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Building Communities & Strengthening Businesses

With mobile at its core, Facebook builds new solutions and strengthens existing features to help advertisers, finds out Noor Fathima Warsia in conversation with Sheryl Sandberg

Photo Credit : Bloomberg

It is expected of large tech companies to reel in a new ‘hook’ every time they address marketers with a direction setting message. Tech majors are, after all, considered the harbingers of change; the prophets who know which way the consumer will turn. From that perspective, Facebook — one of the ‘big two’ in the digital advertising world — faces the question ‘what’s new’, on an annual, if not daily, basis.

For 2017, the social media major has not deviated much from its advice five years ago, which summed up in a single word is ‘mobile’. The only change perhaps, is the depth and the variation of the advice. According to Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, the industry is still just scratching the surface of what mobile can offer.

Mobile On
“Our teams are encouraging businesses of all sizes to not just focus on being ‘on mobile,’ but to become a company that thinks ‘of mobile’,” says Sandberg explaining, “Five years ago, Facebook made the shift to mobile, and since then, there are more than 2x, nearly 3x, the amount of people with smartphones.”

The growth in mobile may have had a critical role to play in helping Facebook hit the two-billion user mark in June 2017. Messenger and WhatsApp hit the 1.2-billion people mark earlier in the year and Instagram is at 700 million people. Given the sheer growth of mobility in India, it continues to be one of Facebook’s largest markets.

Sandberg says people have higher expectations because of mobile and are moving faster than most businesses. People are connected to businesses. On Facebook alone, more than 1.4 billion people are connected to a business. And more than 1 billion people on Facebook are connected to a business in another country. “Mobility continues to connect the world and create more creative spaces for people and brands to tell their stories,” she adds.

The Community Connection
As the mobile offering for people and brands becomes more sophisticated, one of the outcomes is the creation of communities. “People have always used Facebook to connect with one another. Increasingly, we are seeing them use Facebook to build and connect to communities they care about. The same is true for brands. In today’s mobile world, marketers can connect with more people that matter,” states Sandberg.

Facebook works to make it easy for business owners to manage their Page from a mobile device. Today, more than 85 per cent of its active 70 million business pages are controlled by mobiles and nearly half of the 5 million active advertisers create ads on mobile devices.

One of the new ways Facebook sees brands building communities is through mobile video. Video is exploding on Facebook, and the best marketers understand that people watch video differently in mobile feed. In the last month alone, more than 4 million new video ads on Facebook have been created. “They are tailoring their creative for the mobile experience, creating attention-grabbing videos that tell a story in the first few seconds,” explains Sandberg.

Kleenex is a case in point. Over an 11-month period, Kleenex created a community around the moments that matter by releasing 29 mobile video ads showing moments when Kleenex was needed — people thanking teachers, caring for the homeless and adopting pets. The campaign drove an increase in ad recall and purchase intent.

While there are examples such as these, the question is whether mobile offers enough options for marketers to invest a sizeable amount of ad dollars, especially in a market such as India.

With 75 per cent of its active advertisers outside the US, Facebook wants to help all businesses learn how to succeed in a mobilised economy. Facebook has been making investments in e-learning programmes such as Blueprint, which is currently available in 10 languages and has more than one million people signed up. To date, more than 2.5 million courses have been taken by people in 150 countries;  the top countries being the US, Brazil, India, UK, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Egypt, Germany and Vietnam.

“We are constantly working with our partners to build experiences that are good for our community and good for businesses,” asserts Sandberg, underlining the creative opportunity.

The Creative Opportunity
Last year, teams at Facebook and Instagram developed several new creative opportunities for brands, says Sandberg. “We frequently bring the engineering teams to listen to feedback directly from the creative community. Take the Creative Hub for example, which allows brands and agencies to build campaigns together. Or Canvas, a storytelling ads format, which was built based on direct feedback from the creative community. We value the feedback we get from our partners and it helps us build better products,” she elaborates.

There is no denying that Creative Hub has given the industry some compelling creatives, but the past year has not been kind to digital advertising per se.

Marketer concerns around issues related to measurement, transparency and brand safety did not spare Facebook too. And like most of the large players, Facebook too kicked into a corrective action mode. While the platform had added strong third party measurement options last year, taking action against hate speech, it deleted nearly 66,000 posts a week, manually.

Playing It Safe
“There’s no place on Facebook for hate speech or content that promotes violence or terrorism. We work hard to keep Facebook free of any such content — and when it’s reported we take it down immediately,” says Sandberg.

Facebook’s current definition of hate speech is anything that directly attacks people based on what are known as their ‘protected characteristics’ — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, serious disability or disease.

In context to brands, Sandberg reiterates that Facebook is a safe place for them too. She adds, “We give advertisers control over where their ads appear. We are committed to making Facebook a safe environment for everyone, and we will continue to improve and expand our tools to give brands even more flexibility.”

This means that brands can opt out of the likes of Instant Articles, Audience Network and in-stream ads on Facebook. Facebook recently also added more ways for brands to block categories such as political content or gambling.

Exporting From India
For most social media companies, India is a critical market. None other than Mark Zuckerberg had captured this aptly, when he said that “can’t connect the world without connecting India”.
To that end, user behaviour in India has influenced Facebook’s product stack too. “The way people use Facebook in India and other high-growth markets has definitely influenced product development at Facebook. We have created low-bandwidth solutions for marketers including Slideshow, which is a format that allows marketers to stitch together still images into a lightweight video ad,” informs Sandberg.

Not only has Slideshow been successful in the markets it was designed for, it’s been embraced by small businesses globally — regardless of connection — because it’s a simple way to tap into the power of mobile video marketing. “Creativity is universal and great stories can come from anywhere, no matter the device or connection,” sums up Sandberg.

Sheryl Sandberg On Glass Lions That She Inspired 3 Years Ago
“In a visual world, ads are a powerful medium. Instead of portraying women and girls realistically, many ads reinforce stereotypes and biases. Surveys suggest 76 per cent of women believe advertisers don’t understand them, and 71 per cent of women say brands should use ads to promote positive messages to women and girls. All of us in the advertising industry can change this story by creating ads that people talk about for the right reasons.

At Cannes Lions, the Glass Lion celebrates ads that explicitly address gender inequality. In 2017, the Glass Lion Grand Prix was awarded to “Fearless Girl” by State Street Global Advisors and McCann New York. Another great example is Microsoft’s ‘See What’s Next’ campaign — one of this year’s winners — which encourages girls to pursue tech and science. Microsoft brand love increased by 19 per cent among those who saw the campaign. Ads like these are doing more than marketing a brand — they are shifting our culture. It’s important to celebrate the brands making this commitment, which is exactly what the Glass Lion is all about.”

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sheryl sandberg facebook magazine 22 July 2017