Facebook drops branded content restrictions for publishers
Facebook is letting publishers and other verified pages distribute branded content for free, but it's unclear whether its labeling system is FTC-compliant.
Advertisers typically pay publishers and social celebrities for branded video or advertorial campaigns based on how many people see that branded content. And Facebook can be a super-easy way to get that content in front of a lot of people, especially if a publisher or celebrity can post that paid-for content to their own Facebook page for free distribution and maximum profit. But distributing paid-for content organically on a Facebook page without Facebook’s permission has been against the company’s rules. Not anymore.
On Friday, Facebook dropped its restriction around how branded content can be distributed on its social network. Anyone who runs a verified Facebook page — a publisher, brand or celebrity, for instance — can now post articles, videos, photos, links or other content to that page that someone else paid for without needing Facebook’s permission or cutting the company in on the proceeds.
The move potentially opens the floodgates for publishers and other creators to make more money by producing content for brands and keeping a larger chunk of it. Facebook’s billion-person daily audience offers a lot of eyeballs for their branded content, and now they can sell brands on those eyeballs without splitting any of that revenue with Facebook.
Of course, that assumes that publisher’s branded-content posts will receive the same level of organic distribution in people’s news feeds as their non-branded organic posts. If people engage with the branded posts as much as they do with the normal posts, that should remain the case. But Facebook has a history of shutting down the organic reach of content that’s too promotional.
There’s another catch: any eligible account posting content paid for by a brand to its Facebook page has to tag the brand so that the top of the post carries the line “[Publisher] with [Brand].” That tagging creates a way for marketers to be notified when a publisher posts content that’s paid for by their brand so that they can share it or promote it as an ad.
It’s unclear whether Facebook’s branded-content tag will be enough for the Federal Trade Commission, which has been cracking down on branded content that’s not properly labeled. The FTC’s disclosure guidelines aren’t very clear. For example, the organization said in December 2015 that disclosures like “Presented by [Brand]” or “Brought to You by [Brand]” could suffice, “depending on the context” when they’re attached to content that an advertiser paid for but did not create or influence.
An FTC spokesperson was not immediately able to comment on whether Facebook’s tagging system complies with the FTC’s guidelines. We’ll update this post when we hear back.
Update: The FTC has decided it doesn’t want to say anything about Facebook’s branded content tags specifically, but its spokesperson sent over a statement. “All advertising promotional messages should be identifiable as advertising, regardless of where they appear. As our guidance for businesses on native advertising notes, everyone who participates directly or indirectly in creating or presenting native ads should make sure that ads don’t mislead consumers about their commercial nature,” the FTC said.
The branded-content tags also let Facebook know if a piece of content is branded. That knowledge could be used by Facebook’s computers to start automatically recognizing branded content. That system would be handy if ever Facebook saw all of the money publishers and creators were making from posting branded content on Facebook and decided that, actually, it does want a cut. But there’s a chance that Facebook will follow YouTube’s example and will keep things free in order to curry favor with companies building businesses — and entertaining audiences — on its platform.
The branded-content tags will also help Facebook make sure paid-for content doesn’t violate its branded content policies. Those policies prohibit pages from inserting traditional ads, like pre-rolls and banners, into a piece of branded content, as well as title cards spotlighting a sponsor or graphical overlays.