When the popular science video blog Veritasium posted its "Facebook Fraud" video, it got many marketers concerned about just how much ad fraud there is on Facebook. In fact, it has almost 1.5 million views on Facebook already, highlighting the concern that many people have about the legitimacy of Facebook advertising.
The video goes over several cases where they are paying for Facebook ads in order to generate likes but they are finding that the percentage of engagement of those likes is almost nonexistent:
One of the major issues is that Facebook ads are generating a lot of likes from Facebook profiles of users who have also liked thousands of other things. But why are so many Facebook ads liked when the user actually has absolutely zero interest in whatever the Facebook advertiser is offering or selling and is just one of thousands of things they liked? The problem lies with all the spam profiles that are strictly there to power paid likes sold by third-party websites.
If ProfileA is paid by a third-party website (or is one created by the third-party seller itself) to like 50 different pages, they need to be able to disguise those paid likes so that Facebook is unable to determine whether it was a genuine or paid like. So what ProfileA does is goes and likes hundreds and hundreds of other pages to dilute the percentage of those paid likes on their account. They click likes at random, without engaging or even reading what they are liking, and that means that a lot of those paid Facebook ads get likes simply because it’s a spammer trying to hide the number of paid Likes they had to do.
While the video also highlights some public tests that have been made previously and what they found, how accurate is it really? What are other marketers are seeing, who might be a bit more Facebook ad savvy?
Conrad Salvador, director of social media at Internet Media Labs, saw similar behavior on one of the pages he is running.
"They have over 179,000 likes, and it keeps growing 'organically'," Salvador said. "The majority of the engagement is coming from the countries mentioned in the video. And when I analyzed their profiles, it matched the user behavior that was touched on. The profiles are not real profiles. Just setup to like and share sporadically."
And lastly, another part of the problem is a Facebook Page owner has no recourse to get rid of the likes from profiles that are obviously strictly spam profiles. So when any post they make gets only a small fraction of engagement across their total likes, chances are pretty good that many of those spam profiles are going to end up in that small percent.
Even worse, if Page owners pay Facebook to get additional exposure, again the chances of the Facebook ad being displayed to their followers who are actually spam profiles is fairly high. And those are spam profiles that have zero interest in their page or anything they post because they were simply liked in the first place to hide paid likes.
It's easy to see which profiles are spamming, because they often have liked thousands and thousands of Facebook pages, which isn't something the average Facebook user does. But again, you can’t force those people that unlike your page so that you can increase your engagement across true fans of your page. And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Facebook is doing much in the way of reducing the number of a spam profiles that are doing paid likes, despite their assurances that they are.
Anyone using Facebook ads at the very least should target only specific countries, so that they don’t get high percentage of likes that people are seeing from countries such as Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. This will solve some of the problems, although not all of them. And clearly there are issues with likes happening from countries outside of the geo-targeted areas.
Julie Pippert, founder and director of Artful Media Group, saw exactly this behavior when using Facebook ads for a hyperlocal page.
"I launched a new page for a local social media group I started," she said. "I targeted ads hyperlocally, even though it meant a smaller ad reach. It just made sense to only reach people who would join a local group and attend our monthly meetings."
"It did net a few people, but it also pulled some from other countries," Pippert said. "That did not make any sense to me, and it concerned me that despite my settings (and paying!) my ad was not reaching the right eyes. I did try a few different iterations, but each one got these geographic outliers. So I definitely saw what the video described.
Merry Morud, Social Advertising Director at aimClear, has been wary of many aspects of Facebook's advertising offerings. She has noticed that Facebook’s geotargeting leaves much to be desired, and defaults to having your Facebook ads shown to countries that are known to have like farms. "That said, when I actually tried the 'Boost Post' and 'Promote' page, I was SHOCKED at what Facebook decided to automatically target," Morud said.
What does Morud suggest to compensate for how Facebook runs their advertising?
"If your goal is to grow real likes, we recommend using Facebook Page Post Ads to promote content from your website coupled with thoughtful, strategic targeting," she said. "This tactic earns you traffic to your site (the thing you actually own! You don't own your Facebook Page). Social engagement is crucial for EdgeRank, and new followers that are actually interested in you and your content."
Marc Poirier, co-founder & EVP, business development of Acquisio, feels that generating likes should not be the goal of any Facebook advertising.
"Marketers need to manage their spend on Facebook as a function of real business metrics, if they can't measure sales or conversions, then at least make sure to manage bids and budgets as a function of user engagement," he said. "Managing only for likes will generate terrible results like those discussed in the video."
Bottom line: if you're planning to do any Facebook advertising, ensure that your targeting only the countries you are primarily doing business in, and avoid those countries that have a lot of paid like activity.
Another stopgap measure would be to allow pages to unlike the spam profiles, that is also a tremendous amount of work, and it also opens up a whole area where third-party sites can then "audit" for spam profiles. But it could potentially alleviate some of the issues for site owners who want to advertise to their followers, but not the spammers.
These things could hopefully lessen the impact of the spam profiles on Facebook ads. Until we see some sort of implementation in place, similar to click fraud detection by Google AdWords, where advertisers aren't paying for the exposure to the spam profiles, it’s going to be a real issue going forward.