On the heels of a WSJ report Facebook and GM are in talks to rekindle their advertising relationship, after a very public break up in the days before what can be kindly described as a lackluster IPO, BBC has jumped on the bandwagon to throw stones.
In "Facebook ‘likes’ and adverts’ value doubted", BBC’s tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones warns companies are wasting large sums of money on Facebook ads that largely attract those with no real interest in their products.
The BBC launched an investigation into the issue after a marketing consultant approached them to warn clients to be leery of the value of Facebook ads. They base their warning to marketers on two things, which we’ll look at in turn:
- The experience of one social media marketing consultant, who managed Facebook ad campaigns for a number of small businesses.
- An in-house experiment in which BBC set up one fake Page for one fake company called VirtualBagel, which had exactly zero products.
Suspicious Facebook Fans
Immediately, a number of issues pop off the page when reading the BBC’s case study, as told to them by social media marketing consultant Michael Tinmouth.
At first, they said, his clients were pleased with their Facebook ads performance. That is, until they noticed a number of problematic issues with the fans clicking through on ads to Like the Page:
- "They were 13 to 17 years old, the profile names were highly suspicious, and when we dug deeper a number of these profiles were liking 3,000, 4,000, even 5,000 pages," said Tinmouth.
- Companies were targeting internationally, but getting the majority of fans from countries such as the Philippines and Egypt.
- Some profiles were obviously fake, with impossible birthdates and work histories.
'Not a One-Off Issue'
To confirm their suspicion that Facebook ads are being clicked by fake profiles and therefore prove this means companies are “wasting large sums of money,” the BBC set up a fake Facebook Page for a made-up company called VirtualBagel. They promptly launched an ad campaign and saw the trend reported by Tinmouth. “The number of "likes" it attracted from Egypt and the Philippines was out of proportion to other countries targeted such as the US and UK,” wrote Cellan-Jones.
Well, that’s it then, isn’t it? The trend seen by one social media marketing consultant and one fake page set up by the BBC seems to have confirmed that Facebook is rife with dodgy profiles, designed to click ads, Like pages, and waste large sums of your money.
Not so fast.
There are a few quite simple errors that might explain much of what they’re seeing. To put this in context, the conclusion drawn by the BBC based on these primitive “studies” is akin to calling all newspaper ads a waste of money because putting one in every newspaper globally doesn’t work. It’s no different than calling Google AdWords a waste of money because a campaign targeting all Google users internationally attracted useless clicks.
Tinmouth’s clients are small businesses. Why are their ads appearing in front of 13-year-olds and people from Egypt if that isn't their target market? Without any hard data, we also have no way of knowing whether any of these companies were using other methods simultaneously to increase Likes to their Page.
BBC reports that Facebook told them “that Mr Tinmouth appeared to have sent out scattergun advertising to a global audience without specifying a target group.”
"We would never recommend that anyone conduct business in this way," a Facebook spokesman told them.
Indeed. So why did the BBC think setting up a scattergun advertising campaign of their own would prove anything?
Facebook Targeting: Guaranteed Not to Work if it Isn't Used
Facebook’s targeting options allow marketers to drill down to:
- Country, County/Region, or Town/City
- Age, by a range or exact match
- Precise Interests or Broad Categories of Interests
- Connections (already connected to page or not, connected to other pages)
Advanced Targeting goes further and allows marketers to set parameters according to personal interests, relationship status, languages, education, and workplaces.
Failing to use these targeting options or some combination thereof pretty much guarantees a failed campaign, rife with wasted clicks and lost budget. That’s a fact, just as much as failure to put together a good campaign on any platform almost guarantees failure.
Even companies selling online, internationally, need to set up campaigns targeting specific types of consumers. Will the same ad text work in Cambodia as in England? Are your 65-year old female customers with college education apt to respond to the same product benefits as your 18-year old single male students?
So here’s what a social media marketing consultant can recommend to clients seeing poor ad performance due to Likes (ad clicks) from users they aren’t targeting:
- Set an age range that makes sense for your company and that particular campaign.
- Target one company or geographic area per campaign. Only group together those that logically work together.
- Test the use of combinations of different interests and connections.
- Set an objective; as Facebook says in their targeting help documentation, “Our system will optimize your ad or sponsored story’s delivery by showing it to the people who are most likely to take the action you select as your objective.”
Most importantly, test, test, and test again.
The type of information the BBC reported is a prime example of the kind of harmful anecdotal story that winds its way through the digital world, grabbing catchy headlines, despite the very real lack of any kind of substance behind it. The experience of each company will differ and yes, there will be winners and losers. Not every advertising campaign is a success.
If the BBC wanted to conduct a study, they should have sought the expertise of a large Facebook ads management company with data at their disposal. One account’s experience does not a trend make.
You can find more tips on targeting from Facebook linked directly to the Ad Creator, in the Facebook Help Center. It says, in part:
Your ad is more likely to perform better and continue running successfully if it is being displayed to the users who are most likely to be interested in your product or service. Because of this, we recommend targeting your ads to smaller, more specific groups of users at one time.
But That’s Just the Beginning...
In the BBC’s fake bagel company “study,” what was their ad text? What was the goal of the campaign? What type of image did they use? We just don’t know.
Choosing your ad targeting is one thing, but that needs a solid foundation from which to build your campaign.
What were the companies using the social media consultant who reached out to the BBC trying to accomplish? We have no idea how these companies measure success, or even if they measure the value of a Facebook Like acquired through paid advertising as it might relate to a sale later on.
