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Facebook’s Paul Adams To Marketers: If You Want Bigger Ads, You’re Doing It Wrong

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Paul Adams has given talks before about how Facebook is transforming traditional marketing — after all, he’s the social network’s global brand experience manager. However, he took a more provocative approach today at Federated Media’s Signal conference, where he told the marketers in attendance that they don’t understand Facebook.

He admitted the feeling is mutual. Marketers complain that Facebook doesn’t understand their needs, while Facebook complains that marketers don’t understand what works. Luckily, Adams wasn’t just complaining. He had specific thoughts on what marketers are getting wrong, and how they can do better. For one thing, he said that marketers who think Facebook needs to expand its offering to include things like larger units and pre-roll ads are “misunderstanding how our platform works.”

All these attempts to create ads that interrupt users or grab their attention are misguided, because Facebook isn’t about moving peoples attention from one spot to another, and it’s not about trying to make something happen now, he said.

Instead, Facebook is all about building relationships. That means marketers should focus on “many lightweight interactions over time.” Using tools like Facebook Pages, Sponsored Stories, and Open Graph apps, brands can slowly build relationships with consumers, in the same way that getting little updates from your friends (that they listened to a song on Spotify or went for a three-mile run with RunKeeper or whatever) can build your friendship over time: “Sometimes, serendipitously, those [individual] stories are interesting, but it’s the aggregations that are really powerful.”

Adams said that trying to serve an intrusive ad instead of building a relationship with a customer is like “trying to throw a party with a bunch of strangers. It’s not going to be a very good party.” However, once advertisers have been interacting with fans for a while, then they can try to do something more meaningful: “Suddenly you’re throwing it with people you’ve built a relationship with.”

This is a problem we’ve seen before. Every time a new communication technology is invented, people try to apply the methods of existing media to the new medium. In this case, Adams said advertisers are trying use the TV advertising approach. That doesn’t make sense on Facebook, and as “the Web is being rebuilt around people,” it’s going to make less and less sense online.

Adams previously led the social user experience research team at Google, and he has a book out about social networks. So if his approach sounds a little intellectual compared to most advertisers and technologists, that’s probably why.

[image via Adams' Twitter account]