A few months back, I was asked to write a couple of ‘long copy stories’ for a client to use as image content on their Facebook page. The colleagues who requested them were keen to test out how copy-heavy images performed versus the usual design-led content.

Some of them did better than others, but all-in-all, they performed just as well as the usual posts – posts featuring nothing more than a headline and a nice image. More importantly, though, they provided a noticeable variation from the norm in terms of content and style. It was also telling that those who had taken the time to read the posts actually spoke up to voice an appreciation for a bit of a narrative, a bit of sentence structure, and a bit of storytelling.


And so our little test had shown us that – even with posts targeted at a group with an incredibly short attention span – long copy could work on Facebook.

Facebook themselves, however, seem to disagree. Among their recently-enforced set of Draconian rules is this depressing sentence:

Ads and sponsored stories in news feed may not include images comprised of more than 20% text.

20%. That’s one fifth, or, as the guidelines go on to explain in an even more disheartening manner – if you divide your image up into 25 squares, only 5 of them can have text in. True, it’s a rule that’s only applicable to ads and sponsored posts – but the way Facebook works ensures that if you want more than a handful of people to see your content, you’re going to frequent ads and sponsored posts.

Apparently, this rule is part of Facebook’s desire for brands to appear more like people and less like faceless corporations on their omnipotent platform. It might be a nice thought in theory, but they’ve gone about attempting to achieve such a thing in the wrong way.

Look at your Facebook right now (the humans on it, not the brands) and you’ll likely notice a blindingly-obvious truth of the platform – images seem to get more likes, but written statuses are more likely to garner comments.

By that logic, it seems that Facebook’s ban on copy is a little flawed. Forcing brands to do more images and less words is all well and good in the endless race for likes – but it’s not such a bright idea in terms of getting proper interactions. This gagging of brands makes it harder for them to talk to their fans, show a bit of personality, and – ironically – appear more human.

This might sound like nothing more than copywriter’s defence of diction, but the new rules are part of a bigger issue – Facebook’s growing power. To my knowledge, no other mainstream media provider tells you that you can only use a certain amount of copy to sell things. Imagine press ads, TV ads or billboards that restricted the creative to only a few words – it’d never happen, so why has it happened on Facebook?

It’s one of a series of questions that might have to be answered sometime soon – questions like: how much stronger will the platform be allowed to get? How far will they push their rules before brands start reverting back to websites on which they can write, show, and build what they want? And really, what does Facebook have against words?