Facebook Ads Vs. Sponsored Stories Vs. Promoted Posts

There has been a lot of talk this year about Facebook’s advertising efforts, most likely due to the scrutiny that company has received pre- and post-IPO. Coincidentally, I have had the privilege of testing the various Facebook ad formats out for one of BuildASign’s microsites. We’ve tested out three of the main Facebook ad formats: Ads, Sponsored Stories, and Promoted Posts. All three got results, but one seemed to be a clear winner in terms of effectiveness.

Let me back up a bit for those readers who may not have experience with these formats. Facebook Ads are those little image-and-text combos that you see on the right side of your news feed. They look a little something like this:

Barack Obama Facebook ad

Sponsored Stories are kind of similar, but they include one of your Facebook friends “endorsing” a particular post or page. Sort of like this:

Printcopia Facebook sponsored story

So not only do you get to promote what you’re selling, you get that added social proof of showing that person’s friends that they liked your particular product (without their permission, I might add).

The last format is Promoted Posts. The format for these is identical to anything you would normally post on your page’s timeline. But, the advantage is that you pay a small amount (currently between $30 and $1500) to give it a boost in Facebook’s news feed algorithm. This means that your post will stay on top of your fans’ news feeds longer than it normally would if it wasn’t promoted.

I won’t get into the specifics of our account performance (we generally only share our marketing results for company-sponsored events, not the personal blogs of employees), but I can give you some general ideas of performance. Ads can be effective if you target the right audience with the right ad. But you had better have one hell of a compelling offer or ad text. Be prepared for a terrible CTR and an even worse conversion rate. People go on Facebook to socialize, not click on ads and buy stuff. Sponsored stories seem to get a better CTR due to the social endorsement, but your audience for the ad will be a lot smaller since you need to rely on the total number of people who have liked your page/post in the first place. This might be an effective format for large brands with significant, established social media audiences. But I wouldn’t recommend it for someone just starting out. The third format, Promoted Posts, seems to have worked the best of all. You’re pushing out posts in a format your fans are already familiar with (they look just like a regular timeline post), and you’re advertising to your core group of customers – your fans.

It may seem counter-intuitive to spend money advertising to people who will see your posts anyway, but that’s a false assumption. Facebook has grown to the point where people’s news feeds are saturated with memes, baby pictures, and brand advertising, so unless you’re checking your news feed every couple of minutes you’re going to miss something. Promoted Posts offers brands a way to cut through this noise and ensure exposure for your posts. And if you have a compelling enough offer in your post that you’re promoting, you can see an ROI many times that of the small investment in the promotion. Right now, I think that Promoted Posts are the best deal on the internet when it comes to advertising. Facebook is over-valuing the effectiveness of it’s Ads and Sponsored Stories formats (and charging accordingly), but for the moment Promoted Posts is both cheap and effective. If you’re not already using them, I suggest that you give them a try.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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