social media how toAre you considering Facebook Ads but are confused by all the options?

You’ve undoubtedly heard that “social ads” are the future of advertising, but what does that mean in practical terms for you today?

This article will help you make smart decisions about how to promote your brand and engage with fans through advertising on Facebook.

As a Facebook Preferred Developer, I’ve had the opportunity to gather a lot of information from the proverbial “horse’s mouth.”

This article will provide a useful lay of the land around the new ad solutions that were introduced at the Facebook Marketing Conference (fMC) in February.

Understanding Facebook’s Sales Process and Where You Fit

Before delving into the various advertising options available on Facebook and how you can utilize them, it’s helpful to understand how Facebook interfaces with advertisers.

Facebook has three sales channels: Direct, Inside and Online.

  • Direct sales deals with the largest global brands, for which Facebook has dedicated account teams to manage the relationship directly with the advertiser and their agencies. These are generally referred to as managed accounts. The first important point to note is that certain products, specifically Premium (discussed later), are only available to managed accounts.
  • Inside sales handles the next tier of clients, who may be spending in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on Facebook. These clients will have a sales rep whom they deal with directly to buy advertising, but they don’t have quite the same level of strategic support as managed accounts.
  • That means the rest of us interact with Facebook sales via the Online, or self-serve, channel. There are companies developing products on top of Facebook’s Marketing/Ads APIs to facilitate the buying process for self-serve advertisers. Platforms such as Ad Parlor, Blinq, TBG Digital and others can be beneficial to those spending enough to justify an investment in automation and optimization.

But when it comes to the type of advertising available, these platforms don’t provide access to anything that you can’t do yourself through the Facebook self-serve interface.

What’s the Difference Between an Ad and a Sponsored Story?

According to Facebook, users want to engage with “stories,” not “ads”—the difference being that ads are one-way communication and stories are more conversational and participatory.

sponsored story

With this sponsored story, you have the ability to Like the brand, comment or share.

To support this, they have presented data based on research done by Nielsen that showed significantly higher click-through and brand recall rates for ads that contained the social context of a friend’s name (i.e., “John Liked this”) versus a traditional advertising message alone.

Facebook will continue to offer options for both Ads and Sponsored Stories through the Online and Direct or Inside Sales channels. However, they have introduced a number of new formats to encourage advertisers to use these more social ads. In addition, Facebook recently began testing a button that bypasses the somewhat complicated self serve ad interface to allow Page admins to promote content directly from their Page as a Sponsored Story.

That said, you can still choose to set up a traditional ad, called a Marketplace Ad, where you supply the ad copy and creative, and can link the ad to your Facebook page or your own website if you choose.

Marketplace Ads

There are currently four Marketplace Ad types:

  • Standard Ad (drive traffic to your site)
  • Like Ad (drive to your Facebook page)
  • App Ad (drive to an app)
  • Event Ad (promote an event)

Each ad includes a thumbnail image, title and body copy.

Note that as of April 1, there is a new 90-character restriction on body copy length.

ad setup

Facebook’s self-serve interface makes it easy to set up a new ad.

Direct advertisers also have access to video ads, which are not available through the Online channel. However, self-serve advertisers can incorporate video via Page Post Ads described below.

Sponsored Stories

Now let’s look at Sponsored Stories. These were Facebook’s initial social ads and may now be referred to as “voice of friend” stories to differentiate from the new Page Post Ads discussed below.

These stories are shown to “friends of fans” (users whose friends are fans of your page and interact with your brand). These stories always show the friend’s profile photo and name, something not displayed with Marketplace Ads, and hence the social dimension.

Sponsored Stories can be generated from any of the following actions:

  • Page Like (user Likes your page and their friends will see this)
  • Page Post Like (user Likes a post on your page)
  • Page Post Comment (user comments on a post)
  • App Used or App Shared (user interacts with your app)
  • Check In (user checks into your location)
  • Question Answered (user answers a question you posted on your page)
  • Event RSVP (user indicates they are attending your event)
like vs ss

Above you can see a traditional Like Ad alongside a Page Like Sponsored Story. Both encourage a user to engage with your page, but the Sponsored Story contains the “voice of friend” that is more likely to drive engagement from friends of fans.

The most recent additions to Facebook’s advertising arsenal are the Page Post Ad and Sponsored Story.

