Is Facebook killing its mobile user experience with ads?
By Chantal Tode
October 10, 2012
Facebook has ramped up its mobile advertising efforts over the past few months. However, the social media giant may risk turning off mobile users if the ads become too intrusive.
Mobile use of Facebook and other social networks is growing quickly, forcing these companies to look for ways to derive money from mobile users. However, because the mobile screen is so much smaller than on desktop, ads can quickly turn users off of the mobile experience.
“I don’t think we know yet exactly what consumers will and won’t accept when it comes to ads on their handset,” said Dave Martin, senior vice president of media at Ignited, El Segundo, CA.
“Facebook has no choice but to test the water in this area to see what kind of ad experiences start to push their users away,” he said.
“The good news is that Facebook has the ability to test the impact that new ad products have on usage at a small scale before rolling them out more broadly. I expect Facebook to apply a lot of rigor to the study of ads and mobile usage.”
Facebook’s efforts to increase the advertising opportunities on mobile are not receiving high marks from research firm BTIG research, which recently cut Facebook to a sell rating because it claims mobile ads are cluttering mobile screens and negatively impacting the user experience.
Marketers are split on whether Facebook is doing a good job integrating advertising into its mobile experience or not.
Some give kudos to Facebook’s efforts so far.
“Since the IPO, Facebook has definitely put more focus around their ad products and other ways for advertisers to access their enormous one billion active user base,” said Sebastian Gard, senior vice president and director of social media at Arnold Worldwide, Boston.
“But, they're still prioritizing the user experience over anything else,” he said. “This is evident by the way they're shaping their advertisers guidelines; and the way their sales force encourage all of their brand partners to create content and experiences and amplify user stories rather than just making ads.
“This stands true for mobile. Their mobile experience is worlds better than where it was — and they understand that they need to make significant investments to keep that experience user-friendly.”
However, there have been issues with some of the early ads on Facebook.
Some claim that the ads are too easy to accidentally click on, creating frustration from both the user experience side and the brand side.
“For brands, this will pose issues in accurately measuring click-throughs and success,” said Sloane Kelley, interactive strategy director at BFG, Bluffton, SC.
“One solution for Facebook is to address the importance for brands in creating the right content both within everyday posts, as well as within ads,” she said. “No matter what Facebook does from a user-experience perspective, the right content will win at the end of the day.”
Going forward, Facebook is likely to continue to focus on improving the mobile user experience.
However, at the same time, the social network will also need to figure out how to effectively monetize mobile via advertising, which is proving to be a challenge for many, not just Facebook.
“Ads via mobile are a slippery slope, you are disrupting a very personal experience and anything overt will send users to less cluttered spaces,” said Craig Elimeliah, vice president and director of technology and digital solutions at RAPP, New York.
“Ads need to be highly contextual and extremely relevant to the user at that particular place and time while on the mobile platform,” he said.
“If Facebook can figure out how to bubble up natural user endorsements on behalf of brands that feel natural in the social space then they win. Otherwise you're begging for pennies at a private party.”
A better experience
There have been complaints about Facebook’s mobile user experience in general. For example, Facebook's application currently lacks the full functionality of what is available on the Web site, with brands forced to work around these issues. Additionally, the experience can be slow.
The question is whether Facebook can drive revenue from mobile users via advertising while also continuing to improve the mobile user experience. The two just may simply be mutually exclusive or it may be a case of needing to be more creative.
“Since Facebook has to respond to the public markets and show early results they are forced to try multiple monetization paths at once,” said Howie Schwartz, CEO of Human Demand. “The negative part is this may impact user experience short term, but Facebook is a very smart, data-driven company that will very clearly see the impact and engagement of the varying mobile ad strategies they are testing today and will quickly find 'balance' for user experience vs monetization.
“Not clearly 'carving' out ads on a smaller mobile or tablet screen is the first issue,” he said. “It needs to be clear to users where the ads or 'sponsors' start and end.
“Facebook has a non-standard ad unit, which at first will limit its adoption by advertisers — but at scale I feel Facebook as an opportunity to innovate 'beyond the banner' and create new mobile ad experiences that will serve both goals - monetization and user experience on mobile.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
Related content: Social networks, Facebook, mobile advertising, user experience, Ignited, Dave Martin, Arnold Worldwide, Sebastian Gard, BFG, Sloane Kelley, RAPP, Craig Elimeliah, Human Demand, Howie Schwartz, mobile marketing, mobile
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