Below I offer a vision, in the form of seven concrete suggestions (complete with mock-ups), on how Facebook can transform its ad platform and get users to love ads.
1. Simplify Ad Units: “via the Deck” meets Pandora
Facebook would be well served to get rid of all the Ad clutter. Following the elegance of “Ads via the Deck” (Take a look at Daring Fireball for example) would give the UI of the entire site some much needed breathing room.
The only obvious objection to this is:
“Why would it be better to reduce the number of ads when Facebook is desperately trying to increase ad impressions to raise their revenue?”
Imagine a single Ad container elegantly seated in Facebook’s site frame that only displays one ad at a time. Next to that Ad frame is a previous and next button that lets the user cycle through ads. This will make the Ad section innately interactive.
With the current interface, the ad area looks so spammy, that I don’t even bother removing the ad to clean things up. But, if it was the only ad, and it kept getting shown to me on page after page, eventually I would either skip to the next ad, or take action and thumb it down.
I’m imagining something like this…
Did you also notice the “View All Ads” link? This used to be a feature for Ads way back in the day. Facebook still has this feature, they call it the “Ad Board”, and it’s buried deep in the site. It took me a half hour of Google searching to find it.
Further recommendations are to remove the “your friend likes Some Page” ad altogether. I think the recent negative attention over this one is well founded.
I also, think they should keep the Sponsored Post unit, that promotes a Page’s status update in targeted users’ news feed, much like Twitter. But as I recently read somewhere (I could use help finding the link), someone suggested just inserting one of these updates in the feed could generate significant revenue, and work really well for the mobile app. We’ll get more in depth about possible mobile ads with the introduction of a preview pane in just a second, but before we do that, lets consider how this ad feature could start to become a a powerful passive discovery tool for users.
2. Ad Feed as a User Feature: Passive Discovery Tool
Instead of the Ad Board being a hidden feature on the site, I think it could be promoted as an alternative type of News Feed. A feed where you can view all the ads that you are being targeted with, giving the user a social feed, and a discovery feed. I’m note sure the best name for it, but I’m thinking the transparently labeled “Ad Feed”
Let users have fun scanning through ads all day. It can actually become a form of entertainment, after the interesting content on the social feed runs dry.
Given the current stock of Ads running on Facebook, this seems like it would be a lousy experience, but I’ll cover a few things that will address this problem later on.
3. Preview Panes for Ads
One reason I never click ads is because I am not willing to take the gamble of being transported away to an unknown destination. Two recent studies that I am not alone.
In fact, I haven’t clicked a Facebook Ad in years. Only until I decided to write this post did I even start paying attention to ads and decided to click one, just to remind myself how they worked.
One problem is that users are unsure what the target destination will be. Will it open in a new page or not? Will it jump me to some random tab on a Facebook page? Aren’t those ads all just spam? Additionally, the brief ad copy is not enough to convince me to teleport to an unknown destination.
My suggestion is that every Ad has two parts to it.
1. The short ‘carrot’ ad that is displayed in the ad carousel mentioned before
2. An expanded view of the Ad, that opens in a preview pane with the following info: Details on exactly why the Ad is being shown to me
- If any of my friends have up voted or down voted the ad
- How many people total have up voted or down voted the ad
- Larger graphic/image
- Expanded Ad copy
- A Like Button for the canonical brand page
- A big link button that tells describes the target location
- A share button
- Other cool things Facebook can think of.
Maybe it would look something like this…
I’ll leave it the Facebook UI crew to make it look better. But hopefully you get the idea.
By requiring a preview pane for all ads you get rid of the gamble a user is forced to make.
For me, I would have fun previewing ads to get more information and to satisfy my curiosity of why I’ve been targeted. This added transparency will also begin to educate users on how their information is being used to serve ads, and incentivize them to share better and like better to receive more relevant ads.
I’ll cover in a second why I think this will allow Facebook to harness thousands more data point about a user for advertisers to target with. But before we go there, let’s take a look at how this preview pane could help solve their problems with serving ads on their mobile app.
4. Ads Units in Mobile App
Now with a preview pane in place, serving mobile ads becomes a cinch.
There are a few options, and I am not sure which is the most elegant. But I am sure something can be figured out.
Perhaps the most obvious is to place a persistent ad unit at the bottom of the app.
A click opens a dialogue window that lets you take action
When you click preview, it displays the content of the preview pane from the desktop site. This lets the user stay inside the App to learn more, before launching a slower to load webpage.
Another area to serve up ads is by adding a link to the Ad Feed in the side navigation. This will show show users a feed of all their ads, as mentioned before.
5. Increase Targeting Options
The key to make this all work is for Facebook to have a significantly larger stock of super relevant Ads. A great way to increase the number of Ads is to offer even better targeting options for advertisers.
