provided by Facebook using the upcoming movie "The Ides of March," a video clip is embedded underneath messaging indicating that a friend has "Liked" the film. A Facebook spokeswoman said the new premium offering is slightly bigger than typical premium ads because of the added social context and aimed at larger brands looking to become more social on Facebook.
Facebook metrics have long been a subject of frustration for some marketers, and Coca-Cola's head of integrated marketing and communications Wendy Clark told Ad Age in June after she joined Facebook's so-called "client council" of advertisers that she was hoping to see the social network come up with benchmarks around what defines a successful campaign.
The new Insights is designed to let administrators of Facebook fan pages see the total audience their content and ads are reaching, going beyond impressions and "Likes." Four metrics will be presented at the top of the page: Total Likes, which already appears in the existing Insights; Friends of Fans, designed to show the maximum social reach of brands' content; People Talking About This, tracking the number of users who engaged with a page's content in the past week – by liking or commenting on content, posting to a page's wall, or RSVP'ing to an event, for example; and Weekly Total Reach, which shows the total number of Facebook users who have been exposed to both a brand's organically shared content and its paid media.
The "People Talking About" metric will also be viewable to any Facebook user who visits a fan page, published below the number of page likes.
A page's 500 most recent posts will also be listed in Insights with four metrics: Reach, showing total audience; Engaged Users, showing the number of users who took some kind of action around a post, including clicking on a link or viewing a photo or video; Talking About This, showing the number of users who took more active action by liking, commenting, or sharing; and "Virality," where "Talking About This" is divided by "Reach."
Product manager David Baser noted that Facebook hasn't set a benchmark for its so-called "virality" metric to indicate when a post is performing well within the new Insights. Rates will vary between industries, as well as the type of post. A brand looking to share a new video might be less concerned about the number of likes and comments, which would boost the "virality" rate, but still be pleased with the performance of the content because they can tell that a lot of people were engaged enough to watch the video.
Mr. Baser also noted that while the viewable post data on Insights only currently goes back to mid-July, Facebook will be collaborating with third-parties – Webtrends, Context Optional and Wildfire – who will be able to call up data as far back as it goes for their clients.
The new product represents the end of the era when the "Like" was paramount. Now engagement will become key, and marketers will have the tools to evaluate which pieces of content are resonating.
"I think there's a shift taking place inside Facebook where marketers will not only look to connect with their fans, but look to influence the friends of their fans," said Kevin Barenblat, CEO of social marketing software company Context Optional, which uses Facebook Insights for clients like Levi's and PlayStation. "Enabling word-of -mouth marketing at scale is a huge opportunity for marketers and for Facebook."
Dave Williams, CEO of social engagement advertising firm Blinq Media, which does its business on the Facebook platform, thinks the new Insights represents a step away from traditional search and display-type metrics and their obsession with clicks and impressions and is essentially emulating TV metrics, focused on audience reach.
As for the new premium ad offering, Mr. Williams likens it to "the Superbowl ad of Facebook" and says he expects Fortune 500 companies – especially consumer packaged goods companies like Coca-Cola or Kraft -- with big fan bases that are already spending multiple millions on Facebook every year to buy into it. Based on the high click-through rates he's seen on sponsored stories, leading to Facebook being able to monetize them at a higher CPM, Mr. Williams thinks a premium consumer-initiated ad offering is a logical development.
Facebook's direct sales team will start offering the new premium ad unit this week, a spokeswoman said. The new Insights will be rolled out later this week as a preview, but will remain opt-in only for some period of time. Facebook is expected to sell $3.8 billion in advertising in 2011, according to an estimate from eMarketer.