How to Use Facebook Sponsored Stories Without Making People Angry

Have you seen Deal Dash and Women Get It Free posts in your Facebook News Feed recently? Has the frequency of these posts annoyed you, especially when you’ve tried to hide these posts the way you can hide other posts, and don’t seem to be able to banish them?

You’re not alone. These posts, along with posts from many other advertisers, are what Facebook refers to as “Sponsored Stories.” From Facebook:

Sponsored stories are messages coming from friends about them engaging with your Page, app or event that a business, organization or individual has paid to highlight so there’s a better chance people see them.

When your friends interact with Pages on Facebook (ex: they like a Page or check in to a business), you may see stories about their activity in your news feed. Sponsored Stories are the same, except that a business or organization has paid to show the stories more prominently by displaying them higher in news feeds or on the right-hand side of Facebook.

You can impact which of your actions may be featured in Sponsored Stories by adjusting your Privacy Settings within Facebook. But you can’t opt out of seeing Sponsored Stories. As a free service, Facebook has to sell advertising to make money, and advertisers are finding that Sponsored Stories are one of the most effective advertising methods on Facebook. Instead of being relegated to the sidebar, where you may not be seen, Sponsored Stories are often placed at the top of the News Feed (Facebook Home Page), which means your visibility and chance for engagement increases dramatically. You can differentiate them from regular posts by the small “Sponsored” tag that appears at the bottom-right of the post.

Advertisers have to be careful, however, when using Sponsored Stories. The two examples I mentioned above: Deal Dash and Women Get it Free, have been drawing ire from Facebook users. When I asked about these and other ads on my Facebook Page, I got comments like:

  • “I have to say I have tried to block Deal Dash and Women Get It Free multiple times and it won’t block. I find it very annoying.”
  • “I don’t think I would mind the ads so much except that they appear so often!”
  • “I hate all of the deal dash ads! I have tried to hide them, but it does not work.”
  • “I really don’t like the way deal dash and Women get it free shows up in my newsfeed. I understand aggressive advertising works however on facebook it’s annoying.”
  • “I hate them too and will not support them. I’ve tried to block them as well, is there a way to eliminate them? Call them spam? Also hated how I kept getting political ads for people I did not support.”
  • “I’m using the HIDE arrow beside the ad and then marking it as spam. To which FB asks me why and I reply MISLEADING. Because it is misleading. I have a friend who is showing up in everyone’s newsfeed as having LIKED match.com and he hasn’t. It’s an embarrassment to him that they are using his endorsement without his permission.”

One person even messaged me to tell me about two people on her team that received death threats because of sponsored stories they had been experimenting with. Really.

Now while this is of course extreme (and authorities have been notified), it still highlights the fact that people feel very strongly about what does and does not appear in the News Feed on Facebook, and advertisers have to be sensitive to this.

We have been using Sponsored Stories for our clients in limited amounts. I like them because they seem to create a lot more engagement than other types of ads. We get a lot more clicks, likes, etc. However, just the other day we had a Facebook user message us that she was not interested in what we had to offer, had not liked our Page, and why did our post keep showing up for her? We explained that we had no control over who Facebook displayed the ad to, unfortunately, explained that it was likely that she had friends who were interested, which is why she was seeing the ads, and we ended on a positive note. However it’s important that advertisers understand that the average Facebook user does not understand the difference between a regular post and a Sponsored Story, and so can become angry to find your content in their News Feed if they haven’t Liked your Page. It’s easy to miss the small “Sponsored” tag at the bottom of the Sponsored Story.

I think Facebook needs to do a better job at educating its users about the types of ads that they may see. Otherwise brands are going to bear the brunt of user misunderstanding. But until Facebook users understand why they are seeing Sponsored Stories (and that they are different from posts from Pages that they have liked), here are some recommendations for using them without damaging your brand:

  • Focus on Content Marketing. Make sure that many of the posts that you feature are primarily content posts, featuring content that people who see it can use right now without spending a dime. For example, we recently ran a sponsored post for a client that featured a Turkey Brine recipe, something we had used as a status update. Because Thanksgiving is coming, this is something that the people we targeted might be interested in, yet it’s only subtle branding that is less likely to create a negative impression of the brand by feeling like aggressive advertising. You can see this post below. Note the number of likes and shares that it sparked.
  • Don’t do it all the time. One of the biggest issues that a lot of people have with Deal Dash and Women Get it Free is that they see these posts ALL the time. This has angered a lot of people, maybe even you. If you plan to use Sponsored Stories, use them sparingly, as part of a larger marketing campaign.
  • Target your ads to the people who are most likely to be interested in the content. If you cast a very wide net with your ads, targeting millions at a time, you may find more push-back. Facebook allows you to be very specific in identifying the interests of the people you target with your ads. Narrow down the reach of your ad by focusing in on those most likely to engage. For example, I have a gluten sensitivity, and often post about gluten-free recipes. Therefore, it makes sense that I will see ads for Udi’s, a gluten-free baking company.  Note that in addition to targeting their sponsored story well, Udi’s is also using a content marketing approach, offering gluten free cleaning tips and tricks through their sponsored story.

