Shedding Light on the Dark Post

Months of anticipation concluded on Friday, when Facebook announced the steps it would be taking in response to allegations that Facebook pages backed by Russia were used to interfere in American elections. Starting in November, Facebook will begin testing a new feature that lists all current ads via a tab, or link on advertisers’ Facebook Pages. “Dark Posts”, or ads that are specifically targeted and viewable only to the selected audience, will be shared in complete transparency to anyone interested in viewing them.

This new functionality is one of several included in the announcement that allows for quicker, easier identification of ads that violate Facebook’s ad policies, political or otherwise. However, bringing an end to the Dark Post is a change that will affect all of Facebook’s 4 million global advertisers.

Here’s what else we know:

  • Testing for the new feature will begin in mid-November in Canada, and after several phases of testing and feedback gathering, is it anticipated to roll out in the US by the summer of 2018, before the next midterm elections.
  • Users will be able to view ads actively running across Facebook, Instagram and the Facebook Audience Network – this applies to all Pages and advertisers, not solely those with political ties.
  • The “View Ads” tab will not provide insight into where ads are running, who they are targeting, or how much they are spending
  • In terms of user experience, the ads will be accessible on any Page via a “View Ads” link, which will open to a view of all live (not past) ads running.
  • Political ads that are no longer live will likely be archived and available, while commercial ads will not
  • During the initial test, users will be able to click on the actual ads, though Facebook will not be doing any reporting on impressions or clicks.

Transparency is intrinsically good

With this move, Facebook wants to position itself at the forefront of a significant shift in the industry towards greater transparency. While it may spark concern for some advertisers that feel exposed by the new layer of openness, this is a positive development. Transparency fosters trust. Moves that increase trust between advertisers, platforms, and ultimately, consumers, benefit the system as a whole. And if there’s more faith in Facebook as a result, it will intrinsically impact the environment overall in a positive, productive way for those advertising on the platform.

The actual impact of this transparency will be dependent upon consumer adoption – in other words, will the average consumer engage with, or even care about the newly accessible ads? No doubt, this new “View Ads” page will be used by watchdogs, many of whom will likely have a particular interest in politics.

But will consumers choose to navigate to Facebook Pages to view more ads? We think they just might. Consumers may learn to search this page for active promotions before navigating to a brand’s website to make a purchase. Because there won’t be any reporting involved in the feature, brands won’t be able to glean much insight from users who do choose to view the ads; though if Facebook sees significant adoption, we wouldn’t be surprised if, at the very least, a conversation around metrics and engagement may be started. If consumers begin using these new tabs, Facebook and its marketing partners may follow with new features, insights, and uses.

Will it change advertisers’ strategy?

There’s no question that the “View Ads” will be used by agencies and advertisers to track their competitors’ paid activity on Facebook, the creative they run and the promotions they offer. What remains to be seen is how innovative advertisers will be in the way they ultimately use the space. We may see advertisers begin to run certain ads at very low spend levels, with the intention of turning this Page into a modern day catalogue or coupon book. On the flip side, it could also impact the strategy of brand-centric advertisers who do not want to expose their promotional tactics to a wider audience.

All of these potential uses hinge on user adoption. We’ll be staying tuned to keep you informed of the latest developments.

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