Open Graph Sponsored Stories: Laser-Focused Ad-Targeting For Facebook Apps, Content

Mobile application install ads and domain sponsored stories are currently the most widely used ways for advertising apps or content-heavy websites on Facebook. These types of ads make it possible to promote likes, shares, and app installations in an efficient manner, but is this really all?

Since the introduction of Open Graph in 2012, user interactions on apps or websites have been displayed on Facebook with much more variety than ever before, and Open Graph sponsored stories are a valuable tool for promoting these interactions.

What can be advertised? Based on Open Graph actions (called “stories” in the new Open Graph dashboard) published via Facebook apps, Open Graph sponsored stories are expanding these actions’ reach among friends of users who have published them.

Since sponsored stories always include links to the respective Open Graph content objects, they always advertise the app itself. This means that Open Graph sponsored stories are aimed primarily at accelerating user growth of certain apps.

Open Graph sponsored stories may also be employed to advertise content-heavy websites by displaying interactions between users and content as Open Graph actions. For this purpose, individual custom actions for apps are just as useful as the well-known common actions (“read,” “watch,” etc.).

What are the requirements? In order to use Open Graph sponsored stories, an existing application or website integrated with Open Graph is required, with a significant number of actions published by a large user base (in our example, actions with just a few hundred unique publishers were not sufficient to create a sponsored stories campaign).

The type of the app is of secondary importance — be it a tab app, a canvas app, a mobile app, or a self-contained Web app — the only thing that really matters are the actions published via Open Graph. As a consequence, the advantage goes to businesses and brands that have already started to incorporate Open Graph into their Facebook strategies.

In the following examples, Open Graph sponsored stories will be illustrated by means of our own Open Graph reference app, Last.fm Scrobbler for Facebook. The app is used to connect music service Last.fm to users’ Facebook Timelines in a similar way to how Spotify does it — music that users listen to is automatically posted to their profiles using the action “scrobble” (instead of ”listen”). Due to the huge numbers of actions published, scrobble is the perfect choice for Open Graph sponsored stories.

Following are a few examples of how to promote Last.fm Scrobbler with Open Graph sponsored stories:

  • Advertise the app to all users whose friends have published any action via it.
  • Advertise Kanye West to all users whose friends have listened to a track by this artist.
  • Advertise the song “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk to all users whose friends have already listened to this track via our app and who are interested in Daft Punk but do not yet use our app themselves.

Open Graph sponsored stories are mostly unknown. They are not even mentioned in the official Facebook media kit. This may be simply because it is not yet possible to implement this type of ad via Facebook’s own tools (Ads Manager and Power Editor). Instead, third-party tools must be used in order to distribute these ads.

In this blog post, we’ll use Qwaya to publish Open Graph sponsored stories. Qwaya offers a 30-day free trial, while the premium version is still moderately priced at $39 per month for 20 ads per day or $149 for unlimited ads.

Other tools supporting Open Graph sponsored stories include Pulse by AdParlor, Glow, Nanigans, Social Moov, and adSage.Social.

In Qwaya, Open Graph sponsored stories are created with “Create ads,” “Open Graph sponsored story.” In order to understand how to target certain actions and/or objects with ad campaigns, we will take a quick look at action specs.

Action specs allow defining exactly which Open Graph actions will the basis for sponsored stories. These definitions are done using the JSON notation, which is well-known to developers and yet easy to master for users with lesser technical knowledge.

In order to select all scrobble” actions published by the app, the following minimum action spec is required:

{“application”: “127675550671337″,”action.type”: “lastfm-og-scrobbler:scrobble”}

In addition to the ID of the application (“application”), the desired action needs to be targeted in the format “<namespace>:<verb>” in “action.type” (with the “namespace” being defined in the developer dashboard of the application and used to clearly distinguish between Open Graph actions of a certain app and other apps). To select different actions at the same time, a JavaScript array may be assigned to “action.type.”

In order to restrict the targeting to a certain song, simply add the unique Open Graph URL of the desired object. In the following example, this is done by assigning a URL to the parameter “track,” with “track” being the Open Graph object type that has been defined in the developer dashboard of the app and being referenced in the og:type tag of the corresponding website.

Note: Such narrow targeting only makes sense for objects — such as the song “Get Lucky” – with reasonable numbers of published actions. Otherwise, the basis of Open Graph actions is too small to carry out successful campaigns.

As of late, action specs make it possible to limit targeted actions based on the time frame when they were published. While Facebook by default only considers actions published within the past two weeks, the parameter “time_expire” allows users to define the desired period in days.

To select all scrobble actions within the past month, use the following action spec:

{“application”: “127675550671337″,”time_expire”: 30, “action.type”: “lastfm-og-scrobbler:scrobble”}

Note: Not only can action specs be used to target Open Graph actions, but they also allow advertisers to use general interactions on Facebook.com (“on-site”) as the basis for sponsored stories campaigns. In addition to the well-known like stories, options include the receiving of offers (“receive_offers”), participation in events (“rsvp”), commenting on page posts (“comment”), and numerous other interactions. Refer to the action spec documentation for a complete list.

After entering the action spec, Qwaya’s preview feature will display approximately what the resulting sponsored story will look like and provide immediate feedback on whether the JSON code entered is syntactically and semantically correct.

Of course, all filter options regarding the audience available for other types of Facebook advertisements are available for Open Graph sponsored stories, as well (country, age, language, interests, etc.). Since Open Graph sponsored stories are usually designed to advertise apps or websites, it makes sense to exclude existing users (in Qwaya: “Not connected to”).

In order to promote specific actions pertaining to certain objects, such as a certain song, it might also be a good idea to select particularly promising target groups by targeting “interests.” Again, too narrow of a focus on the target group for a sponsored story will require a great amount of already published Open Graph actions in order to carry out the campaign effectively.

Note: At the time of this post, Qwaya has not been able to show the size of the target group correctly. The wrong number of users was probably displayed due to a bug that makes Qwaya ignore the fact that only friends of app users who already published the desired action are to be included in the target group. We were only able to see the actual size of the target group after publishing the ad in Facebook’s Ad Manager.

As soon the ad is published (Qwaya: “Publish ads”), advertisers will have to wait for approval by Facebook (hint: make sure you follow the 20 percent text rule, which may well be difficult when advertising several different Open Graph objects).

Finally, this is how Open Graph sponsored stories for the scrobble action will look like in the new and old News Feed:

Conclusion: While a great variety of targeting options regarding demographic features is already available for Facebook, Open Graph sponsored stories are capable of taking social marketing of apps and content to the next level.

Unfortunately, Open Graph sponsored stories are hardly used right now. Most brands are still too reluctant when it comes to integrating their own, brand-relevant actions into their Facebook strategies. As a consequence, the required volume of users and published actions often does not yet suffice for launching effective campaigns with Open Graph sponsored stories.

Moreover, Open Graph sponsored stories require companies to have a certain extent of technological knowhow about their Facebook apps — namespace, action types, and the selection of individual objects via the <og:url> will require working together with the development team.

When planning apps for Open Graph campaigns, it is thus vital to take possible ad campaigns into account during the conception, creation, and design of Open Graph objects and actions.

Michael Kamleitner is the co-founder and CEO of Die Socialisten, a Vienna-based social software agency and Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer. His book, Facebook Programming, was published by Germany’s Galileo Computing in April 2012. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus.

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