What is your feeling on Sponsored Stories in Facebook? Have you noticed them? Have you tried them? If you have tried them, have you received feedback? How effective have they been for you?

Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

14 Responses to How to Use Facebook Sponsored Stories Without Making People Angry
  1. Lilly
    April 4, 2013 | 5:26 pm

    I HATE them!! I have searched everywhere to find a way to block to them without having to download some other piece of software. This is the most annoying thing ever!

  2. Gemma
    March 20, 2013 | 12:04 pm

    I really wish there was absolutely no need for these. As a tiny business, if you can call me a business, i haven’t the funding to pay to keep promoting post’s that should really have been seen by the people who deliberately chose to follow my page in the first place.
    I had a message the other day to tell me that somebody thought i had given up my profession, as they hadn’t seen a single post from me in the last 2 years. The same person was on my Fan/Like page. I post at least one status update daily. Generally interacting with a handful of people on there. I have around 4500 on the page, yet my post’s are seen by 800 people max, on a good day. I’m not talking about spamming people either, just general engaging post’s.
    I too miss out on so many things from pages i chose to follow.
    The sponsored things coming up in your news feed though, are hardly any worse than some of the crap in status updates. You can hide them as they appear. I feel for the tiny people just trying to get their word out, when realistically Facebook originally gave us the option to create a page for free.

  3. Matt
    December 10, 2012 | 5:42 pm

    I won’t buy from any company that does these obtrusive sponsored story fake like ads. Period. Advertising does not make me buy but it will sure make me not buy.

    • Jennifer Fong
      December 10, 2012 | 6:42 pm

      Interesting perspective Matt. How do you feel about advertisers that interrupt your television programs? Do you refuse to buy from them too?

      • Jack
        January 22, 2013 | 2:39 pm

        Advertisers that interupt my television programs don’t try to mislead me into thinking that it is an actual story by naming my friends. I know that a commercial on tv is a paid advertisement. But Women Get It Free is just plain obnoxious.

        • Mihir Naik
          March 3, 2013 | 11:30 am

          @jack

          Facebook is proving a little tag down the post “Sponsored”

          It clearly says It’s a paid advertisement.

          They are not cheating you..! Ofcourse..!
          Mihir Naik recently posted..10 Things for Every Young Entrepreneur

  4. Lenore Sanborn
    November 16, 2012 | 2:28 pm

    I have played with these alongisde dipping my toe in the water in Ads. I had found that my readers weren’t seeing my updates AT ALL, so I decided to pay a little bit (and I do mean little) to run a campaign- more in the hopes of making sure that my existing Fans would still see my content.

    The Ad I ran has significantly increased my exposure with a small number converting into Fans. Thus far, I haven’t actually seen any increase in business, which is pretty much what I expected.

    The Sponsored Stories, however, have an extremely low conversion rate and I cut it out of this month’s campaign.

    Both the Ads & Sponsored Stories were content based and pretty timely, linking to an article on salvaging damaged photos after a flood after Hurricane Sandy hit.

    It certainly is tricky trying to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of Social Media…

    • Lenore Sanborn
      November 26, 2012 | 1:02 pm

      An interesting update: a team member recently posted on *my* business page about how thankful she is to have had this business when she lost her job and spent few years in an ego-shattering job hunt. Because of sponsored stories, a friend of one of *her* friends saw the post and commented. It turns out that this acquaintance lost her job recently and wants to find out more. My team member had no idea and otherwise never would have mentioned it. Moreover, because this was a conversation “overheard,” this acquaintance engaged in a way she probably wouldn’t have if my team member had straight out said, “Who wants to join my team?”

      So as a leader, I am re-evaluating my take on this now. Any thoughts?

  5. Pat Zahn
    November 16, 2012 | 10:58 am

    Majorly DISlike them…it galls me that I see sponsored stories I never asked to see and don’t see posts from pages I actually like w/o performing acrobatics.
    Pat Zahn recently posted..In Our Scrapbook: Is it About the Car or the Feeling?

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 16, 2012 | 12:52 pm

      I understand how it can be frustrating when you don’t see the things you’ve asked to see by liking a page. I wonder how Facebook can monetize without making these concessions?

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