Facebook Quietly Winds Down Painful Content Ruling
For communicators on the coalface of social media marketing, one of the most frustrating elements of the day to day was Facebook's dreaded 20% Rule.
Introduced around 2013, the 20% rule stipulated that you could only boost a post or run an advert (which is the same thing anyway) if less than 20% of the image was covered in text.
While this sounds simple enough to navigate, Facebook's algorithm is also imperfect, as all machine learning tends to be, meaning it could pick up background clutter (like a street sign) and call that part of the dreaded 20%. Rejecting the post accordingly or inhibiting reach.
Facebook did allow for some exceptions to the 20% rule, being exempt and not considered as text within your ad, including:
- Book/Album covers
- Full Product images
- Posters for movies, festivals, sporting events, and shows
- Legal text
- App screenshots
- Cartoon and comic strips
- Text-based business calligraphy
These, on the other hand, did count as text on your image:
- Text-based logos
- Watermarks, regardless of whether or not their usage is mandatory
However, note the use of the past tense.
That's right, rub your eyes and unblock your ears because the 20% rule has been killed off.
Or, so it would seem.
No official announcement
Strangely, the news hasn't been broken by Facebook. Social media commentator Matt Navarra took to Twitter and let the world know that the witch was dead.
"We will no longer penalise ads with higher amounts of text in auctions and delivery. As of Sept. 7, we will begin gradually removing external materials and sources that indicate we will enforce high levels of text in images."
The news was further corroborated by Facebook Ads guru Jon Loomer, via JonLoomer.com, where he confirmed a lot of these changes as well.
Loomer ran a series of tests last week that aimed to poke the bear and hit on three key findings that seem to indicate a soft change rather than a definitive offering.
- The grid is gone. Facebook had provided a grid overlay to test whether you had more than 20% text in the image. That's now gone.
- No more exceptions. The 20% rule did have exceptions, but Loomer found that mention of those had been removed by Facebook.
- Warnings are gone. If you did upload something with lots of text, Facebook would send you a warning saying you'd see a lower distribution. No longer.
Why did Facebook even have this rule?
If everyone hated this rule, why did Facebook even have it? It was designed to help make things easier. The social media giant found out that adverts with less text and a cleaner image performed better, so they took that information and made it a concrete requirement.
Like a lot of things that started off as utopia, it wasn't long before dystopia started settling in – even if there were some good aspects of the rule.
The rule did help force advertisers and creatives to clean up their copy and get inspired with their campaigns. Text in the body of the piece or a call to action didn't count towards the 20%, so it made marketers focus on getting that copy exactly right.
Calls to action and excellent, engaging text within the post caption were historically used as a work-around, but now we could see our social feeds containing more images with text overlay.
Facebook also wanted the news feed to be less cluttered and have a cleaner look. The 20% rule played its part in that, but as the social media has changed and grown over time so have the type of things that are being posted to the feed.
User habits have evolved, and now the 20% rule isn't as important; hence the relaxation.
What does this mean moving forward?
We see initial tests reporting good things. Adverts with a high level of text haven't been punished at all – and could even do a little bit better than their 'clean' counterparts.
A hint of caution here: just because one advert with text did well doesn't mean they will all do well. You'll still have to conduct tests and work out which course of action fits your brand better. Maybe you don't want to clutter customers' feeds with lots of text, but at least you have the choice.
Take a pretty measured approach and design a series of ads with varying levels of text, from none to a medium amount to lots! Have some fun with it, get creative and use the space Facebook has granted you to experiment and find out what your audience likes the most.
Remember to ease into things gently. People don't like change as a whole, and there might be a little adaption period as they go from seeing ads with no text to whooomp, text everywhere.
But these changes should be positive and should be embraced. Get creative with it and make those pixels work as they've never worked before.