Publishers make an increasing percentage of their revenues through so-called "branded content" — articles and videos that look and feel like standard editorial products, but paid for by advertisers. At the same time, publishers' audiences are increasingly migrating from their websites to other platforms, most notably Facebook. Until now, it has been against Facebook's rules for publishers to post paid articles on their pages, which also appear in your News Feed. But after pressure from publishers, Facebook has agreed to allow sponsored posts on pages, the Wall Street Journal reported today.
Publishers that wish to post sponsored content must have pages that have been verified by Facebook, and will be required to "tag" the brand that paid for the post. "For a long time, for media companies, Facebook has been primarily about distribution," Dan Rose, the company's vice president of partnerships, told the Journal. "But we're increasingly trying to help partners make money. And this is something they've been asking for a lot."
"We're increasingly trying to help partners make money."
They've been asking because readers typically respond better to these ads than traditionals and banners — and are significantly more expensive as a result. (Vox Media, which owns The Verge, makes a variety of native advertisements, and they constitute the majority of its revenues.) In a blog post, Facebook said the new policy applies to text, photos, videos, Instant Articles, links, 360 videos, and Live videos. It's considered promotional if it "specifically mentions or features a third party product, brand, or sponsor."
Facebook benefits here in a few ways. One, it distinguishes ads from editorial content at a time when some publishers were surreptitiously posting ads and not identifying them as such. Two, it lets Facebook distinguish between paid and regular posts on publisher pages, and sort them in the News Feed accordingly. And if paid posts generally perform worse than editorial posts, as one would imagine, Facebook will benefit when marketers pay to boost those posts in the News Feed. This begins to answer the question of how Facebook will monetize its big push into live video — some of its publisher deals allow it to share revenue with publishers on sponsored posts.
Today's move feels inevitable, and for publishers, it's significant. (Expect to see a lot of live video series sponsored by advertisers.) The question for regular people is how they'll feel about seeing yet another ad format in the News Feed. We're about to find out.