With the new year, we’re kicking off a new blog series called Tech Talk. Once a month, we’ll sit down with a member of our engineering or product team to discuss current projects they are working on, new technologies available to marketers today and hear their thoughts on the current and future social advertising trends.
To kick off the series, we sat down with Chris Lorenz, Vice President of Product and SHIFT veteran. Chris was one of SHIFT’s first employees and despite his initial title as UI Designer and Front End Engineer, he has been involved in all things product and tech from SHIFT’s beginning. Chris works closely with various teams across the organization, as well as with his engineering and product counterparts at Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to ensure our product roadmap is aligned with our partners and ensure SHIFT maintains its leadership position with a continuous rollout of innovative products.
Q: Chris, as you know, SHIFT was one of Facebook’s first sPMD partners, gaining us access to the Ads API in 2010. How has the social ads API landscape evolved since then?
A: At the time, companies were still trying to understand how they could utilize Facebook in their marketing mix. A lot of the focus was on organic growth, getting new fans and managing those communities. Over the years, that strategy has completely changed, mostly due to the suite of tools Facebook has built.
When I joined SHIFT in 2010, Facebook was in the early stages of defining the ads API and we worked closely with their product and engineering teams to build from the early foundation. Back then there was only one ad type and targeting was much more basic, focusing on the profile information such as gender, age, interests and geographic info.
As brands and agencies started to understand the value of Facebook advertising, the conversation started to move toward discussing how Facebook ads directly affected ROI. That is when Facebook started making great strides to track and provide the data that will answer marketers’ ROI questions. They launched the Facebook pixel and integrated with the top mobile tracking partners, which finally allowed marketers to define and observe the conversion funnel in real-time. As long as brands have a good strategy, the ability to show how Facebook ads directly affect daily business became 100% possible.
Data tracking has greatly improved in the past four years, but the ability to target (without invading people’s privacy) is what has set Facebook apart from traditional online advertising. Custom audiences now allow marketers to laser target (or exclude) an audience and get even more granular targeting to make sure you are reaching people who are interested in the ads you are pushing. With custom audiences and the Facebook pixel you can span your campaigns across channels and know exactly who you’re reaching - without any of the guesswork of other traditional ad networks.
Q: What is the biggest challenge SHIFT tech team faces when working across three Ads API’s - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?
A: Now that these APIs have matured, the biggest challenge for our teams is to ensure that we are constantly innovating and staying current with the API changes that take place. As an early partner to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it helps that we are often included in alpha tests of new features - allowing us to stay up-to-date on any new offerings and give our clients first access to new products.
Q: How does an open API benefit the industry - technology platforms like SHIFT and advertisers?
A: An open API benefits the industry because it fosters innovation. Developers on platforms like SHIFT are empowered to build onto existing features, making them work better for users and saving time in the long run. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (and other companies with open APIs) benefit because having an open API allows them to crowdsource their social advertising. And finally, advertisers benefit because all of this innovation leads to increased social ad inventory - more opportunities to effectively reach their customers.
Q: What is the most significant innovation you’ve seen as a result of the Ads API?
A: If I had to choose one, it would be how powerful targeting has become. Being able to use CRM, Offline, Mobile, or Website pixel data and turn it into an audience you can engage with in a social environment is insanely powerful. Facebook Exchange and Custom Audiences allow re-marketing opportunities to reach Facebook users based on products browsed on external websites. Twitter’s Tailored Audiences can re-target based on Twitter browsing activity, email addresses from a CRM database, a group of specific user names, or even users who have recently visited their website. A lot of brands have amazing datasets to draw from based on a combination of previous social activity and lead generation initiatives. These granular insights allow marketers to know a lot about who they are marketing to across social, a channel where people are spending more and more of their time.
Q: Any predictions for the general future of Ads APIs?
A: I don’t think it’s a big surprise that we will continue to see a push with mobile. A couple of years ago, mobile ads had some of the same challenges that social ads themselves had. It was difficult to track how ads were performing across device and across channel, and there was a limited set of metrics to understand engagement and ROI. There have been huge leaps of improvement here in terms of cross-device tracking and attribution, making ROI far more measurable and tangible than it was at mobile advertising’s inception. Since pixels don’t work within the mobile world, networks are getting creative with tying together these disparate pieces to track performance. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are taking the first steps toward improved mobile targeting; Facebook relaunched Atlas for cross-device measurement, and Twitter’s acquisition and integration with MoPub has greatly improved their mobile ad exchange. We will continue to see accelerated growth there; mobile ads already create a highly engaging experience and it has been proven that they convert very well - now it's just a matter of putting the tools to work that will tell the next part of the story.
We hope you enjoyed our first Tech Talk. Stay tuned for future Q&A sessions with other members of our engineering and product teams - and if you have an idea for a topic, please let us know in the comments!