August 15, 2012, 3:24 PM

Facebook offers advertisers a broader reach

Brands can now serve ads to Facebook users that are not their fans.

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Facebook is a testing a new ad unit that enables marketers to promote page posts within the news feed of web and mobile users.

Facebook Inc. is testing a new ad format that lets marketers pay to show updates to their Facebook pages—such as new posts or contests—in the mobile and online news feeds of consumers who have not Liked their pages. The news feed displays the actions of a consumer’s friends; the feed dominates the page a Facebook user sees when logging on to Facebook.

Previously, advertisers could only promote their pages to consumers who had not Liked their pages via marketplace ads, display ads on the right side of Facebook.com, and Sponsored Stories, an ad format that appears in the news feed. Sponsored Stories highlight a consumer’s friends’ interactions with a brand.

The new ad format will be displayed in a similar fashion to the Sponsored Stories that appear in the news feed. That is, the lone way they will stand out from other items is that the post will be labeled “Sponsored.”

Because it is adding more ads formats that run in consumers' news feeds, Facebook says it is being careful to use moderation. "We have limits in place to ensure that people's news feeds are not filled with advertising," says a spokeswoman for the social network. "Because we are showing people a limited number of ads in their news feeds, we will try to show them the most relevant ads."

Facebook says the ad unit is being tested and is not yet available for widespread use. “This is a small test and we're constantly gathering feedback from people on how to improve our ad experience,” the spokeswoman says.

This would be Facebook’s third mobile ad unit. The social network earlier this month began testing an ad format designed to drive consumers to download marketers’ Facebook applications, including social games. For social game applications the ads appear in a box labeled, “Try these games,” that appears in between panels in the news feed. Earlier this year Facebook began allowing marketers to target mobile users with its Sponsored Stories ad format that appears in a consumer’s news feed.

Facebook is increasingly focused on figuring out how to monetize the traffic that comes from mobile users. The social network had 552 million mobile users as of June 30. And 102 million of those consumers accessed the social network solely through an app or mobile site in June, according to a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

That’s why Facebook is heavily investing in mobile, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO said last month when the company released its second quarter earnings. During the second quarter the social network launched a Facebook Camera app for iPhone users and rolled out several updates to its Android app. It also made several mobile-focused acquisitions, including research and design firm Bolt Peters and photo-oriented social network Lightbox.

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