Social Media Native Ads: What They Are and How to Use Them

With all the recent hype around native ad formats, I’m sure many are asking, “What exactly are native ads? And why are they important?”

The definition of a native ad is actually very simple. Native ads are formats native to a specific publisher. Google’s text ads, which are embedded on their search results page, are a great example. Facebook recently added in-stream ads to the newsfeed, and many other publishers, like Twitter, have also created their own native ad formats. The reason there is so much interest in native ad formats is that they have been very effective at increasing user engagement. Google and Facebook are the most obvious examples. But other native ad formats have also gained traction, because they tend to provide more value to the user, by customizing both the user experience and the content. Now that the trend has caught on, there are a number of different publishers and vendors selling native ad formats to marketers. This is especially true of social media platforms, and over the past year we have seen an explosion of native ads in social media. Here is our guide to the most popular social media native ad platforms:

Facebook Mobile Ads

Facebook was an early pioneer of native ad formats. Mark Zuckerberg famously resisted the idea of showing standard banner ads. They recently took their sponsored newsfeed format to mobile, allowing advertisers to promote their Facebook pages, blog content, or drive app downloads. These ads drive users directly to content of the users choice or the app store. Targeting is based on different social criteria such as age, gender, location and interests of the user. Psychographic targeting has also been generated from Facebook “likes.” This creates a great opportunity for consumer focused products in entertainment and retail, as well as a few other B2C verticals. Facebook mobile ads currently do not support video, but rumors surrounding the arrival of video have been circulating for sometime. We expect Facebook mobile ads to support video by year end in 2014.

Threadless Facebook Native Ad                                   NBA Facebook Social Media Ad          Toyota Facebook Native Ad

LinkedIn Sponsored Posts

LinkedIn offers a very simple native ad format, currently on the mobile platform they are only letting you promote posts to an external URL.  A great example is a great piece of blog content or an e-book. They are currently not allowing an mobile app install format, however that could be do to the B2B nature of the site. When looking at the sponsored posts, you will see they are very similar to the ones on Facebook. The main difference between the two formats is that LinkedIn is an excellent platform for B2B marketers, who need to reach a serious business audience rather than an consumer. The targeting options available are job title, job function, industry, and other business-focused options. The granular targeting and data accuracy make this a great ad format for B2B marketers.

                                      Spiceworks LinkedIn Native Ad                             Crown Audio LinkedIn Native Ad

Twitter Ads

Twitter is all the rage right now, as their IPO and RTB exchange has generated a lot of excitement in the mobile space. Their native ad formats, while similar to LinkedIn and Facebook, have some big differences. Because Twitter doesn’t have as much personal information as these other social networks do they must rely on different strategies to target users. Twitter offers targeting based on other types of user data. For example, you can target users who follow you or target content themes through hashtags and keywords in your timeline. Content based targeting has broad appeal and can be useful to both B2B and B2C marketers to reach their audiences.

                                       Twitter Native Ad                           New Relic Twitter Native Ad

Instagram Ads 

This is the latest native social media format to emerge, as Instagram ads went live last Friday. It will be interesting to see how brands use this format. It’s so new that there is very little information on performance and targeting options. We do know that some of the targeting features from Facebook will be available, but not all. My personal take on this form of advertising, given the image driven nature of the product, is that it will be a great brand play. I also believe this will be a good advertising platform for retailers and consumer brands, as they will be able to show off their newest products and seasonal items. Direct response advertisers, on the other hand, will most likely realize the least ROI from Instagram, due to its lack of lead generation ability.

          PayPal Instagram Native Ad         Michael Kors Instagram Native Ads        Lexus Instagram Native Ads


In mid-September, Pinterest announced they were going to be launching a “promoted pins” service in an attempt to monetize their platform. Currently, there are only a handful of advertisers on the platform, and they haven’t revealed much on the targeting options or features available. Given the huge success of the platform in driving traffic to ecommerce players, it will be interesting to see how this progresses. Pinterest has stated that they want to be as transparent as possible in regards to the implementation and the feedback they receive. Here is one of the promoted pins below:

Pinterest Promoted Pin Native Ad

Pinterest Promoted Pin