[tl;dr] In December Facebook announced more strict requirements for Pages’ cover-photos and photos in sponsored stories, essentially limiting the amount of text-overlay in these assets to 20% max. Since these requirements are going into effect today (Jan 15th 2013), here’s an update on the new rules and how they’ll be enforced!
Links: Facebook Ad Guidelines, Page Terms
Download: Newsfeed Ad Images – Best Practices & Ad Quality (PDF, Facebook Inc.)
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So, what are the new policy requirements:
1. Cover-Images of Facebook Pages: Cover-images may not include more than 20% text-overlay (= amount of space used for textual information). Other requirements (no price or purchase-information, no contact-info including URLs, no references to Facebook social features, no call-to-action) are still standing and remain unchanged (Page Terms, III.B)!
2. Sponsored Photos: Sponsored Stories based on photos posted to a Facebook page may not include more than 20% text-overlay. The previous policy actually prohibited “calls to action”, “price or purchase information” for images subject to sponsored posts – however this was very hard to execute and very often ignored (Ad Guidelines, III.D). So the good news is: while marketers have to limit themselves in terms of space, they are now free to hard-sell on those 20% of text however they want (please don’t).
Compliance Tool for Overlay Text
Screenshot Compliance Tool: Facebook Inc.
Facebook recently confirmed that the 20%-Text-Rule will be enforced by a grid-based tool that is used to determine the amount of space used for text automatically. Images are divided in a 5×5 grid, so text may appear in a maxium of five boxes to stay below the 20%-threshold (5×5 = 25, 20% = 5). If text consumes 6 boxes or more, the image won’t be eligible for a sponsored story. While Facebook hasn’t released specific information, we assume that for cover-photos there’ll be a similar albeit larger grid.
As you can see in the screenshot, edge cases with text spilling over in adjacent boxes only a little, will be handled in favor of the page-owner. Weither this will happen automatically or not remains to be seen. Facebook has however announced that continued exploitation (like zooming in on text included in a photo) will be enforced “in the spirit of the policy”. We expect the Compliance Tool to be available for advertisers soon, weither it will be integrated into Ad-manager, Power-Editor or come as a stand-alone tool – we don’t know yet. In the meantime, designers can easily help themselves by implementing the grid in Photoshop etc.
Why Restrict the Amount of Text Overlay at All?
As I’ve written before, this change in policy is aimed at improving overall quality in Newsfeed. It’s trying to reduce the amount of blatant promotional messages & plain banner-like advertising, especially for sponsored stories. For Facebook & brands, ad-formats in the Newsfeed work best when users start to engage (like, comment…) with them. Compared to user-generated content & photos, hard-selling image-ads will appear less genuine and therefor drive less interactivity. As a brand, it makes sense to follow these best practices when posting images (weither sponsored or not) to your page:
- Photos should include real people & real things – instead of posting glossy, photoshopped product-pictures from your website, shoot photos of real customers using you product out in the wild. Research clearly shows that “real life” product-pictures trigger emotions far better. Don’t use stock-photos! Think of ways to motivate your community to post their own photos!
- Minimize the amount of text - again, think of the typical user-generated content/photo. Do they include text-overlay? No! So to be authentic and avoid text-overlay as much as possible. If you think explaining text is absolutely necessary (but shouldn’t the picture communicate for itself?), use the image-caption! This is also the place where Promo-codes, links/URLs should go!
- Logos & Slogans - again, use sparsley. If you’re using a real-life shot of your product in use, branding should be communicated by the product itself already. Don’t watermark photos with your logo as a principle.
- Keep it simple – no-brainer – as with overly long text-postings, it doesn’t do you any good if people have to scan your photo for small text or visual details to understand the message.
- Image quality – ensure that photos are posted in a high-enough resolution. For regular timeline-display this currently means 403x403px, for highlights 803x403px. However, for detail/lightbox-view, it makes sense to upload much larger images (Facebook has a Fullscreen mode!). Images with a lower resolution will be upscaled and look like crap. Don’t be scared to use your phone to shoot, but don’t use photos with very bad lighting, contrast or colour. Photo-filters like Instagram can help making your shots look good :)
- Tell a story – great photos are an awesome way to evoke emotion and tell stories unique to your brand. Sounds easy, but to get you started here are a few examples we really like:
More best practices + examples can be found in Newsfeed Ad Images – Best Practices & Ad Quality, a PDF released by Facebook recently.
Update: Kish has Paidto.co.uk have built a great tool that helps checking your photos for compliancy – thanks a lot!
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