Facebook recently made a bold move in rolling out ads that are designed specifically to circumvent ad blockers. Advertisements are still the social media giant’s most lucrative product (after all, Facebook did clear $17 billion in revenue last year), but many users and ad-blocking companies believe the social network is overstepping its bounds. Yet, content delivery channels will always require revenue to remain free—and brands will likely always want to advertise with them.
Is there a better way, one that doesn’t require increasingly advanced digital trickery, to present useful content to users? Facebook seems to think so, since it’s also rolling out options that allow users to tailor ads to themselves even more than Facebook already does.
But there’s more to this seemingly bold decision than meets the eye. Let’s take a closer look at Facebook’s decision, and what it tells us—not just about the relationship between Facebook and Adblock Plus, or about social media advertising, but about user behavior, and the future of the social media marketing strategy.
Since Facebook is fighting against ad blockers, Adblock Plus is fighting back by calling Facebook “anti-user.” From Adblock’s perspective, pushing ads on users when they don’t want to see them is a detriment to user experience. Facebook counters by reminding us that the most anti-user move would be to charge people to use the most popular social network in the world. In a story written for Facebook’s Newsroom, the company wrote:
Some ad blocking companies accept money in exchange for showing ads that they previously blocked—a practice that is at best confusing to people and that reduces the funding needed to support the journalism and other free services that we enjoy on the web. Facebook is one of those free services, and ads support our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected.
In other words, Facebook wants advertisers to get what they pay for—but it also wants people to stay in their News Feeds for as long as possible.
This creates an interesting conundrum that will only benefit users in the end. The pressure Adblock (and its ardent fans) are putting on Facebook is going to force the social network to closely consider both the way it uses ads, and what those ads look like.
That’s a fact Facebook had already taken into consideration, as proven when the company announced that it was going to roll out an ad ranking system so users could exercise some control over the advertorial content they consumed. “Rather than paying ad blocking companies to unblock the ads we show—as some of these companies have invited us to do in the past,” the company stated, “we’re putting control in people’s hands with our updated ad preferences and our other advertising controls.” (Interestingly, that self-selecting audience is probably the most valuable demographic available for purchase in the social media marketing world right now.)
In many ways, ad blockers are simply software that do the same thing as every internet user’s subconscious—tune out pesky sidebar ads, pre-video ads, and blocks of paid content between article paragraphs or posts in News Feeds. By going against Adblock and allowing users to select the ads they wish to see, it might seem like they’ve given ads a second shot at user attention—but in fact, with the introduction of the self-selection process, the company has catalyzed a marketing transformation, making it more crucial than ever for ads to break through the noise on the internet to prove themselves both compelling and relevant to a user’s interest. Because now, ads aren’t just contending with an algorithm. They’re up against their audience’s emotions—and even just a handful of annoyed, frustrated, and vocal users can make all the difference in the world for a brand’s ad revenue.
Ad blockers can’t block native content, which is a pedantic but important thing to point out. Users feel less peeved by pertinent articles than they do by sponsored posts that consume their entire screens as they scroll through their News Feeds. And, as Facebook is changing its algorithm to keep users in their News Feeds longer, it is prioritizing links shared by people’s friends instead of media outlets or celebrity personalities. This is doubly good news for native content producers—first, it means that the cream will rise to the top as quality content earns its fair share of, er, shares, and second, it means that traditional interrupt ads aren’t going anywhere in Facebook’s News Feed, which means more people will be afflicted with ad fatigue and hungry for alternatives.
Outside of Facebook, the rest of the internet seems to be okay with the status quo that once they’ve sold ad space, it’s not their responsibility to ensure that web page visitors actually see it. And in those spaces, quality native content will remain the most compelling way to generate an audience.
One last contrarian viewpoint—perhaps this whole “Facebook versus AdBlock Plus” thing is a bit overblown. Not because it’s not a big deal to Adblock Pro or even to Facebook users who really hate ads. But because, in the grand scheme, the number of active Facebook users who visit the site via desktop web browsers is getting smaller. As many as 90 percent of Facebook’s active daily users now access the social network via mobile; even if some percentage of those people also browse the website on a traditional computer, the reality is that it’s becoming more of an app and less of a website every day. Which means that the question isn’t—or shouldn’t be—whether there’s hope for traditional interrupt ads on desktop browsers, but how well your social media advertising strategy translates across mobile and desktop platforms.
Time spent on mobile, as any good digital marketer knows, is growing fast. Thankfully, social media platforms (including Facebook) are making their mobile apps smoother and more robust by the day. That includes creating ways to allow users to quickly access shared content without fully leaving the app, an act that currently causes undesirable load times and allows users to escape their News Feeds entirely.
While today’s drama may be all about Facebook blocking ad blockers, the real news is hidden underneath that buzzy headline: Facebook’s desktop revenue is dropping as mobile use continues to increase. Read between the lines of that seemingly big news to learn how your social media advertising strategy could benefit from being mobile minded without abandoning traditional desktop browsers altogether.
(Except for Internet Explorer. I think I’m the only person left who still uses it.)