Until now, every Facebook mobile ad had to be triggered by you or a friend’s activity, but today Facebook begins testing a new non-social ad unit that lets developers buy mobile news feed ads that open Android and iOS App Store purchase pages when clicked. They’re designed to help developers grow their business. The ads are cost per click, not cost per install-based, however Facebook tells me it hopes to let devs measure installs driven by their app ads in the future, and is now taking developer signups for the currently small private beta.
By opening up the mobile news feed to traditional, non-social ads, Facebook will have to be very careful about how often these promotions appear to make sure they don’t drown out organic content and cause us to stick our phones right back in our pockets.
Facebook mobile app ads appear in a “Try These Games” panel in between traditional stories on the mobile news feed. The panel shows the name, thumbnail image, and number of friends playing (if any) of a few app (three in the example we’ve received). Organic and paid entries into the panel can appear side-by-side, with ads marked “sponsored”. Clicking through opens an app’s native iOS App Store application or Google Play application on your phone or tablet.
Facebook mobile ad reach, clicks, frequency, and spend can be tracked through a dashboard, and the ads can take advantage of all of Facebook’s biographical, interest, and device targeting options. This makes them much more flexible than Sponsored Stories, which advertisers could only target to friends of people who had already mentioned their brand or used their app. That means developers won’t need an existing user base to advertise their apps, and they can be employed to promote game launches — currently a huge source of developer ad spend on Facebook’s website.
For example, ads for an new iOS-only girl’s fashion game could be targeted to iOS device-carrying females 16 to 45 years old, living in Los Angeles to maximize the relevance.
Wall Street should be pleased to see Facebook getting more aggressive about mobile monetization. But the fact that these are just straight-up ads, not stories about friends that businesses pay to appear more frequently, brings Facebook into murky waters on mobile. It’s previously relied on the idea that its social ads are content to justify their injection into the news feed.
That’s why it’s a little frightening that Facebook told me, “It’s hard to say if there’s going to be a frequency limit” to how often mobile app ads appear. Though it did say determining if a limit is needed is part of what its watching for in the beta and that “we don’t want to show too much sponsored content because that would be the wrong experience for news feed.” Facebook will be testing and we’ll be watching to make sure users don’t rebel because it’s diluting a feed originally for friends’ photos and status updates with paid ads for random games.
Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 845 million monthly active users.
Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 weeks, half of the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Eduardo Saverin to help build Facebook, and within four months, Facebook added 30 more college networks.
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