Earlier this year, Facebook debuted several types of new engagement ads, including some that enabled advertisers to conduct polls. Because poll results appeared in site news feeds, polls that were particularly engaging theoretically stood a much higher chance of attracting the participants’ friends than conventional ads. Facebook is mum on how the experiments have worked so far, but the results must have shown some promise; the New York Times reported this week that Facebook will be debuting a new polling ad that will charge advertisers for each vote.
As much as consumers might claim to find such ads annoying, the ads are non-disruptive and have the potential to be used as large-scale focus groups that actually improve a company’s products and services. For many brands, the ads could prove to be more cost effective and valuable than typical focus groups, amounting to the utlimate evidence-based marketing tool.
However, the very thing that makes polling ads so appealing – their potential to spread virally – can potentially throw off their accuracy.
One consistent gripe about the new Facebook design is the perception that too many activity reports, particularly poll and quiz responses, appear in the general news feed. In many cases, Facebook members actually have control over which items enter the general feed but don’t realize it. This perception that everyone is watching – known as “The Observer Effect” – is likely to affect not only the level of poll participation, but also the polling results. For this reason, advertisers may be smart to let individuals decide whether or not to publish the results of the ad polls.