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...