Page Post Ads

The Page Post Ad offers the ability to display the same content in an ad unit as on your page. If users are not already connected to your brand through a friend, they will see an ad and have the ability to Like your page.

Existing fans and friends of fans will see a Sponsored Story showing their friends who are connected to your brand, providing additional social context. For managed accounts that have access to Facebook Premium, Page Post Ads will also allow existing fans to interact by Liking or commenting directly within the Sponsored Story. This greater degree of engagement is not currently available to advertisers through the Online channel.

Page Post Ad options currently include:

  • Text (you make a text-only post on your page)
  • Photo (you post a photo to your page)
  • Video (you post a video to your page)
  • Link (you share a link on your page, which can be used to drive traffic off of Facebook)
  • Question (you ask a question/poll)
  • Event (you create an event)
page post video

With Page Post Ads, you can drive video consumption.

What if I Want My Ad to Appear in the News Feed?

Much has been made of the new Facebook Premium, which enables advertisers to promote Page Post Ads and Sponsored Stories directly in the news feed, including on mobile. Facebook Premium is only available to managed accounts, but that doesn’t mean your ad can’t appear in a user’s news feed.

Marketplace Sponsored Stories scheduled through the Online channel will also be considered for inclusion in the news feed. Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm will take into account numerous factors to determine the suitability of a given story for inclusion.

If I’m in San Francisco and seeing something from a plumber in Wichita, that isn’t good for the advertiser or me, and isn’t necessarily a good user experience. Facebook is rightfully concerned about this and will likely be very selective about which Sponsored Stories appear in the news feed.

If your ad does appear in the news feed, you will be paying for impressions (CPM) or clicks (CPC) just as if the ad had appeared in the designated ad position on the page.

Initially Facebook will be gathering data on how different ads perform in the context of the news feed and on mobile. Armed with that data, they will be in a better position to determine how or whether to roll out the product to more advertisers. Of course there are no guarantees that you will ever be able to pay directly for exposure in the news feed.

What About Offers?

Facebook also announced a new product that enables companies to create an Offer that can be posted on their page and claimed by users with one click. Once a user claims the offer, their friends will see this in the news feed and be prompted to claim as well.

At this point Offers are only available to managed accounts and a select number of local business Pages, but it appears the product will be more widely available soon.


Here’s an offer displayed in the news feed with the ability to claim or share the offer with one click.

It’s unclear exactly how Offers will be rolled out to a wider selection of advertisers, but it is certainly an exciting tool for businesses of any size, so stay tuned!

So Now What?

I can’t provide a prescription for how to advertise on Facebook because each organization is unique and will have different objectives. However, I think it’s important for anyone not yet advertising on Facebook to think about the following, and for anyone currently advertising to take a second look at their campaigns with these points in mind:

  • In general, advertising on Facebook is more effective at driving behavior on Facebook. Another new feature Facebook recently announced will help advertisers measure this effectiveness even more precisely by enabling the tracking of various actions (Liking a Page, installing an app, RSVPing to an Event) a user may take after interacting with an ad.
  • Conversely, how can you utilize advertising to support your broader goals on Facebook? Page Like Ads can be a great way to build audience size and Page Post Ads can drive deeper engagement. If you’re utilizing apps on your page, you can use ads to drive traffic directly to the app.
  • One of the most powerful opportunities on Facebook is to reach friends of fans. Rather than targeting anonymous users with a traditional ad, you are likely to get a much greater response from someone one degree removed who sees that their friend interacted with your brand through a Sponsored Story.

It’s important to be clear on your goals and to be able to measure your effectiveness in reaching those goals. I am a big advocate of experimentation, but not of doing it blindly.

Just because you saw your competitor advertising on Facebook doesn’t mean you should do the same. And while tallying Likes and comparing how you stack up is an easy game to play, it’s not a great measure of the effectiveness of your Facebook marketing.

Before you go out and spend a bunch of money to gain more Likes, it’s important to have a plan for how you will retain and engage those fans. Again there is no formula, but successful brands on Facebook engage with their fans through content and conversations on their pages, as well as through fun and interactive applications (i.e., games, contests).

These activities can be amplified through the use of Page Post Ads and Sponsored Stories. When utilized together, they comprise a more holistic approach toward marketing on Facebook.

