According to a recent study by Statista, Facebook estimated 2.7 billion monthly active users worldwide, of which approximately two-thirds of the American population. There is no more prominent or ubiquitous social media platform. No other online destination gives you more potential exposure to prospects.
A well-maintained Facebook presence is at the heart of the social media strategies of many – if not most – businesses. It is a key factor in processes such as raising awareness, projecting legitimacy, generating interest and generating traffic to other business content and resources.
Paid ads are one avenue that businesses can use to effectively use Facebook as a marketing tool, a format that has evolved through several iterations over the years.
Here we’ll have a timeline of some of the most important and interesting milestones in the evolution of Facebook ads, a picture of what the future might hold for support, and what it all means for marketers.
The history of Facebook ads
2004: Facebook starts by generating advertising revenue with its “Flyers” project.
About two months after Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin launched Facebook in February 2004, the pair took some minor steps to monetize the platform – just enough for a small financial cushion to help the company get started.
As Zuckerberg put it in a interview with Harvard Crimson shortly after the platform went live, “it might be interesting to run ads to offset the cost of the servers.”
In April, Facebook began selling ad space to companies promoting moving services, t-shirts, job postings and other offers for students.
The ads themselves weren’t particularly sophisticated, and the founders didn’t have a great grasp of digital advertising. Yet the project represented a milestone in the history of Facebook advertising.
It was the first time that the platform tried to make money from selling ads. Unrefined and seemingly uncoordinated as it might have been, Project Flyers still helped keep the platform afloat in its early days and deserves a mention on this timeline.
2007: Facebook officially launches its Facebook Ads platform.
About three years after Facebook’s initial launch, the company introduced a large-scale official announcements program to the platform. It gave companies the space to create individual profiles – just like standard users – to post content, share photos and interact with Facebook users.
As Zuckerberg said it, “The heart of every user’s Facebook experience is their page, and that’s where businesses will also start … The first thing companies can create a page to create the exact experience they want people to see. “
The new program also introduced “social ads,” ads that combined the social actions of a user’s friends, such as a recent purchase or a business review, with an advertiser’s message.
This has allowed advertisers to deliver more specific and targeted ads to users that contain information from their friends. These ads appeared either in a user’s News Feed or in the designated advertising space of the site.
At the official launch of Facebook Ads – the Facebook social advertising event of 2007 – Zuckerberg summed up his vision for the program: “Facebook ads represent a whole new way to advertise online. Over the past hundred years the media has been getting to people, but now marketers will be part of the conversation. “
2011: Facebook is launching its desktop advertising program called “Sponsored Stories”.
In 2011, Facebook launched its “Sponsored Stories” project – a program that places paid ads directly on users’ News Feeds. Initially, the company was committed to showing users only one Sponsored Story per day on their News Feeds. These stories were also only from friends or pages that users were already enjoying.
Like a Facebook’s product manager described it, “Anything a friend of yours considers a Sponsored Story that features some of your content is actually something they might have seen in their News Feed before. A Sponsored Story never goes to anyone. one who is not a friend of yours. “
Although it was impossible for users to opt out of the program entirely, they still had the option to close individual ads. “Sponsored Stories” certainly went wrong with some users, but advertisers saw it as a big win. Finally, they had the space to display their ads directly into the mix of social content and consumer news feeds – an extremely valuable expanse of virtual real estate.
2012: Facebook launches its mobile ads program.
Until 2012, Facebook’s mobile app didn’t really make any money. It did not feature any ads and the decision to incorporate them was considered a risky game. Consumers weren’t exactly happy with the idea of ads taking up space on their mobile feeds.
Facebook has chosen to subtly facilitate ads in user feeds. Its mobile ad plan borrowed heavily from the desktop platform’s “Sponsored Story” strategy – seamlessly integrating paid promotional content and making it look like standard statuses or other user-generated content. .
The company’s mobile advertising strategy was to make ads as discreet as possible. It has provided limited real estate to advertisers, pushing businesses to create compelling and engaging content to capture consumers’ attention within tight limits. The strategy ultimately proved successful and reinforced the collective need of advertisers to optimize for mobile.
2014: Facebook rolls out its ad campaign structure at three levels, offering “campaigns” and “ad units” – in addition to standard ads.
In March 2014, Facebook presented its new advertising structure. Until then, the platform’s campaign structure consisted of two levels: campaigns and ads.
Campaigns – the overall plans that match specific advertising goals – were designed to help users optimize and measure the results of individual ads. With this new development in the evolution of Facebook advertising, a buffer has been put between these two levels.
Ad units – subsets of a campaign that can feature their own budgets and target distinct audience segments – have been introduced. These sets have given advertisers a new level of structure to grow, better attract and better understand demographics of particular interest.
According to a Facebook press release, the program was designed to “make it easier for advertisers of all sizes to organize, optimize and measure their ads.” This was a milestone for the platform – a step that made its ad infrastructure more judiciously regulated and easier to navigate.
2016: Facebook introduces bots on its Messenger platform.
In 2016, Facebook made an effort to capitalize on the enormous advertising potential of its siled mobile messaging feature. One of the ways the company looked to leverage the system was by incorporating chatbots. Facebook has offered businesses two avenues for incorporating bots – “Sponsored Messages” and “Click-to-Messenger” ads.
“Sponsored messages” are advertisements that appear directly in a user’s Messenger inbox – ones that allow users to automatically communicate with a chatbot by clicking on them.
Click-to-Messenger ads take advantage of CTAs to place ads in users’ Messenger inboxes. A business will entice users with some sort of incentive – like a discount or piece of content – to the original Facebook platform and automatically send them a chatbot message once they click on the offer.
2018-2020: Facebook expands its ad formats, with eight distinct ad options.
Throughout its history, Facebook has consistently expanded its available ad formats, with the goal of effectively monetizing the platform without compromising the user experience. As of 2020, the company offers eight advertising options:
Over time, you should expect to see this list grow and the nature of mediums it covers evolve and progress. New technologies and trends will bring new formats to explore and familiar processes to refine.
The future of Facebook advertising
If there is anything to be learned from the evolution of Facebook advertising, it is that the processes and practices behind the concept will never remain stagnant. Mark Zuckerberg will never look at the platform’s advertising infrastructure and say: “Yeah, I think we made it. We’ll never need to change anything again.”
Advertising on Facebook will continue to evolve and adapt as new ad formats emerge, privacy and data regulations loosen or tighten, its user base changes, and data and privacy regulations change. Social media trends come and go. There are too many factors at play to expect anything other than constant and probably significant changes in practice over time.
So what can marketers take away from this article? Is there a recurring theme underlying success at each phase of the evolution of Facebook advertising?
As Facebook advertising progressed, the businesses that thrived at every step were the ones that shared engaging, high-quality content that wasn’t too abrasive.
Consumers don’t use the platform because they want to see ads. That’s why the content you share on the platform should come across as natural, interesting, and not overly offensive.
If you prioritize producing and sharing interesting and valuable ads that won’t overwhelm or frustrate your target audience, you’ll put yourself in the best possible position to thrive as Facebook advertising continues to grow.