Open Graph Sponsored Stories – Laser-Focused Ad-Targetting for Facebook Apps and Content

[tl/dr] (Mobile) App Install Ads and Sponsored Stories for Domains are the most widespread ways for advertising apps or content-heavy web sites on Facebook right now. These types of ads make it possible to promote likes, shares and app installations in an efficient manner, but is this really all? Since the introduction of Open Graph […]

[tl/dr] (Mobile) App Install Ads and Sponsored Stories for Domains are the most widespread ways for advertising apps or content-heavy web sites on Facebook right now. These types of ads make it possible to promote likes, shares and app installations in an efficient manner, but is this really all? Since the introduction of Open Graph in 2012, user interactions on your own app or web site can be displayed on Facebook with much more variety than ever before – and Open Graph Sponsored Stories are a valuable tool for promoting these interactions.

Learn more about Open Graph Basics or go more in-depth with our Slideshare deck “Open Graph – How to connect all the things”!

What will be advertised? Based on “actions” (called “stories” in the new Open Graph dashboard) published via a Facebook app, Open Graph Sponsored Stories are expanding these actions’ reach among the friends of the users that have published them. Since Sponsored Stories always include links to the respective Open Graph content objects, they always advertise the app itself. This means that Open Graph Sponsored Stories are aimed primarily at accelerating user growth of a certain application. Open Graph Sponsored Stories may also be employed to advertise, content-heavy web sites by displaying interactions between users and content as Open Graph actions. For this purpose, individual custom actions for your own app are just as useful as the well-known common actions (“read”, “watch” etc).

What are the requirements? In order to use Open Graph Sponsored Stories, you will need an existing application or web site integrated with Open Graph with a significant number of actions published by a large user base (in our example, actions with just a few hundred unique publishers were not sufficient to create a Sponsored Stories campaign!). The type of the app is of secondary importance: be it a tab app, a canvas app, a mobile app or a self-contained web app – the only thing that really matters are the actions published via Open Graph. As a consequence, the advantage goes to businesses and brands that have already started to incorporate Open Graph into their Facebook strategies!

In the following examples, Open Graph Sponsored Stories will be illustrated by means of our own Open Graph reference app “ Scrobbler for Facebook”. The app is used to connect music service to users’ Facebook timelines in a similar way to Spotify – music that users listen to is automatically posted to their profiles using the action “scrobble” (instead of  ”listen”). Due to the huge numbers of actions published, “scrobble”  is the perfect choice for Open Graph Sponsored Stories!


Screenshot: Scrobbler for Facebook – news feed story of a “scrobble” action

What can I do with it? The following scenarios are a few examples on how to use our reference app Scrobbler with Open Graph Sponsored Stories:

– advertise the app “ Scrobbler” among all persons whose friends have published any action via this app.

– advertise the artist “Kanye West” among all persons whose friends have listened to a track by this artist.

– advertise the song “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk among all persons whose friends have already listened to this track via our app and who are interested in “Daft Punk” but do not yet use our app themselves.

How to get started? As of current, Open Graph Sponsored Stories are mostly unknown – they are not even mentioned in the official Facebook media kit. This may be simply because it is not yet possible to implement this type of ad via Facebook’s own tools (Ad Manager and Power Editor). Instead you’ll have to use non-free third-party tools, in order to distribute these ads.

In this blog post we’ll use Qwaya ( to publish Open Graph Sponsored Stories. Qwaya offers a 30-day free trial while the premium version is still moderately priced at USD 39/month (20 ads/day) or USD 149/month (unlimited ads). Other tools supporting Open Graph Sponsored Stories include Pulse by Adparlor, Glow, NanigansSocialmoov and adSage.Social.


