There is a fundamental misnomer attached to the paid placements employed by brands on Facebook. The platform itself has contributed healthily to this misnomer’s errant drift into the lingua franca ofNew Puppy Syndrome social media managers the world over. Facebook Ads, as they are called, do little to live up to the name. The problem is a bifurcated one of what I’ll call New Puppy Syndrome and an almost-global misunderstanding of how to make Facebook’s paid placements actually work.

First consider this: no-one is on Facebook to connect with your brand. People are on Facebook to connect with other Facebookers. Those might be long-lost friends, classmates from days-of-old, co-workers and even the person sitting across the room from them. No-one is on Facebook because they are dying to know what Starbucks has to say, or because they simply must have more Target in their lives. This isn’t a guess, nor is it an opinion. This is fact. This is truth. Pandemic Labs’ own proprietary analytics tool – Watchtower – maps Facebook user behavior down to individual hours of the day. The hours people are most actively engaging on Facebook don’t correlate with peak shopping hours or flash-sale dates. Nope. They correlate with things like “breakfast” and “the weekend” or “after the kids are asleep”.

Here’s the fundamental problem with calling Facebook’s paid placements Ads: they don’t work like the online ads we’re used to. They are new, and work in a very different way than other online ads, and with much different affect. They are the New Puppy that people are gaga over. But expecting your New Puppy to act like your well-trained Seeing-eye Dog isn’t realistic. You need to understand what each one’s unique attributes are. Learn where they fit into your overall marketing strategy (because they do), and deploy them with more smarts than your competitors are.

Think about user behavior. When you surf Facebook, you’re scrolling through a Newsfeed full of photos from your friends, from their friends, from your family, etc. You’re not looking to make a purchase decision. As point-of-sale mechanisms, Facebook’s Ads don’t have the success rate of other forms of online advertisements because people aren’t on Facebook to shop. People are on Facebook to skim through the activity of the people & things they are connected to. They hone in on pictures, ignore most text, and disregard things that looks like advertising.

Conversely, when you go to Travelocity you’re usually there because you’ve decided you’re going to spend money on travel. When an ad is served to you, it’s based on that assumption. When that ad is tailored by your personal browsing history/tracking cookies, etc., it’s more likely that it will be advertising something you’re interested in spending your money on. Unlike Facebook, where you’re not looking to buy cruise tickets, or hotel nights, or power tools, an ad on Travelocity that’s offering discounted trips to the Riviera Maya might just get you to click “Hells Yeah!”. But that’s not what Facebook Ads are best used for. What they are best at is doing these three things:

1. Building an owned audience (Page Likes)

2. Engaging your owned audience (interactions with your content)

3. Activating a viral loop within Facebook’s ecosystem (a fancy way of saying “connecting with ‘friends-of-fans'”)

In subsequent blog posts, I’ll outline tactics specific to these three items. For now, couch the misnomer of Facebook Ads in the back of your mind & before the next installment in this series of blog entries, list 10 things other than your brand you think your customers are connected to on Facebook (e.g. surfing, skydiving, spelunking, or Star Wars).

Written by Ed Gazarian
Ed is the Managing Partner of Pandemic Labs, where he occasionally does some work in-between deep discussions of both Shakespeare and Star Wars.