Facebook's Audience Network (FAN) has been a major topic of debate–especially as of late. At the core of this discussion lies the question of quality.
While Facebook has made incremental efforts to provide insight into the ‘black box’ that is FAN, many argue that the potential upside is outweighed by the lack of transparency, stability, and control. Since its original launch in 2014, Facebook has expanded Audience Network placements, enabled placement customization, and is starting to allow advertisers to restrict publishers.
With recent developments in category exclusions and more granular placements, we’re taking another look at FAN. From our experience serving hundreds of thousands of Facebook ads, we’re weighing the pros and cons of opting into FAN for your own campaigns, supported by our data. While each organization is different with varying goals, use these considerations to inform your decision to FAN or not to FAN.
Facebook Audience Network Pros
This may go without saying, but the most significant value-add of utilizing FAN is scale. Designed to extend Facebook’s reach, FAN helps get your ads in front of users outside of the Facebook walled garden. With the inclusion of users without Facebook profiles, the network announced at the beginning of the year that FAN reaches 1 billion people.
So, what does that reach get you? Facebook claims that on average, advertisers using the Audience Network scale their ad impressions by an additional 6 - 10% per campaign. We looked at a slice of our own data across industries and found campaigns with FAN enabled did get significantly more impressions per ad dollar.
The above diagram shows a ~30% lift of impressions for ad sets with FAN placement enabled, and that lift in impressions can be done for less money. We recommend enabling FAN for our clients in scale mode, looking to get their brand in front of new audiences, and scale spend quickly.
Strong top-of-the-funnel performance
Audience Network ads can be delivered across devices into a variety of placements, including native, interstitial, rewarded and in-stream video, an evolution from the initial offerings. Additionally, as of this year, you can determine where these will be displayed–to an extent.
Because of the variety of ad types and potential scale, we’ve seen higher CTRs and improved KPIs overall at the top of the funnel. Facebook claims that advertisers receive 15% fewer conversions on average when you remove Audience Network as a placement. Looking at a slice of client data from 2017, our certainly reflect this claim.
Ease of use
From what we’ve discussed so far, if you're measuring top-of-funnel metrics such as CPC or CTR, FAN might be a great option for you. After all, opting into these placements is as easy as clicking a few buttons.
Facebook has made it almost too easy to opt-in… Regardless of placement type, you don't need to create and upload new creative assets—the ads will automatically render to fit the placement type with the same creative assets used on Facebook, though you always have the option to customize your ads.
Facebook Audience Network Cons
Now for the other side of the coin...
Lack of stability
While it may be easy to opt-in to FAN, stability is a big issue. Because of all the changes that we’ve already talked about, ad sets running on FAN are hard to predict. Scale swings up and down, along with CTRs and other KPIs. Compared to native Facebook and Instagram placements, FAN will feel like a roller coaster. If you decide that the upside is indeed worth it, be prepared to watch these ad sets closely and not lean on their success too heavily.
Lack of transparency
The biggest publicly recognized flaw to Facebook's Audience Network is the lack of transparency into where ads are being served, the performance tied to those publishers, and the restrictions available. Although Facebook has introduced some control in the way of block lists, and more recently, category exclusions, there aren’t any guarantees that your ad won’t appear on sites not aligned to your business or alongside unsavory content.
At the end of the day, if your brand cannot tolerate this risk, FAN is not for you. But as most things are, this risk may be weighed against the potential reward of scale and improved top-of-funnel performance and costs. Don’t be fooled, however by the previously listed pros. Those promising metrics must be taken with a grain of salt...
Poor bottom-of-the-funnel performance
You’ve likely heard anecdotally that the quality of users acquired through Audience Network is generally lower. Why is that? Think of FAN as the Amazon Marketplace where virtually anything can be sold, by anyone, and for cheap. Facebook native ads are kind of like Amazon Prime, which are more quality-controlled and distributed directly by Amazon. The quality of those goods and the efficiency of receiving those goods are typically better–that’s why you pay $99 a year for it. Compare that to any random used book seller, you might not see the same quality.
That drop off in conversions also affects costs. While the picture on the impression and click level is super promising, digging a few steps deeper is quite the opposite. As direct response advertisers, this is what we care most about.
Facebook, amongst other ad networks, continues to ride the fine line between transparency and algorithmic magic. Amidst criticism, FAN undoubtedly provides value to advertisers, and is a great source of revenue for Facebook.
Our biggest hope is that this network will begin to reflect the evolution of the industry since its’ launch in 2014. As the industry progresses towards tracking high-impact KPIs (CPA, retention, LTV), and rejects once-lauded vanity metrics (CPC, CTR), we hope FAN will evolve to meet those needs.
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