Age, Gender, Marital Status, Interests, Work Place, Education, and Location are nice, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure everyone’s already thought of the type of powerful data points Facebook could open up to advertisers, but everyone thinks: “The users would never allow that! It would just be too much of an invasion of privacy.”
But, now if you turn ads into a discovery tool that is a USER FEATURE, you can make the argument to users that letting advertisers target them with even more data will lead to better content discovery.
Right now Facebook is going down the path of creating abstract, or macro, targeting options, much like Google has, with interest groups. For instance, you can target people who Facebook has deemed “Movie Lovers”.
I’ll argue that advertisers want more granularity, rather then less.
Let advertisers target users based on:
- Likes on specific URLs, videos, and web content
- Content consumed through the auto-Share feature
- Open Graph information from Facebook App objects. (ex. Users who added a specific recipe from a third-party recipe app)Maybe even give the app publisher a cut of this revenue when an advertisers uses this data, to incentive them to generate more app object sharing and a better timeline presence. Thats a killer platform, and worthy of it own blog post
The effect of adding these targeting options is that more businesses will advertise on Facebook, because they can be even more specific with their targeting, and have more options to optimize their campaigns with.
Add this together with the new preview pane option which will increase user Ad engagement as a whole, and advertisers will really feel like they are getting great value with their Ad spend.
One silly example of this comes to mind…
My roommate is an avid cook. Recently he spent a lot of time reading up on how to roast a whole pig. But he encountered frustration at figuring out a decent way to get all the materials needed. After some deep Google searching he found out that a local butcher shop rents all the equipment necessary to perfectly roast a pig.
Now imagine that he knowingly allowed Facebook to open his browsing history, and the like he added to one of the pages he found, to advertisers to target. That butcher shop could be running a niche ad campaign directed at anyone living in Brooklyn, who has read or has liked one of the following 5-6 webpages about roasting a pig.
If that butcher shop, and other advertisers could run ads like that, then my roommate would actually be thrilled to see ads about pig roasting gear, and possibly even special condiments, and recipes for side dishes displayed in his “Ad Feed”.
So much so that he would be even more intuitional with his web browsing, and even more willing to let advertisers use that information.
I know this because I asked him.
6. Organize Like Data
When Facebook hijacked the manually entered interests section of the profile with an aggregation of likes, they really killed one of the more entertaining and fun experiences of Facebook stalking. (This manual listing of movies, music, books, and food, however, has seen a good come back on OkCupid)
Now there is a unfocused and messy like of Likes, some are tied to actual pages and some are tied to ‘community pages’. Personally, I never even bother to look at a friend’s ‘Likes’ page. This is despite the fact that people love to catalog and display the things they like and use. Facebook is missing the boat by not bringing more attention to this area of the profile.
Why not add more categories of objects that are tied to actual Facebook Pages. Like this…
By improving the user experience of this ‘forgotten’ section of the profile, I bet more users will take the time to hunt down and like their favorite brands to offer a curated showcase of their favorite things.
I would love to be able to visit a friend’s profile and checkout what podcasts or blogs he likes. Further, I would love to curate my favorite blogs on my profile and give them the free promotion to my friends.
This changes the user’s awareness of what a Like means and demonstrates on the platform. Not only are likes and important representation of yourself, but they also influence what ads you will be targeted with.
7. Create Powerful Quality Score Metrics
So we’ve been focusing on the user experience a lot so far. What about the advertisers?
They’ve already been getting plenty of attention from Facebook who has been constantly improving Ad performance metrics and reporting.
But, one of the big things Facebook is missing is their own version of Google’s Quality Score — the Hallmark of the Adwords platform.
The Quality Score metric was built by Google to reward advertisers who had better Ads in order to maintain a quality user experience. For Google this Quality Score metric is easy because they have the context of specific keywords to evaluate relevancy.
Facebook doesn’t have a good mechanism right now for maintaining the quality of their Ads. But with some of the suggestion I’ve proposed so far you can see how you could easily start to judge the quality of Ads.
You incorporate the following metrics to generate a Facebook ad quality score:
- Up Votes and Down Votes
- Average Time spent on preview pane
- Number of time the Ad was shared
- Average time on an Ad preview pane
- Click throughs to target content
- Time spent on target page (incentive to install Facebook domain tools)
And here is one my favorite possibilities:
Persistence of Likes and Scoring of Brand Pages
If you require a brand page to be attached to every ad, you can score each brand page based on how their ads perform as a whole.
Each user that likes a brand page from an Ad, gets tracked to see how long they remain a fan of that page. Liking a page means that you will be seeing status updates from that page in your News Feed. A user may be gung-ho about liking a page, until that page posts horrible content that they are not interested in, so they unlike the page. Those unlikes should be tracked and factored into the Pages quality score as well.