What do you think? Have you had success with advertising on Facebook? Are you excited about these new opportunities? I’d love to hear about it. Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

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  • Deep Current eMarketing

    We are in the process of planning for our Facebook ads and are really excited to see how they work for us. Thanks for the post guys, always great content!

  • $44796859

    Thanks for the information, Ben. I recently launched a Facebook Ads campaign and will be taking your information into account for this and future campaigns. Would you consider a post about the best way to design and format a Facebook ad with photos and copy? I have researched this quite a lot and found that optimizing these elements is key to increasing engagement. Thanks again!

  • very informative and clearly written
    thank you : )

  • Hi. That’s a good suggestion though it’s difficult to prescribe a single best practice when you may have different objectives. It’s always good to test different creative and copy within your ad campaign to see what performs best for you. Would love to hear what your research revealed and how your campaign goes!

  • Thanks for the great post Ben! Finally I can see the light at the end of the tunnel 🙂 Up until now all the info I’ve been reading about Facebook Ads has just managed to confuse the hell out of me. Thanks to your post, I think I’m now in a position to start experimenting with this form of advertising. I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on… thanks again!

  • Glad I could help. It’s challenging because they continue to roll out changes but I think most of the core elements I covered are here to stay (for a while at least). Good luck!

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  • I actually just started advertising on Facebook about a months ago. There is definitely a lot of testing going on for me right now. 

    I’ve also been posting and engaging with our fans on a daily basis. 

    Thanks for the post

  • Tracy

    Great post – we’ve been advertising on Facebook for over 2 years, but with all the changes, it’s nice to have a refresher!

  • Scott Linklater

    Good post for those new to the fb ad game. TBH, I’m not really pumped about these new changes (I think they are past new now aren’t they???) coz the best changes and the best features no one can get access to unless they happen to own some billion dollar corporation!

    I’ve never seen a company focus on big brands so much whilst openly discriminate the far larger market of small to medium sized businesses as much as facebook does! FMC was the biggest joke of all time. 6 hours of ego stroking multi national company execs and very ordinary presentations to say what i can in one sentence “We are going public, buy more ads”. That is all it was. So until they offer the same services to smaller companies and help out the little operators who collectively are a far bigger market, i will continue to be less than impressed! 

  • Hey Scott – I don’t speak for Facebook but I know they do realize the value of the SMB market. The fMC event was targeted at big brands to be sure. A lot of new features are being openly exposed through the marketing API so now it’s just a matter of third parties repackaging the services in a way that is more accessible to smaller advertisers. I’m sure it won’t be long.

  • Guest

    I recently received a coupon from Facebook for $50 in free online ads for my new page. Has anyone ever used that and is it hard to turn it off before they keep debiting your credit card?

  • Scott Linklater

    If you don’t want to go further then you don’t have too. I have found the ads team at Fb to be exceptionally helpful so you wont have an issue.

  • Scott Linklater

    So you are saying that we will be able to use all these features by buying them from resellers? Are there many resellers out there big enough to qualify that will then be interested in dealing with customers who only want to spend in the hundreds or low thousands?

    And what about social media companies that operate in this market? Are we meant to send our clients over to these big competitors as they have the ability to resell the services and we don’t? I mean, that would be silly but if they ask for the product, what do you say????

    “I can’t offer that coz i only turn over 300,000 a year in ads sorry. You can get it from xyz social company though but please don’t look at any of their other products ok” is not going to cut it lol! 

    If you can tell me what companies will be letting resellers resell the features reserved for Direct clients that they are reselling, they might have a customer in me. I’m wondering how much margin will be in it though if you don’t like ripping clients off which i will not do, after everyone has taken their cut????

    Leaves more questions than answers at this point but me thinks you know lots so spill the beans mate 😉

  • Linda Frank123

    Extremely helpful!! Especially outlining what is for the premium accounts and for us “little folk” – the self-serve advertisers! I do have a quick question – To clarify – for self-serve accounts, I can post a video on my page and have a page post ad of that video? This is not for premium only?

  • Yes you can create a Page Post ad from any post, including video!

  • Hi Scott – There are likely to always be certain Premium features reserved for managed clients. However, some features, like Offers, are now being tested through the API and that could theoretically be available through a third party. Many of the Preferred Marketing Developers also focus on larger brands but I think that will change. Assuming the tools were made available through another provider then you could utilize them on behalf of your clients rather than sending your client directly to a potential competitor. I don’t have any inside scoop here but it’s something I am actively thinking about because we deal with a lot of smaller clients at Strutta and I want them to be able to take full advantage of what Facebook provides.