Screenshot: Creating Open Graph Sponsored Stories using Qwaya

In Qwaya, Open Graph Sponsored Stories are created with “Create ads” – “Open graph sponsored story”. In order to understand how to target certain actions and/or objects with an ad campaign, we take a quick look at what is “Action Specs”…

Action Specs

“Action Specs” (official docs) allow defining exactly which Open Graph actions you want to be the basis for your Sponsored Stories. These definitions are done using the JSON notation, which is well known to developers and yet easy to master for users with lesser technical knowledge. In order to select all “scrobble” actions published in the app, the following minimum Action Spec is required:

{"application": "127675550671337",
 "action.type": "lastfm-og-scrobbler:scrobble"}

In addition to the ID of the application (“application”), the desired action needs to be targeted in the format “<namespace>:<verb>” in “action.type” (with the “namespace” being defined in the developer dashboard of the application and used to clearly distinguish between Open Graph actions of a certain application and other apps). To select different actions at the same time, a JavaScript array may be assigned to “action.type”:

{"application": "127675550671337",
 "action.type": ["lastfm-og-scrobbler:scrobble", "lastfm-og-scrobbler:love"]}

If you want to restrict the targeting to a certain song, simply pass the unique Open Graph URL of the desired object. In the following example, this is done by assigning a URL to the parameter “track”, with “track” being the Open Graph object type that has been defined in the developer dashboard of the app and being referenced in the og:type tag of the corresponding web site:

{"application": "127675550671337",
 "action.type": "lastfm-og-scrobbler:scrobble",
 "track": ""}

Note: such narrow targeting does only make sense for objects (i. e. the song “Get Lucky”) with a reasonable number of published actions. Otherwise, the basis of Open Graph actions is too small to carry out a successful campaign.

As of late, Action Specs make it possible to limit the targeted actions based on the timeframe within they were published. While Facebook by default  only considers actions published within the past two weeks, the parameter “time_expire” allows users to define the desired period in days. To select all “scrobble” actions within the past month, use the following Action Spec:

{"application": "127675550671337",
 "time_expire":  30,
 "action.type": "lastfm-og-scrobbler:scrobble"}

Note: Not only can Action Specs be used to target Open Graph actions, they also allow to utilise general interactions on (“on-site”) as the basis for Sponsored Stories campaigns. In addition to the well-known “like” stories, options include the receiving of offers (“receive_offers”), the participation in events (“rsvp”), the commenting on page posts (“comment”) and numerous other interactions – refer to the Action Spec documentation for a complete list.

After entering the Action Spec, Qwaya’s preview feature will show you how the resulting Sponsored Story will approximately look like and provide immediate feedback on whether the JSON code entered is syntactically and semantically correct:


Screenshot: Targeting of all “scrobble” actions pertaining to the song “Get Lucky” via an Action Spec

Of course all filter options regarding the audience available for other types of Facebook advertisements are available for Open Graph Sponsored Stories as well (country, age, language, interests…). Since Open Graph Sponsored Stories are usually designed to advertise the respective app/web site, it will make sense to exclude those users already using the app (in Qwaya: “Not connected to”). If you want to promote specific actions pertaining to certain objects such as a certain song, you might also want to select particularly promising target groups by targeting “interests”. Again: a too narrow focus on the target group for a Sponsored Story will require a great amount of already published Open Graph actions in order to carry out the campaign effectively!


Screenshot: Precise targeting of Daft Punk fans which are not yet using the app “ Scrobbler”

Note: At the time of writing this post, Qwaya has not been able to show the size of the target group correctly – the wrong number of users us probably displayed due to a bug that makes Qwaya ignore the fact that only friends of app users who already published the desired action are to be included in the target group. We were only able to see the actual size of the target group after publishing the ad in Facebook’s Ad Manager.

As soon as you have completed publishing the ad (Qwaya: “Publish ads”) you will have to wait for approval by Facebook (hint: make sure you follow the 20% text rule, which may well be difficult when advertising several different Open Graph objects). Finally, this is how Open Graph Sponsored Stories for the “scrobble” action will look like in the new and old news feed:


Screenshot: Open Graph Sponsored Stories in the new and the old news feed

Conclusion: While a great variety of targeting options regarding demographic features is already available for Facebook, Open Graph Sponsored Stories are capable of taking “Social Marketing of Apps & Content” to the next level. Unfortunately Open Graph Sponsored Stories are hardly used right now – most brands are still too reluctant when it comes to integrating their own, brand-relevant actions into their Facebook strategies. As a consequence, the required volume of users and published actions often does not yet suffice for launching effective campaigns with Open Graph Sponsored Stories. Moreover, Open Graph Sponsored Stories require companies to have a certain extent of technological know-how about their Facebook apps: namespace, action types and the selection of individual objects via the <og:url> will require working together with the development team closely. When planning apps for Open Graph campaigns, it is thus vital to take possible ad campaigns into account during conception, creation and design of the Open Graph objects and actions.

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