This rewards brands who offer more engaging and interesting updates on their page, and will decrease spam and inauthentic brands, thus improving the entire user experience on the site. Brand pages and ads that perform incredibly well can be placed nearly for free into the “Ad Feed” because it will be good for the user (Remember, for the Ad Feed to work, you need a ton more ads).
So now you are giving great advertisers bonus views for providing quality content in their ads.
Facebook should stop treating ads like they are dirty things that must be manipulated and integrated unwittingly into the Facebook experience. This is not a viable long term solution as users start to see through it.
Instead, Facebook should start exploring ways to use its unprecedented engaged user base, in ways that no one else can. People are smart, they know what Ads are. It’s time Facebook inspires people to look at ads differently, and offer a compelling vision of the future where advertisers are not in a violent war to distract and get users attention. But rather hand over the reigns to the users, and give them the power to make Ads work for them.
Facebook needs to stop worrying, and get users to love their ads.
Why build a new messaging product when the basic functionality of email combined with a little effort from the user can achieve the same result?
Everyone is trying to tackle the problem of private group communication. Like, Google, Glassboard, Groupme, Life360, and I’ll even add Path to this list.
How necessary are they? Is email’s interface so broken that we need new ones, that make it ‘easier’ to manage how we share messages and content with different groups in our life?
I must admit that I have tried build TWO different web apps that served to replace sending out a basic email to a list of contacts.
The first one, developed in 2006, was called “The Friendly Briefs” , it used the metaphor of a newspaper, and it was designed to function like an online family newsletter. We actually launched it and had a about hundred users, but the interface was admittedly ugly, and we dropped the project.
The second one, developed in 2008, was called ‘Convo Club’, and it was basically a re-skinned reboot of The Friendly Briefs.
When building these two apps, I dreamed of effortless, beautiful, and ideal communication with all the groups of people I cared about. I imagined writing story updates about my life that my parents, aunt and uncles, and relatives would read. Or posting interesting and thought commentary on a news items to my friends that would launch into rigorous debate.
For some reason I was convinced that I needed a new shiny app that would allow for this type of communication. But, the truth was that with just a little effort I could have been doing this easily with email.
Looking back now, I would have been better off using all that development time for composing meaningful messages to my family and friends.
Email is great. It gives you a headline, body text, and attachments of any kind. It also lets you to specify the people you share the message with, and whether or not that list is private or public.
Then people can respond ‘reply’ or ‘reply all’ to your message. What more do you need?
(Yes, I know, sorry for describing how e-mail works, I am sure you know it well by now)
If I started a email thread with my friends about a news article asking for their reflection, I would have gotten it. If I emailed out photos to my relatives of a trip I went on, they would have offered their wow and amazement, and probably even sent their own updates back.
All I was doing was avoiding doing the work, the real effort of producing the content that actually mattered. I was hiding from honest sharing with the conviction that the tools were not good enough yet.
Looking back, the only way I could justify making a private/collaborative group messaging app again, is if I have mastered the art of e-mail communication, if I am actually sending so many messages, starting so many threads, and openly and rigorously communicating with the current tools available. Only then would I truly be aware of what is needed to improve upon email as a communication tool. And I wouldn’t dare use a new messaging app without indication that the founders are rock-star communicators to begin with.
Recently, I have started to use email as more than just a dumping ground for newsletters and app notifications.
Here is what I have realized: email really does the trick
Myself and others should really spend more time setting an example by putting in the minimal effort to have great communication using email. In fact, we’d all better for taking an hour a day to write an actual thoughtful message to one person, or a to a specific group — to take a moment to organize your address book, and create an useful email list.
Just recently, my sister, my mother, and I made a pact to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks, in time for a wedding. We created a email thread for just the three of us titled “10/10”. We all have iPhones, hooked up with email. So its as easy as getting a email notification, seeing an update about whether we’re eating good or not that day, and responding with our own update. Since doing this, we have been in casual contact everyday. This is a big improvement from the perhaps once a week phone call. Now, we feel closer, more bonded, and informed about each others life’s. And no we didn’t need a shiny new app, we just put in the minimal effort to use e-mail.
PS: My father just remarked that he feels left out of the email thread, and that he shouldn’t be missing out just because he is already in good enough shape and doesn’t need to lose any weight. He says ‘No, good deed goes unpunished!’
- Cousin: so. i need my teeth cleaned should i buy this
- Cousin: [Link to Groupon for a $50 Teeth Cleaning]
- Cousin: is it poor care to do this?
- Me: poor care?
- Cousin: like... by just going to a random.
- Me: well what are the alternatives? wouldn't you rather just pay $50 for the chance of getting a pro clean, rather then pay $200 for a guaruntee?
- Cousin: hahah right right
- Cousin: k i bought it