  • Sponsored Stories really are the way to go for small businesses and the reach is incredible. We are big advocates of ads to get a business started to increase fan base, therefore, increasing engagement.

  • Their customer service rocks there!

  • We have used it before and there are some bugs so be careful. It is easier if you only manage one page.

  • Great post, thank you! I got Offers on all my pages and over the moon with it! Works magic!

  • That’s great to hear!

  • This one’s useful (and timely). I’ve been thinking of putting together a few Facebook ads for a product launch I have comin’ up 🙂 

  • Hi Ben, great comment, really helpful and a bit challenging..

  • Yes thank you for the information. I spent over $100,000 in ads last year and I have to say that their performance has died down a lot for us the past several months…pretty much ever since they started moving to Timeline. I can turn on an ad and get tons of “Likes” but sometimes I would also like to get sales. How do you personally feel about promoting outside websites? In my personal experience when I do, they do not perform as well and they cost more…as opposed to sending them to a tab on our page that is…but the reason I would like to do this is because on my website I can track conversions much better…

  • Dub, I am not sure you are responding to the right posts…but yes $50 is a good start if you are going after a pretty small niche locally to get you started, but one thing that I always teach is that it’s quality and not quantity so don’t think that you have to try to get 1,000 likes your first day. Social media is a process that takes time to cultivate much like a garden…but if you give it the love and attention to make it grow…it eventually starts to grow like a weed. 

    Just go into it knowing that as long as you treat the likes you have like you will never get another you will have a very engaging page that will stay engaging as you grow…

  • Paul

     Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the post! Our goal is to generate sales leads, but we’ve found even after creating custom tabs on FB to enable lead generation, that our website still far exceeds out FB page in terms of ROI. So now we’re considering pushing traffic back to our webpage rather than our FB page.

    What are your thoughts on this? Is it counter-intuitive? Should keep trying to build our FB fan base instead and eventually leads will come through that portal?


  • What gets me is what they consider larger brands. I am a small business, but spent over $118,000 last year in ads and don’t even have a rep. What makes you big? A million?

  • Hi Paul,

    I think the Facebook channel serves different needs for different businesses and you need to reach your audience where they are. So it may be the case that your website continues to be the primary destination for your customers. While I think ads on Facebook tend to be more successful at driving action on Facebook, it’s certainly worth trying ads that lead people direct to your site. And even if you build a fan base on Facebook the ultimate sales conversion may be happening on your site so you simply would use your Facebook activities to support that. I actually had a previous post here regarding the use of Facebook to
    drive traffic back to your website: Hope that helps!

  • Scott Linklater

     Thanks Ben, really appreciate your level headed replies even in light of my big business / small business rant. The ironic thing is i just read an article that said there is concern over the IPO for Facey coz big corporate are not convinced that they are paying them enough attention, they can’t get them to do anything special for them and that they are to “user” focused!

    I think the quote was something like ” facebook treat you just the same, regardless of if you spend $10,000 on ads….or $10 million!” LOL

    Seems they can’t take a trick, small biz thinks they ignore them and big biz wants more perks, data and special deals…..oh well, it must be tough at the top for them though 😉 …..billion people and big payday coming up! So i think they’ll handle the backlash just fine 😉

    Thanks again,


  • Scott Linklater

     As absurd as it sounds but yea probably….118k certainly wouldn’t be enough but know one thing, if you need anything from facebook done, contact the ads team and i’m telling you, you will get anything you want (within reason).

    You might not have a dedicated rep but they do look after them ones that spend the $$$$ with them that’s for sure and i have found all the crew in the ad department to be really really great.


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  • Grant Perry

    If only they provided conversion tracking for actions outside of FB. If I link to an external landing page that offers an e-letter signup I’d like to see that conversion included in my FB ad interface, ala AdWords or most PPC ad models.

    I’ve found targeting ads to existing fans of our pages works really well.

  • Yes, we totally agree. Starting off with $50 for ads is perfect and so is doing $5 a day. We were specifically talking about bugs with the coupon that we have seen, sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. We really dig the cultivation of a social media garden 🙂

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  • Guest

    Great! Thanks to you, David and Scott for your helpful replies!

