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Why Facebook Story Ads Could Mean Big Changes for Advertisers

August 7, 2018

Like voice in search, the biggest topic in social medial today is Stories. Users are interacting more and more meaningfully with products and brands on mobile, and they’re doing so in a way that demands immediacy, convenience, and full immersion.

Just this year, we’ve seen ads drop in Instagram Stories, and we’ve also seen the release of Instagram TV, accompanied by questions of when and how that platform will be monetized.

Now, as Facebook Stories hits 150 million users (ads dropped in Instagram Stories at around the same number of users), Facebook has announced that Facebook Stories ads are coming. They’re going to mark a huge shift in the way advertisers think about placement. 

Facebook Stories Ads

If you’ve been following along, Facebook’s blog on the subject last week was more a reminder than a new announcement. Facebook has been harping on the development and release of Stories since F8 in May, when chief product officer Chris Cox said he expects Stories to overtake News Feed in terms of sharing sometime next year. There is also this telling quote from Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook’s Q1 2018 earnings call:

“One of the interesting opportunities and challenges over the coming years will be making sure that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.”

Clearly, not only is there a definitive shift to Stories occurring, but Facebook is aligning the future success of the platform with their ability to monetize them. Today, we’re going to give a full rundown of Facebook Stories ads including what they are, what they mean for Facebook, and what advertisers can expect when they finally drop for real.

What Are Facebook Story Ads?

Part of the reason Facebook is putting so much emphasis on the shift to Stories and insisting on getting them right is the success of Instagram Stories. To continue with Zuckerberg’s quote: “There’s real upside here, too, if we do a good job. We’re leading the way here with Instagram, and the results so far are promising, both on product quality and business performance.”

Instagram Stories’ daily active user number (400 million) now stands at more than double Snapchat’s 191 million, and early returns on Instagram Stories ads have been promising since they rolled out officially in March.

Facebook Stories Ads Example

An Instagram Stories ad.

Technically, you can expect Facebook Story ads to look much the same as ads in Instagram Stories. Facebook has stated its desire to allow advertisers to repurpose creative from one format to the next (i.e. spend more money), so if the formats are indeed the same, you can expect up to 15-second video ads, 5-second image ads, and 45-second (aggregate) Carousel ads wedged between the organic stories of your friends and family.

To skip the ad, a user will merely have to swipe through to the next story (although we’ll talk more about Facebook possibly putting the kibosh on that in a second). To access a landing page, the user will swipe up on a CTA. 

Until technical specs are released, the biggest thing you need to know about Facebook Stories ads is that they represent the continued shift to full screen, vertical, immersive video formats. This is the way consumers are going to engage with mobile content going forward. Prepare accordingly.

What Do Stories Ads Mean for Facebook?

Facebook’s Q2 earnings call, which took place last week, laid bare a couple important things. The first, which is no secret: Facebook’s rampant growth is finally slowing down. Revenue growth slowed by 7 percentage points in Q2, and is expected to decline by high-single digit percentages in both Q3 and Q4.

Three consecutive quarters of deceleration is significant, and according to Facebook CFO Dave Wehner, there are several reasons for it. Chief among them: 

  • Facebook is giving users more choices around data privacy in the wake of GDPR and Cambridge Analytica.
  • Facebook plans to grow and promote certain engaging experiences like Stories that currently have lower levels of monetization.

Given the trajectory of Facebook’s revenue growth, and the predicted shift in social sharing from News Feed to Stories, it is fair to conclude that Facebook is putting quite a few of its eggs in the Facebook Stories ads basket. Whether that trajectory rises or falls will hinge on Facebook’s ability to make Facebook Stories a coveted spot for advertisers to spend money.

What Do Stories Ads Mean for Advertisers?

Bigger, better creative!

There are a few things that might make a placement coveted. A strong user base. Strong targeting options. A wide range of creative capabilities. The ability to work with multiple ad types. If Facebook Story ads are like their Instagram Stories counterparts and they will be advertisers can expect their clients to soon be clamoring to get in on the action.

The prospect of being able to repurpose creative to use on both platforms and split test them to see which is more effective is, first and foremost, a big draw. It also gives advertisers more incentive to devote time to creating Story ad content for one placement, if it means they can potentially leverage both.

As far as the creative itself, the shift to Stories means three things: more video, better video, and in general, more stylish and costly visuals. There is nowhere to hide grainy pixels in a full-screen ad, especially when the organic posts coming before and after it are filled with majestic boomerangs, colorful stickers, and high-res #brunch pics.

As far as targeting, you can expect all the same targeting and remarketing options you currently get in the News Feed, and availability for the same campaign objectives that support Instagram Stories: brand awareness, reach, video views, conversions, app installs, traffic, and lead gen

The Potential of Unskippable Ads

Facebook Stories Ads Unskippable

One of Snapchat's new Commercials.

A potentially beneficial feature for both Facebook and advertisers (though admittedly not users) would be to make Story ads “unskippable”: a feature Techcrunch wrote an interesting piece on last week. The ability of users to merely swipe through an ad to get to the content they came for could make creating assets for the placement untenable for businesses and advertisers without the requisite skill sets/budgets. Why spend all that time creating an ad that’s just going to get swiped-through?

Unskippable ads would provide assurances that an impression is an impression a user’s not going to just blow by your Stories ad the moment he detects it’s something that was paid for. Snapchat debuted unskippable ads (“Commercials”) in May, and rolled them out to 100 more advertisers last week. If Facebook wants to continue to corner the market, it could very realistically follow suit. It also opens up the possibility of a subscription model, or a “paid” version of Facebook, which would allow you to sift through content unencumbered by ads.

What About Small Businesses?

Like other, more immersive formats, the fear is that, whether users can skip ads or not, small businesses might lack the creative gusto to produce the assets necessary to perform. And until Stories become more ubiquitous as a placement, we will probably see agencies, contractors, and bigger businesses dominate the space. The competitive advantage hinges on getting in early. Advertisers with the requisite skills/budget will do so.

What this could mean is an increase in the quality and quantity of mobile-generated ad content. Facebook has already released new creative tools in Ads Manager that, with stickers, text overlays, and image croppers, make it easier to create compelling ad content on your mobile device. Facebook could also make it easier for amateurs to get in the game by giving them the capability to put money behind stories created in-app much in the same way that you can easily promote a post to News Feed within the Instagram app.

As content improves, and demand for polished content goes up, look for Facebook to continue to find ways to keep small businesses in the game.

A Shift in Thinking

The rollout of Facebook Stories ads and the shift of content sharing from the News Feed to Stories is going to have some pretty substantial ramifications over the next few months. If you’ve experimented with Story ads campaigns in either platform, we’d love to here about your experience in the comments below. Look out for a more comprehensive post on strategies and functionality when the ads themselves inevitably drop.

Gordon Donnelly

Gordon Donnelly is a college hockey washout turned SEO & content marketer. He's a sucker for fly fishing, mudslides, and Jim Morrison.