The (Lack Of) Clarity In Facebook's New 20 Percent Text Rule

by Adam Rosenberg on Feb 25, 2013
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Facebook PagesSince my last post regarding Facebook’s now infamous 20 Percent Rule (infamous meaning of course ‘MORE than famous‘), there has been plenty of uproar over how Facebook has gone about enforcing the new rule.

Through all the grid tools, measurements, tweaks, and rejected posts, we’ve learned very little about how to consistently know whether or not an image violates this rule before actually publishing it.

This is what we do know:

  • The rule does NOT apply to standard images you upload to your page, but only images you promote in the newsfeed
  • Thumbnail images for videos or links that you promote in the newsfeed as ads are subject to the 20% rule
  • As of this week, announced in a tiny update on Facebook’s Developer Blog, the rule applies to application icons (which includes timeline tab images too)
  • Product shots (i.e. real life photos of a product) do not count against the rule. This means name tags, stop signs, text on the actual product, etc. – that’s all good to go and does not count towards your 20% text allotment
  • “Tune-in” images for TV shows or movies have leeway as the title of the show/feature, the tune-in info, and the names of the actors and actresses involved do NOT count towards the 20%

Let The Frustration Begin

The process of determining whether or not ads fit the 20% rule has become an extremely frustrating one for advertisers and marketers as some images get rejected while others do not. Facebook has still not released their measurement tool for this policy, but they don’t need to at this point. The statement they’re making is pretty clear:

Everything you do and interact with on Facebook, either now or at some point in the future, will become content for an ad.

Now, Facebook hasn’t actually said the above quote, but looking at the trends, it’s pretty obvious that’s where we’re going.

Facebook rarely (if ever) reverses a policy; they almost always make it stricter. The 20% rule was a stricter version of a previous “no calls to action in text” policy. Facebook moving towards a zero tolerance text policy on ads should surprise no one if and when it happens.

Actions and engagements (which show up in the news feed) are more important than destinations or “click here”-style design.

A New Mindset

While it can be debated that Facebook would have been better off saying “no text at all” rather than this 20% rule, what’s done is done and advertisers have to roll with it. What’s important, especially for advertisers, is that the days of online ads being simply smaller versions of TV commercials are gone when it comes to Facebook.

Your brand must have a relationship with Facebook users to succeed. That means a conversation and consistent nurturing, not simply the occasional “buy me now”.

The key component to all of these Facebook tweaks is that it puts more emphasis on highlighting a brand in action, rather than being advertised. This raises the importance of a unified marketing engine. One that involves the community manager, the marketer, and the advertiser working together so that each have a true understanding of the relationship between the brand and the audience.

Some Examples

That being said, here are a few shots of what Facebook says is acceptable/isn’t acceptable to further confuse your ad programming.

Here is an example of a tab application icon that appears to violate the 20% text rule.

Example of a tab application icon that appears to violate the 20% text rule

This image does NOT work because the text and logo were added as an overlay and are more than 20% of the image.


Red Bull 20% example

This image works because the text on the can is part of the product shot.

Redbull 20% Good

Redbull 20% Good


Post Author

Adam Rosenberg is an Account Supervisor at Edelman Digital where he specializes in developing community management and content strategies for clients. He also DJs and co-owns his own record label. When not doing the digital marketing thing, he can frequently...

  • Facebook is always changing, everything is an ad.

  • Just had an ad pulled by Facebook due to the 20% rule, even though our ad was at most 17% text. Facebook is already hard enough to work with and this is just another example of how they are dropping the ball.

  • Thanks so much for shining a light on this so we all have some clarity. I appreciate it and will pass your link on.

  • This is also tough for those of us who have “products” that are screen-based (e.g. my company offers a SaaS app for social media marketers) – almost any screenshot I include in the newsfeed, for any reason, is bound to have some text in it!

    Would love to hear if anyone else is in a similar boat and how you’ve adapted your strategy to accommodate the 20% rule.

  • I’ve been instructing clients to play it safe – don’t put text in the image. Put it in the description. Balance both worlds. Key thing here is that all this points to pushing your engagement strategies to how people engage on the newsfeed, not your page as the destination.

  • kevinjgallagher

    Would love to know peoples success with Facebook ads? Not very good I would imagine

  • Bad for Facebook. Fonts and typo will be always a great way of expression and context. And not all typographic stuff is a promo

  • Here is a great tool which you can use. Watch this video

  • Oh Kevin. People see a ton of success with Facebook ads. We use them for our conferences here at Social Fresh. And everyone from the smallest businesses to Sony and Audi spend billions of dollars (collectively) on them. I’ve talked to businesses of all walks of life that use Facebook ads well to make more money for their business.

  • I’ve heard a lot of people struggle with the screen grab issues that come form this rule. Have not heard any great workarounds yet. Will keep asking.

  • Are you using the grid templates we shared here @twitter-38670514:disqus ?

  • kevinjgallagher

    thanks Jason these are really good examples of success

  • Until Facebook puts out their own grid system and clarifies, err on the side of no text. This is the direction they’re moving. Won’t have any surprises if you do it this way.

  • Thanks, Jason! Keep me posted :-)

  • Thanks for reminding me of your grid template. We didn’t use it for this round of ads but I’ll make sure we use them for the next one. Facebook really does need to release an official tool or grid if they are going to start pulling ads.

  • Rotary Slips

    facebook have both merits and demerits

  • Agreed, 20% rule is really frustrated. I know there are some small businesses whose name are way to big. It means they won’t be able to write their name on the image.

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