  • Great write up. I haven’t looked too much into FB ads yet, but from your write up it seems really complicated.

    We’re just about to start some experiments with various approaches to advertising, FB being but one. In our case we have more of a B2B type offering and I’m skeptical that FB will be as useful as Twitter/LinkedIn for finding qualified leads. Nonetheless, we’re going to test that hypothesis.

  • Great post Ben. A really strong introduction to the topic. 

    For those that are interested in a deep dive into advanced Facebook advertising, we just opened registration of our Facebook Ads conference here:

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  • Very thoroughly researched article on Facebook ads. Great resource for a beginner like me who is thinking of using Facebook ads as a marketing tool. 

  • How thorough!  I have some experience with Facebook Ads so I can really appreciate this information and attest to its accuracy from what I have tried.  I also learned some new tips.  Thanks so much!

  • Thanks Jason. Your conference looks great for those a little more advanced. We’re big fans of Social Fresh here at Strutta and would be great to connect.

  • Thanks Ben. We are actually planning on including some beginner training as well. Should be fun. Feel free to shoot me an email any time jason at

  • Val

    greetings all- i am a babe in the social media world. the personal social media experience is WAAAAAY different then the small biz experience and i am learning thru trial and error. 1st i must say this was a great entry. i definitely took a nugget from it.

    but i am in the beginning stages of FB ads and i would like to pose the questions to the vets and rookies of the year out there, what is a good price point to start with regarding the ads. i tried to find a number at FB so i can ask questions, but had no luck. this whole bid system is weird to me since i have no experience with the pricing of the ads and would like a good benchmark. 100k is definitely out of the question in advertising, but im hoping that one day ill be able to afford that. all comments, concerns and critiques are welcomed 🙂


  • Hi Ben,

    I’ve noticed an interesting change in Facebook Advertising recently, in that display ads are providing a much better return than Sponsored Stories in terms of fan acquisition. When SS first came out, they were incredibly cheap and drove a great return, but I’ve found – despite plenty of testing – that they seem to have run their course?

    My fan acquisition ads are all back to the regular display ads now and, although you do have to change them up regularly, I’m seeing fan acquisition increase dramatically.

    Are you seeing something similar?



  • Hi Will – I think Sponsored Stories can drive greater engagement but purely for fan acquisition the traditional format may perform better. I would be curious to hear if you have tried any of the new page post sponsored stories and how those do.



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  • Mmesarina

    Hi Ben, very informative article, but i am still not clear on what is the difference between a Premium Sponsored Ad and a Marketplace Sponsored ad. Could you explain?

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  • Marketplace ads refer to ads available to anyone while Premium ads are only available to larger direct clients. The actual ad formats are mostly identical. Facebook has made a number of changes to ad options since this was published so best to refer to 

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  • ande

    Hi Ben, i would like to create a page for “users to sell items to other party”.

    therefore i created a page call “online trades”. but how do i gain profits from the page instead? since i am the owner and not doing sales on the page itself. i only maintain the page. shared around and getting likes everywhere. i hopeyou could help me Ben. thank you.

    sincerely ande farid

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  • dave

    I have an interesting situation and would like your advice. I
    am a high school marketing teacher and a local golf course has asked me to help
    build their friend/like base. I am a little familiar with FB ad’s and can accurately
    identify my market segment within their perimeters.

    I am privy to have several exclusive tickets (unavailable to
    the public) to a major golf tournament in our community (USGA Senior Open Golf
    Championship) in 3 weeks and willing to donate them.

    My goals are pretty simple:

    1) Grow the likes/friends for their FB page

    2) Have as many
    people as possible share the news/post ad whatever in hopes of getting them to
    also like the page.

    What else should I be trying to accomplish?

    They have just opened a twitter account and only have about
    a 100 followers. They have a nice website with about 2500-3000 unique visitors each
    month and a database of about 5000.

    What kind of ad should I create on FB to make this happen?

    Lost in Nebraska……..

  • Thanks for the info.

  • Tray

    Hi. I have a business page on fb and it doesn’t allow me to interact with my fb friends. I check my charts and am never really sure if my product is reaching the people on my page as well as others. I always wonder if fb wants me to invest more money into promoting my page. I find it to be really frustrating.