Facebook has been in the spotlight for its role in the 2016 US Election with it appearing that as many as 126 million American users may have seen content uploaded by Russia-based operatives over the past two years.
Many of these ads were ‘dark posts’ – which is not as scary or sinister as it sounds. ‘Dark posts’ are a completely normal option offered through Facebook and are simply posts that appear in a users news feed, but do not appear on a brand’s page - this means they’re seen exclusively by the user they are intended for and nobody else. In other words, they are great for targeting.
Details and Implications
In response to the use of dark posts in the 2016 US Election, Facebook is now implementing a ‘View Ads’ link to the top of every brand owner page in 2018, which will provide visibility on all dark posts.
When clicked, the ‘View Ads’ function will allow a Facebook user to see all the ads being run by the brand, including those previously ‘dark posts’ that were targeting specific users and you will be able to see if certain ads are targeting you or not. A test is currently underway in Canada, with full implementation in the US due before next year’s mid-term elections. The update will then be rolled out to other countries, with exact timings unconfirmed at this stage.
Facebook believes that the introduction of the ‘View Ads’ link will make it easier for users to flag inappropriate content, however, it will also present some challenges for brands.
Firstly, it’s important to consider the advantages that ’dark posts’ provide a brand. Advertisers can create as many ads as they desire without spamming their followers and can tailor targeting to reach very specific audiences with relevant creative. Brands can also use dark posting to run A/B tests, for example running the same ad but with different copy or a different video to build up learnings as to which works best.
The introduction of ‘View Ads’ will mean that ads previously built to be targeted towards specific users, such as newsletter subscribers or individuals that have interacted with the brand in the past, will now be open to be viewed by anyone who clicks the ‘View Ads’ link.
This potentially limits a brand’s ability to offer things such as rewards only valid for loyal customers for example as any customer will be able to see the ads by clicking ‘View Ads’ on the brand Facebook page. Another major issue that ‘View Ads’ raises is that all adverts will be accessible to competing brands too. This could lead to creative saturation as the best ads can be seen and imitated by the competition.
Facebook is now fully aware of the power of ‘fake news’ and this new update is its way of tracking and regulating adverts that may be intended to sway voters. Whilst this is certainly a positive step forward regarding Facebook’s social responsibility, it does create a number of potential issues for brands who have been using the function to target consumers and it will be interesting to see how these challenges are tackled in the coming year.