One of the first words that comes to your mind when you think of online advertising is invariably, Facebook. Facebook has long worn the crown for being not only the world’s biggest social network, but one of the most powerful and engaging platforms for advertisers, brands, companies and organizations to amplify their presence. Part of its strength lies in the connectivity that users have with each other, another part is the deep insights of personal likes and preferences, and third is that content is generated by users, not the platform itself. With a recipe for success and all the tools marketers need to tap into their audiences, Facebook has undergone a massive evolution in its ads and ad formats.
2004: The Beginning
Everyone knows the story. Facebook began as a project in 2004 that allowed university students to join their school network and learn about each other. One of the earliest experiments in advertising happened that very same year with Flyers and Flyer’s Pro – an advertising program that allowed students to promote social events on campuses. Students could set a match price they were willing to pay for the flyers.
2005: Sponsored Partners
In 2005, a sidebar along the right side of the user screen appeared, now containing a list of sponsored ads from partners that could be broadcast on the social network. While some early adopters of the network criticized it, the ads allowed for Facebook to offset some of the costs of serving more users as the network grew.
This year was pivotal for Facebook as it opened to gates to all users, not just college students, to join. Profits grew as the network made a partnership with Microsoft who became the exclusive provider of sponsored links and banner ads. 2006 was the year that Facebook became more recognizable as what we see today; not only did it launch its pivotal feature, the News Feed, but it introduced the “share” button – allowing users to upload content to their feeds and share their stories with everyone. Content marketing was just getting started.
2007: Facebook Goes Mobile
Technology is often the catalyst that propels shifts in human behaviour and interaction, and in 2007 the release of the revolutionary iPhone would forever changed how people would use Facebook, amongst other things. Launching a mobile version of the site, and a mobile ad platform, Facebook began its endless experimentation with content ranking algorithms and ad formats that we continually see today. Users accessing the site increased, as did the amount of time they spent daily on the social network.
2008: Pages, Pages, Pages
Do you remember a time before brands, companies and businesses had a Facebook Page? Neither can I, barely. In 2008, Facebook allowed for professional entities to create a Facebook page that was different than a personal profile, creating a need for social media marketing as advertisers began to find their place in what we now recognize as social media presence.
2010: The travelling Like and a Shiny Mobile App
This was the year that you could “like” content found on outsider sites beyond Facebook, such as a news article, or blog. This meant that content found outside of Facebook could be viewed as a content marketing piece as it would draw attention back to Facebook. Not to mention, Facebook this year decided to create a standalone mobile app, moving away from its mobile version to keep up with the demands of its users. By the end of 2011, there would be more than 350 million mobile Facebook users.
2012: The Social Graph
In 2012, Facebook started compiling interactions between users and their behaviors into social graph, an invaluable resource for advertisers that gathered deep insights about user personas. Rather than opting for disruptive banners, Facebook’s mobile ads were integrated with news feed in order to give advertisers real-time bidding and retargeting based on cookies of their users. This was also the year that users topped 1 Billion, quickly becoming a massive opportunity for advertisers to get on the social platform and get in front of their desired audiences.
2014: Native Ads
For the past few years, Facebook had been working on a project they dubbed streamlining- personalizing the connection between people and brands – to make advertising feel intuitive and non-invasive. Sponsored stories were killed off. Now only native ads that mimicked the design and messaging of non-ad content, with specific design constraints, were allowed.
2015 & 2016: Pushing the Envelope
In these two years alone, Facebook has introduced so many new opportunities for advertisers and publishers that I check the company blog almost daily. From 360 video, to Live video to perfecting the social graph, Facebook has become an amazing vessel for creatives and advertisers to publish and showcase their content, services and products.
One of the highlights this year is Canvas; a micro-site-like ad that is a full-screen ad experience that brings brands and products to life on mobile. Canvas is a new post-click, full screen, immersive mobile ad that loads very quickly and allows for very easy visual design without requiring coding knowledge. The overall trend in the Facebook advertising continuum is that while the advertising model is purely disruptive by design, through good design and understanding of its users, advertisements are feeling less and less like paid media thrust in front of us. Whatever Facebook advertising is doing, it seems to be working.