By Roger Jones.

We all want to feel connected, that we’re part of a brand bigger than ourselves. And we want the brands we support to have a similar feeling towards us.

That’s part of the motivation for some retailers, who have switched their business models to better reflect how we shop and how they reach us in the first place.

Since Facebook ads are a seemingly ubiquitous and seamless way to reach a customer base, many companies take to Facebook to engage with their audiences. That’s nothing new. However, what is a growing trend is the number of companies investing their Facebook and LinkedIn ad dollars to “dark posts”. But what are they?

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Think about ads for select demographics: whether a post with a status update, a video or photo, or a link to another spot. But these posts are only seen by their intended targets as an advertisement in their NewsFeed. They’re not seen on the brand’s Facebook timeline, allowing companies to try out new advertising concepts without pestering all of their followers with seemingly disjointed approaches.

Does your business need dark posts?

For companies, there are several advantages. For starters, you can hone advertising efforts to specific bands of potential customers without being visible to the world at large.

More importantly, companies can test message content without resorting to spam or looking desperate by over saturating those interested in your brand. This reduces the risk of potential customers unliking your page or blocking your ad.

Everyone wants to ensure dollars devoted to advertisement provide the biggest return on investment possible. Dark posts (or unpublished posts, as they’re sometimes known) allow brands to adjust their headlines and identify more effective times of publication and calls for customer response. This level of deployment customization allows companies to determine different levels of efficacy and utilize what works best. Companies can (and should) do so for each customer band that they’re after.

Strategizing statistics

By targeting ads to customer-specific traits, tendencies, or behaviors, brands hope to increase customer engagement. It’s important to understand the appropriate strategy for their use. TrackMaven’s research into the different reaches of dark posts versus boosted posts on Facebook provides some insight.

They identified that boosted posts received slightly more interaction overall, but dark posts were more successful in generating page likes for the business. Dark posts are also deployed for longer lifespans. Firms use dark posts for an average of 42 days versus 27 for boosted posts.

Things to avoid

No one wants to feel like a company is stalking them online. Target the ad too closely to the demographics or the customer behaviors, and the super-cute approach that’s meant to persuade engagement feels creepy. Going further in an attempt to engage users by name risks not only a loss of engagement, but a full disavowal of the brand and your products.

Also, it’s important to be specific, but not exclusionary. Facebook’s recent change allowing advertisers to create targeted ads addressing a user’s preferred (and self-reported) “ethnic affinity” has been controversial. Their advertising algorithms allowed marketers to exclude potential customers by ethnic affinity. A smart business strategy would be to ensure targeted posts reach the intended audience without being too exclusive.

Ethical concerns

Facebook is taking steps to ensure their approaches to advertising provide marketers with a wide variety of search options while remaining within the law. Responding this week to concerns, Facebook stated those ethnic affinity tools would no longer be available for marketers placing credit, employment, or housing ads.

“There are many nondiscriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, wrote in a recent blog post on the topic.

Marketers outside these three areas can still utilize ethnic affinity as one of their targeting features for creating dark posts, however. Egan also added that Facebook’s new advertising guidelines would “require advertisers to affirm that they will not engage in discriminatory advertising” on the site.

Takeaway

If used correctly, brands can create a whole host of advertisements that allow customers to feel a part of the brand and do so in an organic fashion, remaining true to your overall branding strategy, one segment at a time.

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