Facebook advertising has been clearing its name over the last year. Increasingly, social ads are starting to gain some traction. Facebook’s self-serve advertising platform is on track to bring in $1 billion in revenue this year.

And according to Nielsen, Facebook ads are very effective — if you already have a large following that is willing to help with publicity.

Nielsen followed 800,000 Facebook users interacting with over 125 ad campaigns created by about 70 brands. Nielsen estimates that about 1 million users saw
organic mentions of the companies included in the study without seeing their ads and 18 million saw ads measured by the study.

On average, Nielsen’s study found that ads on Facebook users’ homepages resulted in a 10% ad recall increase,
a 4% brand awareness increase and a 2% increase in purchase intent compared to a control group that did not see the ads. 

But it’s the earned media that is really making these ads work. Users whose friends mentioned a brand in their news feed in conjunction with a “Become a fan” ad were three times as likely to recall the ad. Brand awareness jumped 8% when a “social ad” included the names of friends who were
brand fans and 13% when a home-page ad appeared along with a mention
of friends who were brand fans in the users’ news feeds.

For brands purchasing ads on Facebook, this means that the content of those ads is important. But more important is what Facebook users already think of the company. Facebook ads perform better when brands purchasing them can leverage their existing fan base. A brand trying to launch on Facebook will find itself in trouble unless it can get people to fan and share its content.

Facebook is reportedly announcing a new ad platform at the f8
developer conference this week, and the social aspect is likely to play an even larger role in the company’s ad offerings. 

It’s easy to buy audience exposure on Facebook, but that’s only as good as what happens when your brand is put in front of the networks’ users. If the people who see your ads know someone who is an evangelist or proponent of your brand, you’re likely to get a whole lot further with them.