I’m not disputing that some companies waste money on Facebook ad campaigns. We have no more insight here at Search Engine Watch than the general public as far as why General Motors’ ad campaigns failed. I tend to agree with Forbes columnist TJ McCrue, who predicted in May that GM just hadn’t found their sweet spot in Facebook advertising yet and would be back in the pool within 3 to 12 months.
But does the failure of one company, no matter how large, signal a problem in the platform itself? Or is it possible that the hype surrounding Facebook’s IPO and the inability of some marketers to find the right mix is casting a public pall on an advertising platform that works quite well for most?
Until we see a large-scale, long-term study on the effectiveness of Facebook ads across a range of industries, using industry best practices as far as targeting, copywriting, image selection, etc., the “Facebook ads suck,” mantra is just conjecture. Even if large publications like repeating it.
Why Fake Facebook Profiles Shouldn’t Scare You as a Marketer
In their article, BBC points to a “major problem” with fake Facebook profiles, as explained by a representative from security firm Sophos. Facebook themselves revealed earlier this year that 5 to 6 percent of its 901 million users might be fake - representing up to 54 million profiles, said the report.
The Sophos spokesperson told the BBC, "Spammers and malware authors can mass-produce false Facebook profiles to help them spread dangerous links and spam, and trick people into befriending them." He continued, “We know some of these accounts are run by computer software with one person puppeteering thousands of profiles from a single desk handing out commands such as: 'like' as many pages as you can to create a large community.”
This discussion, unfortunately, has no place in an article about the effectiveness of Facebook ads.
Is it a user safety concern? Yes.
Is it realistic that these spam puppeteers are responsible for a noticeable portion of wasted ad dollars? No.
Consider the “Why.” Why are spammers and malware authors clicking on Facebook ads that appear around the site to Like sites, rather than using the Facebook search function, where they have access to dozens or hundreds of results per keyword, all lined up neatly for the clicking on a single page? They’re likely not.
As Facebook told the BBC, "We don't see evidence of a 'wave of likes' coming from fake users or 'obsessive clickers'."
There are three reasons a person with no interest in your company is going to click your ad on Facebook:
- Competitor sabotage or click fraud - both against the terms of service and detectable.
- They’re being paid to do it - unless someone else has done you the favor of buying Facebook Likes for you, you’ve done it yourself and should stop doing that. Yet services that sell Facebook Likes don’t need to go looking for ads. They know the Page URL and distribute it to their fake profile network.
- You haven’t found the right mix and are targeting the wrong people.
It’s worth noting that you can get the wrong kind of attention and pay for bum clicks on any PPC platform; this isn’t new. It’s a risk and like all risks in business, you can manage it by being informed and making intelligent choices.
Before You Give Up On Your Facebook Ads Campaign...
- Social commerce revenue could reach $30 billion by 2015, say analysts from SocialMediadd.
- Ad recall increases on average by 55 percent for social ads compared to non-social ads, according to a Nielsen study.
- Advertisers will spend $7.72 billion on social networks – with nearly half of that money coming from the U.S., led by Facebook, which will take in about 70 percent of all social networking spend in the U.S, according to AdAge.
As for Facebook, they have yet to report their latest earnings and will do so later in July. Their ad revenue exploded and grew 69 percent in 2011.
We could throw stats and studies and reports back and forth all day and you would be no further ahead in the long run, for your business. No two companies are going to have quite the same experience.
Like anything, advertising on Facebook takes work; maybe even moreso, as social advertising is such a new tactic. Give it time and be smart about it.
To that end, here are a few tips to increase the effectiveness of your Facebook ads campaigns:
- If you aren’t well-versed in multi-touch attribution, at least become familiar. As Google’s Avinash Kaushik told us at SES Toronto, companies need to consider that all actions have some value to a business – you need to discover how to measure activity and determine the economic value.
- Experiment with different ad formats, like Sponsored Stories or Premium Ads, and compare click-through rates, engagement and ROI.
- Get creative with your headlines, ad copy, and images. Search Engine Watch columnists Noran El-Shinnaway and Merry Morud are both great resources on Facebook creative.
- Don’t buy into the hype... and there is a lot of it going around in the wake of Facebook’s IPO. Just last week, the CEO of WPP, the world’s largest marketing group, told news outlets he had notified Facebook “the social network is great for branding, but not advertising.” This prompted doomsday reports and headlines such as CNET’s, Ad executive bashes Facebook advertising. If you read on, WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell actually said they plan to double their Facebook ads spend this year, to about $400 million. Nothing beats your own experience and while industry news about the giants in any space is interesting, it rarely applies to the masses.
- Set goals and do the required legwork to measure whether you’ve achieved them. Facebook offers their own Insights and reports, Google Analytics added a new set of reports to help marketers more accurately measure the actual value of social media earlier this year, and there are a plethora of social media measurement dashboards on the market. There’s really no excuse anymore to “just wing it” and hope for the best on Facebook.
The BBC did marketers a bit of a disservice by jumping to such a conclusion without a real, in-depth investigation. That includes the marketer who approached them in the first place, looking for answers as to why his clients were seeing unwanted activity on their Pages as a result of their ads.
But you’re smarter than to buy hook, line, and sinker into yet another doomsday proclamation based on a small look into someone else’s experience.
Facebook ads work for some, and you’re going to be one of those who makes sure every cent spent on Facebook ads is a worthy investment. If not, cut ties based on your own experience, not the latest craze in the tech rumor mill.
Are you using Facebook ads? Let us know about your own experience in the comments!